By Gregory Hunt
It will be a battle to take over sole possession of first place in the AFC East when the New England Patriots meet the Buffalo Bills this Sunday afternoon at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Bills and Patriots enter Week 6 with identical 3-2 records, one-half game ahead of the 2-2 Miami Dolphins. The Patriots are coming off an impressive 43-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium last Sunday while the Bills are basking in the glow of a 17-14 upset win over the Detroit Lions that same day at Ford Field.
The Bills trail the all-time regular season series against the Patriots 41-65-1. The series dates back to 1960, when both franchises were founding members of the American Football League. Since winning three games in a row against the Patriots from 1999-2000, the Bills have won only two of their last 27 games against New England. Buffalo’s last victory in the rivalry was a 34-31 win on September 25, 2011 at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The last time the teams met, Buffalo suffered a 34-20 defeat on December 29, 2013 at Gillette Stadium. In their only postseason meeting, the Patriots advanced to the 1963 AFL Championship Game with a 26-8 win at War Memorial Stadium.
Bills on Offense
Second-year player EJ Manual was Buffalo’s starting quarterback at the beginning of the season, but after struggling to an 80.3 passer rating in the first four games, Manual was benched in favor of veteran backup Kyle Orton, who led the team to its come-from-behind road victory over the Lions. Orton had not been a regular starter in the NFL since playing for the Denver Broncos from 2009-2011. He passed for 308 yards and one touchdown against Detroit and will be the starter against New England.
Buffalo’s most versatile weapon on offense is 33-year-old running back Fred Jackson, who is second on the team in rushing yards following C.J. Spiller, first on the team in receptions and second in receiving yards. Sammy Watkins leads all wide receivers with 24 catches, 284 yards and two touchdowns, but he’s averaging a modest 11.8 yards per catch. The Bills offensive line has struggled on occasion this season, making it difficult for the team to complete deep passes.
Bills on Defense
Buffalo’s talent-laden defense is keeping the Bills competitive even though the offense has been lacking. The Bills can pressure the quarterback without resorting to a lot of blitzes thanks to defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and defensive end Mario Williams, who have combined for 8.5 sacks. The team sacked Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford six times last Sunday, limiting him to 221 yards passing. The Bills are 8th in the NFL in total defense and 5th in the league in scoring defense.
New England’s offense looked impressive last Sunday against a Bengals defense that was considered to be elite, but it should be noted that the performance came in front of a friendly crowd at home. On the road, crowd noise will be a factor, and this appeared to rattle the team during its embarrassing 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium two games ago. If the Patriots are somehow able to maintain their new-found offensive efficiency, they should win this game easily, but given how New England has dominated Buffalo for the past 15 seasons, you can expect the Bills and their fans to be highly motivated.
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.