The last seven days must have seemed like an eternity for the Buffalo Bills. As if dealing with last Sunday's devastating 24-23 loss in Miami wasn't enough, they had to deal with the week-long distraction of wide receiver Eric Moulds' one-game suspension.
Oh, by the way, the Bills (4-8) play the New England Patriots (7-5) today in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
As for the Patriots, they have their own problems to deal with, mainly injuries and a defense that has given up points and yards by the bushel.
But after escaping with a 21-16 win over the Bills in the first meeting, the Patriots know they can't afford to let their guard down against a team desperate to salvage what's left of its season.
Breaking down the Bills
Rushing: Bills need to get RB Willis McGahee back on track. He's had one 100-yard outing in six weeks and hasn't scored a touchdown in that span because he's not being utilized enough in red zone. . . . McGahee had a big day against Patriots in last meeting (136 yards), so look for Bills to give him a lot of touches in an effort to shorten game. . . . Patriots' run defense has improved in recent weeks. Tedy Bruschi, who is regaining his stride after missing half of the season while recovering from a stroke, and versatile Mike Vrabel have solidified the inside linebacker position. The defensive line is looking better with DE/DT Richard Seymour back from knee injury. . . . Bills will likely try to get McGahee outside by getting extra blockers on Patriots' perimeter.
Passing: QB J.P. Losman, who is coming off best game of career (224 yards and three TDs versus Miami) faces Patriots' 31st-ranked pass defense that has lost six players in secondary to injuries. . . . Losman must be a good decision maker as Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his defensive assistants are known for devising schemes that force young quarterbacks into bad decisions. . . . With Moulds out, WR Lee Evans (career highs of 117 yards and three TDs last week) will see more double coverage. . . . Bills have allowed 35 sacks and must give Losman time to find open receivers. . . . Patriots are last in NFL in sacks, but a healthy Seymour can be a disruptive force. OLBs Rosevelt Colvin and Willie McGinest will bring pressure as well. . . . Losman's mobility is a concern for Patriots, who must keep him contained in pocket.
Special teams: Belichick has a lot of respect for Terrence McGee, who returned a kickoff for a TD against Patriots last season. . . . Patriots' coverage hasn't been great, so look for shorter kickoffs to limit big plays. . . . P Brian Moorman will have a huge say in determining field position.
Breaking down the: Patriots
Rushing: RBs Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk are finally healthy and should give offense a spark. Dillon is physical workhorse who can move chains. Faulk plays in Patriots' sub packages and his quickness is a nice change of pace. . . . Patriots desperately need to re-establish run, so look for game plan that features Dillon and an improving offensive line. . . . Bills are making steady improvement stopping run. But they are still 31st in NFL, so there is room for more improvement. . . . Bills must be disciplined and stay in their gaps. Dillon lacks great speed, but he can get around corner if Bills lose containment.
Passing: A running game would take pressure off QB Tom Brady, who has carried offense. Brady is efficient passer who is good at finding receivers in short and intermediate areas. . . . WR Deion Branch is team's best deep threat. He and fellow wideouts David Givens and Troy Brown are disciplined route runners with a knack for getting open. . . . TEs Ben Watson and Daniel Graham, if healthy, have speed to stretch middle of field. . . . CB Nate Clements and Bills' secondary are looking for bounce-back game. It would help if Bills can rattle Brady with pressure. Expect an overload of blitzes from left side of Patriots' offensive line, which is manned by two rookies -- LT Nick Kaczur and LG Logan Mankins. . . . Sending a linebacker, cornerback or safety should create some one-on-one rush opportunities for DE Aaron Schobel, who sacked Brady twice in previous meeting.
Special teams: K Adam Vinatieri is just 3 of 7 beyond 40 yards, but he's still Mr. Automatic in clutch. . . . P Josh Miller is having career year (46.7-yard average). . . . Bethel Johnson and Tim Dwight are capable of springing big returns.
Patriots are very beatable, but Bills will be challenged to overcome turmoil that's enveloped this team. Figure on a close game, but as usual, Patriots find a way to win. Patriots 20, Bills 13.