Matt Sullivan - Getty Images
Over two years, the Buffalo Bills shelled out $175 million in total contract value to their four starting defensive linemen. They did so for the exact scenario that Sunday's game against the New England Patriots presents.
In July of 2011, the Buffalo Bills signed their first-round pick, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, to a fully guaranteed four-year, $20.4 million contract. Roughly a month later, they gave Kyle Williams a six-year, $39 million deal with $17 million guaranteed. Then, of course, they handed big contracts to defensive ends Mario Williams (six years, $96 million, $50 million guaranteed) and Mark Anderson (four years, $19.5 million, $8 million guaranteed).
Combined, that's $174.9 million in total contract value, including $95.4 million guaranteed, for four starting defensive linemen. Buffalo paid that money to four players for the explicit purpose of getting after quarterbacks - and one quarterback in particular.
Tom Brady has been a thorn in Buffalo's side for a decade. In 20 career games against the Bills, Brady has completed 407-of-621 passes (65.5 percent completions) for 4,830 yards (7.8 yards per attempt) with 46 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 102.2. He has been sacked less than two times per game in that time frame, and has only ever lost to Buffalo twice.
So the Bills spent tons of money to try to remove said thorn from their side. It won't work; not completely, anyway. There's not a defense in the NFL that Brady can't and hasn't picked apart. But if the Bills' new-look front four can consistently generate pressure on Brady - that's the well-established book on how to beat him - the quartet will be well worth its weight in gold.
Aiding Buffalo's efforts on this front is a New England Patriots offensive line that has struggled to protect Brady through three games. Brady has been sacked seven times in three games; that's not a particularly high number (just ask Aaron Rodgers), but Brady's also taking more hits than he has in the past. It's gotten bad enough that the Patriots have resorted to keeping star tight end Rob Gronkowski out of passing routes to help block; he's still got a respectable stat line (14 receptions, 156 yards, two touchdowns), but he has not been nearly as dynamic a receiving threat as he's been in the past because of the way the Pats are using him.
It's up to Buffalo's extraordinarily rich defensive line to keep it that way. After a slow start in Week 1, the Bills - sparked by improved play from the front four, particularly on the part of Kyle Williams - the team has nine sacks in the last two games. (Seven of them have come from the four starting linemen.) They don't need to add to that total by a lot on Sunday, but if they have any hope of competing with a very good Patriots team, they'll need to be disruptive enough to keep Brady out of rhythm and limit Gronkowski's effectiveness. If that happens, Buffalo will be competitive. If it doesn't... well, you've seen what happens.