The New England Patriots have had a strangle-hold on the AFC East for almost two decades. The six Super Bowl wins and nine trips cement them as a dynasty. They have been to four Super Bowls in the last five years, ten consecutive AFC East championships and eight consecutive trips to the AFC Championship Game.
This week the 3-0 Buffalo Bills welcome the 3-0 New England Patriots to Northern New York as the two undefeated AFC East teams face-off.
The game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV channel 4 in the greater Boston area and WPRI channel 12 in the greater Providence area. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work from the sidelines.
On the radio, Sunday’s game will be broadcast on 98.5 The Sports Hub is the flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network and all of the network’s 38 stations carry the game live. Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci is back to call the action along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who provides his own unique color analysis.
Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top match-ups on offense that will determine if the Patriots are the team which emerges victorious.
The Patriots’ offense comes into week four ranked second in points scored after dropping 33, 43 and then 30 points in their first three games. They are fifth in yards (1,225) and first in first downs after converting 72 through the first three weeks (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).
The balanced offensive attack of last season is a little off as the Patriots have 934 yards passing (second in the league) but only 291 yards on the ground (20th in the NFL). Part of that discrepancy has been injuries at fullback, tight end and along the offensive line keeping the blocking from being at the same level it was at last season.
New England faces a big test this week against the BIlls’ fourth ranked defense. With just 47 points allowed over three weeks, the strong defense is balance and stingy. The Bills are number one in turnovers created, ninth in passing yards allowed and eighth in rushing yards allowed.
How does New England’s offense stay on the right track in 2019 against a tough Buffalo defense?
Patriots’ Offensive Line vs Buffalo Defensive Line:
With right tackle Marcus Cannon back last week from a shoulder injury the Patriots may have to find another tackle on the edge recently acquired Marshall Newhouse questionable with an illness all week. Does left guard Joe Thuney or Korey Cunningham end up at left tackle? Ted Karras has acquitted himself well through three weeks at center, but has a key test this week.
With question marks on the offensive line, Buffalo will be trying to exploit those weaknesses. Buffalo’s first round draft pick defensive tackle Ed Oliver is already a disruptive force and his strength and athleticism will be a handful for the interior offensive line. Next to him is run stuffer extraordinaire, Star Lotulelei. As usual, Jerry Hughes is leading the team in sacks. Veteran edge rusher Trent Murphy will need to team with Lorezo Alexander to help get pressure from the edge.
Buffalo’s run defense up front is strong, but the pass rush sometimes can be stuck in neutral. The New England offensive line is a mess, but somehow Dante Scarnecchia gets that unit operating well enough to get the job done.
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Patriots’ Running Backs vs Buffalo Linebackers:
New England will have versatile back James White back after he missed the win versus the Jets last week as his wife had a child over the weekend. Brandon Bolden is off the injury report but Sony Michel desperately needs a bounce-back game. Michel is averaging 2.4 yards per rush and misses James Develin (on injured reserve with a neck injury) and has been affected by the offensive line turnover. He has lost playing time to Rex Burkhead (who is questionable with a foot injury). Third round draft pick Damien Harris also may get a chance to play on offense for the first time to insert some athleticism.
Buffalo’s linebacker group is the strength of the defense–which is saying a lot considering they have Hughes and Oliver up-front and a deep and talented secondary. Middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is an athletic freak and Matt Milano (Boston College alum) is a tackling machine. Lorenzo Alexander went from career special teamer to pass rush superstar in Buffalo. At 36, he is not slowing down in any way.
Buffalo’s linebackers bring multiple skills and are strong in both run defense and pass defense. The New England running game has been stuck in neutral all season. This is not the week to expect improvement.
New England Pass Catchers vs Buffalo Secondary:
Now that Antonio Brown has shot his way out of New England in record time, all eyes are on Josh Gordon who must be the key piece on exploiting the Bills’ secondary. New England may be without slot wide receiver Julian Edelman who is questionable with a chest injury that caused him to miss the second half of the win over the Jets. Phillip Dorsett will need to play a bigger role (13 receptions in three games in 2019) as will undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers (three receptions in two games in 2019).
The strength of the Buffalo secondary is the safety position. Versatile Micah Hyde teams with Jordan Poyer to form a one-two punch that–although lacking media attention–is among the best in the NFL. At cornerback, Tre’Davious White is growing into a shutdown corner and second-year Levi Wallace is not playing as well as last season. Kevin Johnson is looking to revitalize his career after washing out in Houston. Taron Johnson is the slot cornerback but got hurt in week one and Siran Neal–a significant step-down–has filled in.
The Bills unit is strong, but going against Tom Brady and the Patriots is no picnic. With no Rob Gronkowski, the Bills may feel they have an advantage, but if Julian Edelman can go on Sunday, the Patriots may be able to move the ball through the air.
ADVANTAGE: NEW ENGLAND
The New England offense must patch-up the offensive line and slow the strong Buffalo pass rush–particularly Jerry Hughes. In addition, the running game must get on track and keep the offense out of third-and-long situations. Phillip Dorsett and James White should be key match-up pieces in the passing game.
-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01