Fitz Verses Brady as Pats Seek to End Losing Streak in Buffalo

There’s a lot of interesting story lines, including a little role reversal, when the New England Patriots travel to Western New York to take on the division rival Bills this weekend.

The Bills come into the game with the better record, sitting at 2-1 while the Patriots are 1-2 and below 0.500 for the first time since an opening game loss in 2003.  That opening game loss was to the Bills, who beat the Patriots in that opener 31-0 before the Patriots turned things around to finish the season 14-2, winning their second of three Super Bowls in four years.

Following that loss in 2003, the Patriots went on to beat the Bills 15 consecutive times until the Bills got that monkey off their back by beating the Patriots early in the season last year in a 34-31 thriller.  New England got their revenge later in the year, as they trounced the Bills 49-21 in the season finale on their way to yet another Super Bowl appearance.

Tom Brady & Ryan Fitzpatrick

But 2012 is a different season.  There is a quarterback in this game who is tied for the league lead in touchdowns, but it isn’t Tom Brady.  Ryan Fitzpatrick has 8 touchdowns through 3 games, tied with Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan for the NFL lead.

Brady has only 4 TDs so far, as the Patriots haven’t quite looked like the Patriots this season.  Brady is still averaging almost 300 yards per game and has only thrown a single interception, but the offense hasn’t seemed as unstoppable as they looked at times last year.  And while their defense has looked better in stretches, they have been up and down.  The Patriots have looked… mortal.

That being said, although they are 1-2, their two losses are by a total of 3 points, and they are two last second field goals (one missed chip shot by Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski and one barely made buzzer-beater by Ravens kicker Justin Tucker) away from being 3-0.

From the Bills side of the ball, after getting pounded by the Jets in Week 1, they have responded with back to back wins.  And besides Fitzpatrick’s 8 TDs, it is the Bills running game that drives their offense.  Although they’ve had a rash of injuries at running back, it appear that whoever they plug in can gobble up huge chunks of ground behind the Bills offensive line.

Despite the injuries, the Bills have the third best rushing attack in the NFL.  After starter Fred Jackson was injured in the opener, C.J. Spiller responded with 169 rushing yards in game one and then 123 in game two.  When Spiller went down against Cleveland last week, third string RB Tashard Choice racked up 91 yards.  Jackson is slated to be back for the Patriots game, which is great news for the Bills, as he is the workhorse on that offense.  Jackson had six 100-yard games in the first nine games of the season before getting injured and missing the last six games.

Buffalo’s defense is seventh in the league with 9 sacks this season, and will need to get to Brady to disrupt the precision Patriots passing game.  This is the game when the offseason investment in Mario Williams and Erik Williams needs to pay off for the Bills if they are going to win.  The Bills have held their last two opponents to under 20 points each, but the Chiefs and Browns are far from the Patriots offense.

The Bills seem to be poised to be able to steal this game at home and extend their lead in the AFC East, but it is hard to imagine Brady, Belichick and the Patriots losing three in a row to fall to 1-3.  Look for the Bills to pound the ball away on the ground to try to keep Brady on the sidelines, but expect the Patriots to be extra sharp on Sunday and pull out the win.

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