We're nearing the 72-hour mark from kickoff of this Sunday's important AFC East matchup between the 3-2 Buffalo Bills and the 3-2 New England Patriots. It's only 9:00 a.m. on a Thursday, but you should still free to crack open this six-pack of game stats and notes as we mentally ready ourselves for what we hope will be a huge Bills win this Sunday.
No. 1: The Bills have always been generous in helping the Patriots beat them, and they already have an established trend of generosity that can't continue on Sunday if they're going to win: the Bills currently lead the NFL in first downs allowed via penalty, surrendering 20 through five games. In fact, they've given up more first downs via penalty than they have through the running game (18), which is kind of crazy. If there's one sure way to letting Tom Brady beat you, it's by giving him a handful of free first downs in a game.
No. 2: Speaking of penalties, the Bills are tied for third in the NFL with a whopping 45 penalties through five games. They are equaled by none other than New England, who have surrendered 466 yards on their 45 penalties (compared to 372 for the Bills). Only Pittsburgh (51 for 437 yards) and San Francisco (48 for 393 yards) have been penalized more frequently than the Bills and Patriots; New England leads the league in yards allowed on those penalties, while the Bills come in eighth. If you've been annoyed by the number of flags being thrown in Bills games this season, you should expect to be equally annoyed on Sunday.
No. 3: Through five games, the Bills are tied for first in the NFL with a plus-6 turnover differential. They are tied there with three other teams: Green Bay, San Diego, and, yes, New England. Buffalo has turned the football over just four times in five games (though three of those have come in the last two weeks, and two of those three were pick-sixes), while forcing at least two turnovers in four of their five contests. That's worth noting because the Patriots have turned the ball over nine times combined in their last three trips to Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Pats are still 2-1 in those contests, however, and that's because the Bills committed 10 turnovers themselves. Remember how the Bills have been generous in helping the Pats beat them? Buffalo must win the turnover battle to survive Brady and the Pats.
No. 4: A strength-versus-weakness matchup to monitor in this contest is third down success. After Week 5, the Bills' defense ranks No. 1 in the NFL in third down efficiency, allowing conversions on just 31.8 percent of opponent tries. The typically efficient Patriots offense, however, comes in at just No. 24 overall in that category, converting a mere 36.5 percent of their tries. Still, it's Brady; Jim Schwartz and the Bills' coverage defenders will need to be as on point as they were in Detroit (who converted 1-of-11 third down tries) to keep the Pats off the field. It would also be helpful if Buffalo's offense could finally sustain a few drives on third downs, as well; they rank No. 28 in the NFL in that department offensively, with just a 34.2 percent conversion rate.
No. 5: Fred Jackson is working through an ankle sprain suffered late in the win over Detroit; he was limited in practice on Wednesday, but even if the Bills dial back his workload this week, it's looking like he'll still be available. Jackson, who remains the Bills' most consistent producer on offense by far, is a notoriously efficient player against New England, as well; in 12 career games against the Patriots, Jackson has accumulated 1,113 yards from scrimmage (701 rushing, 412 receiving) and five touchdowns on a mere 184 touches. Even at less than 100 percent, Jackson will be vital to the Bills' cause on Sunday, and not just from a pass protection standpoint. (But you don't need me to tell you that, do you?)
No. 6: It's not even close to the same feel as the Lawyer Milloy game from 2003, but you can bet that linebacker Brandon Spikes and defensive line coach Pepper Johnson are fired up for this contest. Spikes left New England via free agency this past spring in what was a fairly ugly divorce of sorts, and has emerged as a key figure on the Bills' No. 2-ranked run defense. Johnson is a different tale altogether: he played for teams that Bill Belichick coached for a combined 10 seasons as a player, then spent an additional 14 seasons in various assistant roles on Belichick's coaching staff in New England. Now out from under that immense shadow, Johnson is coaching the Bills' immensely talented defensive line, who as a unit have accumulated 14.5 of the Bills' league-leading 17 sacks so far this season. It's not hard to imagine that both Spikes and Johnson are extra motivated to work for a win this week.