Editor’s Note: Now that the complete 2012 schedule has been released, I’ll be taking a closer look at Buffalo’s upcoming 2012 contests in this multi-part series. Today’s Part 2 will cover Weeks 4-7. Part 1, covering Weeks 1-3, can be found here.
Week 4 – New England @ Buffalo
Sunday, September 30 – 1 p.m.
Last meetings: 9/25/11 – @Bills 34, Patriots 31; 1/1/12 – @Patriots 49, Bills 21
Outlook: After a fairly soft opening few weeks, the schedule takes a turn starting here. The Patriots have tortured the Bills in recent years, taking 16 of the last 17 contests against Buffalo. The Bills did finally take one from New England last season, but it took a great performance from the Buffalo offense and a healthy dose of luck to do it.
Make no mistake – the Pats are going to be really good again. The offense is still great. I’m not sure how anyone stops that devastating two tight-end attack. The defense is getting better, and they’ll have two first-round Draft picks to bolster that group. Belichick is still the mastermind. I have the Pats and Texans as my two overwhelming favorites in the AFC.
But that’s not to say the Bills couldn’t find a way to steal this one. I’m not sure how well New England will be able to run the ball, and obviously the Buffalo pass rush should be much improved. If the Bills can get after Tom Brady and limit the damage Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez do, this is winnable. The recent retirement of Pats LT Matt Light could also help if they can’t find a decent replacement.
Week 5 – Buffalo @ San Francisco
Sunday, October 7 – 4:15 p.m.
Last meeting: 11/30/08 – 49ers 10, @Bills 3
Outlook: Things get no easier after the New England contest, as the Bills must fly to the West Coast to take on the defending NFC West champions the following week. The 49ers were a muffed punt in the NFC title game from making the Super Bowl last season, and they’ll be very formidable again in 2012.
Buffalo’s offense is in for a real challenge, as this defense is really freaking good. Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks, our old pal Donte Whitner…what a talented group. This was the top unit in the NFL against the run last season, so it will be a test to see if the Bills can get Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller going. The pass defense isn’t quite as good, but this team has a fierce pass rush and keeping Ryan Fitzpatrick upright will be vital.
That all being said, this isn’t a hopeless situation. I’m not sold on the 49er offense at all – I’ll need two straight years of productive Alex Smith before I’m a believer. I also think the 49ers played a bit over their heads in 2011. San Francisco going 13-3 is pretty unlikely.
One possibly helpful thing here could be the fact that the 49ers will have a revenge game against the Super Bowl champion Giants the week following Buffalo’s visit. Could the Bills catch the 49ers looking ahead to that one?