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Friday, November 9, 2012
Beware of Bills' special teams

By Field Yates

If there's a prevailing theme for Patriots players and coaches this week, it's the Bills' explosiveness and proficiency on special teams.

The Bills have explosive athletes on both offense and defense, some of whom double-dip in the kicking game as return players. No team has been more effective returning punts than the Bills in 2012, as their 19.5 yards per return average is more than 5 yards better than anyone else in the NFL. The Bills have gotten it done in the kickoff return game as well, bringing one back for a touchdown.

Buffalo is one of just four teams to have both a kickoff and a punt return for a score in 2012, and here is a brief overview of the three players whom the Patriots must be most aware of as return men on Sunday.

Cornerback Leodis McKelvin. The former first-round pick hasn't been quite as effective on defense in recent seasons, but he's a lightning rod with the football in his hands, and Buffalo's primary return weapon. He's already taken a punt 88 yards to the house, and he's also ripped off a 59-yard kickoff return. McKelvin's explosiveness has been showcased since before he ever played a down in the NFL: He ran a blazing 4.38 40 and 4.10 three cone drill at the 2008 NFL combine.

Wide receiver Brad Smith. The former college quarterback may not look as fast on the field as a player like McKelvin, but the rangy long-strider is dangerous with the ball in his hands nonetheless. Buffalo has tinkered with him as the point man in some Wildcat sets on offense, but Smith continues to make his name in the kicking game. He recently brought a kickoff back 89 yards for a score, the fourth time he has done so in his career.

Running back C.J. Spiller. While Spiller hasn't yet been used as a punt or kickoff return man in 2012, the Bills are at the point in their season where anything goes, and it wouldn't be a complete surprise to see him back deep in order to provide a spark. Spiller's speed is sensational, and he is an absolute nightmare to bring down in the open field. If he gets a step on a defender, it usually results in six points. While we wouldn't count on Spiller as a returner in Week 10, it's a possibility that the Patriots must be ready for.