The Buffalo Bills are facing off with the New England Patriots on Sunday, just days over Terry and Kim Pegula step into ownership. The game is huge for both teams, as they’re tied for first place in the AFC East. The Bills look like a young and powerful threat to dethrone the Patriots, who don’t look like the dominant franchise of year’s past.
Let’s take a look at some keys to the game, impact matchups and sleepers that fans should keep an eye on throughout Sunday’s contest.
Bills WR Sammy Watkins vs. Patriots CB Darrelle Revis
Sammy Watkins has already made it known that he’s capable of being a premier wide receiver in the NFL through his first five games. Watkins has caught 24 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns, while displaying the deep speed, strong hands and route-running ability that the Bills deemed worthy of two first-round picks.
On Sunday, he’ll line up against one of the best cornerbacks in the league, Darrelle Revis. Revis is an elite talent that will trail the opposing No. 1 wideout throughout the game. Revis was banged up in Monday’s game against the Bengals, but he’s been solid, surrendering just 14-of-24 passes, a 58.3% completion rate for 197 yards (36 yards-after-catch) and a touchdown.
Bills Interior OL Vs. Patriots NT Vince Wilfork
The Bills’ offense hasn’t been running as efficiently as the coaching staff would like, with much of the blame on the shoulders of Erik Pears and Cyril Richardson/Chris Williams. After being abused by J.J. Watt and Ndamukong Suh, the task doesn’t get any easier as they’ll matchup with human space-eater, Vince Wilfork. Wilfork is still as big and strong as ever, being a force against the run and allowing very little movement from offensive linemen.
The Bills will need to double Wilfork throughout the game and win their matchups on the outside if they have any hope of moving the ball against this underrated defense.
Bills LB Brandon Spikes Vs. Former Team
Sunday’s win over the Detroit Lions was a personal victory for Jim Schwartz, and you can bet that middle linebacker Brandon Spikes circled this game on the schedule as soon as he signed his contract with the Bills. Spikes felt slighted after the Patriots chose to bench him in the playoffs and not re-sign him, and he’s made it clear that he’s looking forward to this game.
Spikes has been an absolute stud this season, playing with the same energy, physicality and passion that made Bills fans originally hate him, while making plays when dropping into coverage as well. Spikes is used as a blitzer through the middle quite often, and with a point of emphasis against the Patriots being to punish Tom Brady, it’s likely Spikes makes some plays in the backfield.
When The Bills Have The Ball
Run, run, and run some more. The Patriots bolstered their secondary this offseason by adding Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to pair will Pro Bowl safety, Devin McCourty. While Browner was suspended for the first four games of the season, the unit is currently ranked 3rd against the pass, but they rank 16th against the run, giving up an average of 119.6 yards-per-game on the ground.
The Bills’ interior offensive line hasn’t helped much in the run game, but they’ll need to step up if they want to move the ball on a strong New England defense.
When The Patriots Have The Ball
Keep doing what you’ve been doing. Jim Schwartz’ defensive scheme has excelled through the first five games of the season, and it hasn’t been due to anything very flashy. Schwartz has crowded the middle of the field, using a gap-conscious mentality that’s clogged rushing lanes and gotten in the face of opposing quarterbacks.
Thanks to great play on the boundary by Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin, opposing offenses haven’t been able to move the ball efficiently on the Bills’ defense. This Sunday, the Bills’ defensive line needs to hit Tom Brady early and often, forcing him to throw the ball to his outside receivers. Brady’s lost some of his arm strength, and if the Bills can prevent New England’s weapons in the middle of the field—Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman—from making big plays, Buffalo should be able to secure a victory.
Sleeper to Watch: Patriots TE Tim Wright
While tight end Rob Gronkowski is the Patriots’ most lethal threat on offense, newly-acquired Tim Wright is a weapon that the Bills’ defense will need to keep track of. Wright had his “breakout game” on Monday against the Bengals, catching five passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. The 6’4” 230 pound converted wide receiver is a mismatch from the slot and tight end position, as he has great size and speed as a weapon in the pass game.