Buffalo’s 5-2 start was a long time ago to fans in Orchard Park. Since the Bills shut out the Redskins 23-0 in Week 8, Buffalo dropped seven of eight games to disappear from the AFC playoff picture.
Buffalo’s early-season offensive resurgence proved temporary, as the Bills averaged over 30 points a game in their first seven outings and only 17.5 in their last eight. However, the Bills handled the Broncos with ease last week, and won’t roll over in New England.
While the Bills beat New England in Week 3, the Patriots were missing Aaron Hernandez. Brady had 3+ wide receivers on the field for 44 of his 45 pass attempts in that game, easily his highest total of the season. Four of Brady’s 11 interceptions this season came with 3+ wide receivers on the field against Buffalo, and having both tight ends active and healthy will change New England’s approach on Sunday.
Here are some other areas to watch for in the season finale:
* During Buffalo’s bye week (Week 7), Ryan Fitzpatrick received a $59 million contract extension from the Bills, prompting Bills general manager Buddy Nix to say, “He’ll be our quarterback for a long time.” It was easy to see at that point why the Bills were so confident in Fitzpatrick. Through the first six weeks of the season, Fitzpatrick posted a 70.9 Total QBR (sixth in the NFL), and had hit his stride using a high-efficiency short passing game. However, Fitzpatrick’s QBR since the extension is 36.5, 28th among 34 qualified quarterbacks. Should Fitzpatrick continue to struggle next season, Nix may have to rethink his assessment.
* Another reason for Buffalo’s offensive collapse this season came in the second half of the Bills' 35-8 loss in Miami in Week 11. Fred Jackson, who at the time trailed only Matt Forte in total yards from scrimmage, broke his right leg and was placed on injured reserve. Among qualified running backs, Jackson’s 5.5 yards per rush is still tops in the league, and Jackson is tied for fourth with 10 rushes of at least 20 yards despite missing Buffalo’s last five games. C.J. Spiller has done a nice job filling in for Jackson since the injury. Spiller is an explosive runner who can break big plays in both the running and passing game. Spiller has six 20+ yard rushes in the last five games, tied for the league lead with Chris Johnson, and is eighth among running backs with 24 total first downs.
* Through the first eight weeks of the season, there was no defense more opportunistic than the Bills'. Buffalo’s pass defense led the NFL with 14 interceptions through seven games, and only the Jets (-7) had a better TD-Int differential than the Bills (-4). However, in the last eight weeks Buffalo has surrendered 17 passing touchdowns, behind only the Vikings and Giants, and its +12 TD-Int ratio is second-worst in the league. Injuries have taken their toll on the Bills' defense, including the loss of All-Pro nose tackle Kyle Williams in early November, and Buffalo has been especially ineffective trying to generate pressure by using extra pass rushers.