Bills at Patriots (8:30pm ET Monday, ESPN)
If the season ended today, the 5-4 Buffalo Bills would be in the playoffs for the first time since Doug Flutie lined up under center and Bill Clinton was president. While first-year head coach Rex Ryan jibber-jabbers to any journalist bored enough to listen, the story of the Bills’ season has been the play of quarterback Tyrod (just change it to Tie Rod and be done with it, man) Taylor. After four years riding the pine in Baltimore, where he got into just 14 games, not even throwing a single pass in 5 of them, Taylor finally got his shot this season, and has made the most of it.
In 7 starts this season, Taylor has led the Bills to a 5-2 record, completing an NFL-best 70.5% of his passes, and is top 6 in Passer Rating, Yards per Pass Attempt, and Passing TD%, while also averaging 5.2 yards a rush over 47 carries. In his previous start against New England, in September, Taylor completed 23 of 30 for 242 yards and 3 TDs, but he also threw 3 interceptions, joining a long list of inexperienced QBs who’ve been flustered by a Bill Belichick defense – no shame there, really.
Defense has traditionally been the hallmark of Rex Ryan-led teams, but this year the Bills’ D has taken a giant step back, as they’ve gone from being a top 5 unit to middle-of-the-pack. Last month, DE Mario Williams and DT Marcell Dareus expressed their displeasure with Ryan and his newly installed 3-4 scheme. Yes, they’ve had to play both the Pats and Bengals thus far, which will put a dent in anyone’s numbers, but they’ve also surrendered 788 yards in 2 games against the Dolphins, who’ve averaged just 338 yards against the rest of the league.
After narrowly escaping yet another “WTF” loss to the New York Giants, the New England Patriots are 9-0. Get comfortable, ‘cuz we’re gonna run down a list of stats in which they’re top 5 in the NFL: Points per Game (33.7), Points Allowed per Game (18.8), Margin of Victory (14.9), Yards (3786), Yards per Play (6.2), Turnovers (7), 1st Downs (224), Completions (251), Passing Yards (2933), Passing TDs (24), Net Yards per Passing Attempt (7.5)… You get the point. Oh, and they score on a league-best 52.9% of their drives – that’s right, it’s better than even money that if they get the ball, they will score.
Between Deflate-gate and his “oh crap, we made him angry” play this season, Touchdown Tommy has sucked up enough oxygen, so let’s give a little love to the hero of last week’s victory, Stephen Gostkowski, who won the game with a 54-yard field goal with a second left on the clock. Since 2006, when he replaced Adam Vinatieri as the Pats’ kicker, Gostkowski has been every bit the equal of his predecessor. Gostkowksi has missed just 1 extra point in his career, during Week 17 of his rookie year, good for an all-time best 99.8% clip among guys with more than 400 attempts, and he holds the record for most consecutive PAT made, 445 and counting. He also scored the most points of anyone through their age-31 season, 1276, a good 180 points against the #2 guy, Mason Crosby, and 359 better than Vinatieri at the same stage. And his 87.7% field goal success rate is third all time, behind only Justin Tucker and Dan Bailey, who, it should be noted have fewer combined field attempts (277) than Gostkowski (301) himself. During his time in the NFL, no kicker has made more extra points or field goals. This season, he leads the NFL in points, with 97, putting him on pace to set the single season record, and is the only kicker who’s not yet missed a single kick, FG or PAT.
The Pats do have some injury concerns, as they have lost in consecutive weeks the services of running back DIon Lewis and wide receiver Julian Edelman, and their offensive line has been ravaged. Still, on paper, there’s no really no reason to play this game, as the Patriots are so clearly superior in almost every facet of the game. But, hey, that’s what they said about the last Monday Night game.