Patriots’ keys to victory over the Bills
When: Monday, 8:15 p.m.
Where: New Era Field, Orchard Park, N.Y.
TV, radio: ESPN, Ch. 5, WBZ-FM 98.5.
When the Bills run
LeSean McCoy has been Buffalo’s only consistent offensive threat the last three-plus seasons, but with the trade deadline looming, it’s a possibility the talented tailback winds up in different colors next week. Among the slickest and shiftiest runners in the business, McCoy hasn’t had a ton of running room this season and he suffered a concussion last week. McCoy has excellent instincts, vision, and shakeability. He shows good patience and will slide his way across the line of scrimmage and sift through traffic before darting through holes. He’s adept at making the first guy miss. Though not a physical bruiser, he will break tackles. Chris Ivory has deceptive quickness and hits the hole hard. He is a tough inside runner who can shrug off body blows and make decent yards after the first hit. McCoy and Ivory have different running styles but both have serious miles and wear and tear on their engines. Expecting either of these guys to carry the offense at this stage of their careers is asking too much. Marcus Murphy (5 feet 9 inches, 195 pounds) lacks the bulk to be a bell cow, but he is a nice change-of-pace back with top-notch quickness and acceleration. Buffalo’s rebuilt offensive line struggles to consistently move bodies and create lanes. Center Russell Bodine is an old-fashioned brawler with limited athleticism. Right guard John Miller (he’s powerful) and left guard Vlad Ducasse (ditto) will struggle with speedy defenders.
Rushing yards per game
Buffalo offense: 104.6 (19th)
New England defense: 114.0 (21st)
When the Bills pass
Because of injuries and ineptness, Derek Anderson has been thrust into an impossible position as the leader of this offense. A career journeyman, Anderson has excellent size (6 feet 6 inches, 235 pounds) and arm strength. He’s not in the same mobility conversation as previous foes Patrick Mahomes and Mitchell Trubisky, but he will extend plays with his legs. When given the time (which hasn’t been often throughout his career), Anderson will find receivers and deliver strikes. He’s streaky, and when he gets on a roll, his confidence builds. On the flip side, his bad decisions compound quickly. When pressured, he’ll try to force passes into tight windows, and his accuracy falls off dramatically when he tries to run. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is a massive target (6-5, 245) with a Manute Bol-like wingspan. His size and speed should give him an advantage against linebackers and defensive backs, but his lack of physicality often leaves him on the wrong end of one-on-one battles. Benjamin’s history of knee woes has hampered his development. Zay Jones has reliable hands and unquestioned toughness — he’ll fight for every ball. While he gets off the line cleanly, he lacks game-breaking speed. Charles Clay is a reliable tight end who flashes speed and slipperiness after the catch. LeSean McCoy probably has the most trusted hands on the team, and Anderson would do well to employ him as his No. 1 safety blanket.
Passing yards per game
Buffalo offense: 129.4 (32d)
New England defense: 275.9 (25th)
When the Patriots run
This could be an interesting game plan, with Sony Michel likely out of the lineup. The carries could be split between James White and Kenjon Barner, or the Patriots could elect to promote Kenneth Farrow off the practice squad. White is a workhorse back — just not in the traditional sense. He’s not going to sit in the I-formation and tote the rock 20-25 times between the tackles. White had a career-high 11 rushes last week and may set a career high in this one. He does his best work in space but is no stranger to inside runs. White runs low and with great balance and possesses deceptive lower-body strength to burst through arm tackles. Barner is more of an upright runner with good lateral moves and top-end straight-line speed. If a lane opens quickly, Barner will Usain Bolt right through that sucker in a heartbeat. New England’s offensive line is doing an exceptional job creating creases. This group can play the power game or the finesse game. It will be tested in the trenches by some big, burly Bills. Tackles Kyle Williams and Star Lotulelei can clog more lanes than a late-night construction crew on the Southeast Expressway. Williams is quick and relentless and will create havoc in the backfield. Lotulelei has superb strength and can stun and rag-doll blockers. Middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds has superior instincts and a superb first step. He always takes the quickest route to the ball and will land some jarring tackles.
Rushing yards per game
New England offense: 120.0 (13th)
Buffalo defense: 110.7 (16th)
When the Patriots pass
The Bills have one of the top and most varied pass rushes in the league. Buffalo will dial up blitzes from every level and every angle; 10 players have gotten a piece of a quarterback this season. Tackle Kyle Williams has the deceptive footwork and quickness to pressure up the A gap and prevent QBs from stepping up in the pocket — a Tom Brady specialty. Off the edges, Jerry Hughes (he disengages quickly) and Lorenzo Alexander (he has great presnap recognition) use a variety of inside and outside moves to forced hurried throws. The secondary features one of the top safety tandems in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. They split the field and are exceptional at recognizing formations and getting to the ball. Tre’Davious White is a quick-twitch corner who will draw the opponents’ top receiver — probably Josh Gordon. Former Patriots camper Ryan Lewis has the other perimeter, while Phillip Gaines has the slot. New England’s aerial assault has been in high gear for the last month. Brady has weapons of every size, shape, and speed. James White is so important as a pass catcher and a blitz pick-upper. Julian Edelman (underneath) and Cordarrelle Patterson (perimeter) can take quick hits and turn them into big gains. Gordon and Phillip Dorsett can run all the routes and possess the speed to stretch the field. If Rob Gronkowski is available to control the seam — or even be a decoy — this offense will move the ball.
Passing yards per game
New England offense: 260.3 (14th)
Buffalo defense: 210.1 (fourth)
Bills’ key player: LB Tremaine Edmunds
This 6-foot-5-inch, 250-pound rookie (he says finding jeans that fit is a real chore) rarely leaves the field and leads the team with 54 tackles. Plop him in any base defense and any sub package and he’s going to find his role and find the ball.
How he beats you: With superb athleticism. Edmunds idles before the snap before jolting ball carriers as if he’s had four shots of espresso. He rarely stays blocked for longer than a nanosecond, and he uses his extra-long arms to wrap up opponents and disrupt passing lanes.
How to shut him down: With play-action and misdirections. Edmunds doesn’t have the sharpest instincts and he will make some false steps here and there. Keep him guessing and he won’t be able to collect double-digit tackles.
Bills’ keys to victory
1. Buffalo Tom: The blitz has been an integral part of this defense’s success, so spin the old Rex Ryan Wheel (yes, we know the big fella is long gone) and bring the pressure to Tom Brady.
2. Buffalo stampede: LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory need to establish something (anything) on the ground to get some sort of balance in this offense and take some heat off Derek Anderson.
3. Buffalo wild wings: Add Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones to the list of those who need to help out their quarterback. They must win their one-on-one battles on the outside and hold onto the ball.
Patriots’ keys to victory
1. Beef on weck: The big guys up front need another stellar outing as they face their biggest challenge in protecting Tom Brady and opening running lanes against a very stout front seven.
2. Beef O Brady’s: Brady has been brilliant at getting all his receivers engaged in the offense. This has to continue on a night when the running back corps is a bit shorthanded.
3. Beef tips: Deliver a message early — whether it’s on offense, defense, or in the kicking game — and take this surly and leather-lunged crowd out of it. If you let the Bills hang around, they will.
PREDICTION: Patriots 34, Bills 13