by Greg Gabriel, Buffalo Sports Page NFL Expert

Back in August during training camp, I’m sure every Bills fan alive would have said they would be very happy with an 8-6 record going into Week 16. Well, that is the reality and the Buffalo Bills are fighting for a playoff spot with two games left on the 2017 regular season schedule.

If the Bills win their final two games they are in the playoffs as a Wild Card team. A loss doesn’t knock them out of the playoffs, but it sure jeopardizes their chances as they would need a lot of help to get that sixth and final slot in the AFC Playoffs.

Bills Broken in Beantown

It won’t be easy for the Bills as they have to play the 11-3 New England Patriots on the road. The Bills just played the Patriots three weeks ago in Buffalo and lost 23-3. Not much has changed for ether team since that game, so for the Bills it’s a matter of playing better and executing every play on both offense and defense.

While the Patriots have clinched the AFC East, they still are in must win situation, so there won’t be any Patriot starters being rested. The Pats want to earn a first round bye but also secure home field advantage for the AFC Playoffs. As the standings sit now, they need to win each of their final two games in order to do that.

Patriots Pride

The Patriots are tied with Pittsburgh for the best record in the AFC and because of their win at Pittsburgh last week, they hold the tie-breaker for home field advantage. The problem New England has is that Jacksonville has a 10-4 record and a New England loss could mean they lose that first round bye. After the Bills, the Patriots host the New York Jets to end the regular season.

Jacksonville has the toughest schedule of all the Division leaders so a Patriots win over the Bills could very well lock up at worst a first round bye for New England. The Jags go on the road for both of their games playing at San Francisco this week then traveling to Tennessee next week. San Francisco has won two in a row since Jimmy Garoppollo has been starting at quarterback, so that game will be difficult. Tennessee, like the Bills. is fighting for a Wild Card spot.

Pittsburgh has to play at Houston and then close out at home versus Cleveland so they have it easier than the other clubs who are involved in this equation.

Beating the Brady Bunch

What it gets down to, is the Buffalo Bills are in control of their own destiny and a club can’t ask for more. It’s real simple, win and you’re in! A win won’t be easy as the Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is still one of the best quarterbacks in the business. He may be 40 years old and not playing at the same level as he was five years ago but he is still darn good.

The Bills on the other hand will be going with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, who has serious limitations when it comes to throwing downfield. In order for the Bills to win this game they have to play mistake free football. That means a strong running game, a minimum of penalties and controlling the clock. The have to run the ball well, stay on schedule and move the chains. When they get in the red-zone they can’t settle for three, they have to score touchdowns against a team like New England.

Grappling With Gronk

On defense it’s imperative that the Bills pressure Brady. There isn’t a quarterback alive who can read defenses like Brady, so getting strong immediate pressure is a must. They also have to limit the number of plays Rob Gronkowski makes. The Williamsville native seems to always come up big against his hometown team.

Though the Bills are a vastly improved football team, I just don’t see them being able to pull this win off. With the game being on the road and the teams lack of experience in big games will work against them. If that happens to be the case, Bills fans have a lot to be proud of as this team is not that far away from being a perennial contender. A solid Draft and free agency period will put the Bills in that position for years to come.

 

Greg Gabriel

Gabriel has spent most of his adult life as an evaluator for various NFL clubs. He started his career in 1991 working for the Buffalo Bills as a part time scout under dormer Bills Director of Player Personnel Norm Pollom. He left the Bills in June 1984 to become the Great Lakes area scout for National Football Scouting. Following the 1984 season, Gabriel joined the New York Giants as their Midwest area scout and was promoted to Director of Player Development in 1996. The Giants went to three Super Bowls and won two during Gabriel’s time with the club.

Following the Giants appearance versus the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, Greg became Director of College Scouting for the Chicago Bears under General Manager Jerry Angelo. He held that position until June of 2010. During his time with Chicago, the Bears won three Division titles and the 2006 NFC Championship. In his nine Drafts with the Bears, the team drafted 12 future Pro Bowl performers such perennial Pro Bowler Matt Forte, Tommie Harris, Devin Hester, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman.

In the 2012 – 2013 season, Gabriel was a consultant for the Philadelphia Eagles Scouting Department and has since done some small scouting roles for various NFL clubs.

Since leaving the NFL Gabriel has been a contributor for the National Football Post, the Bleacher Report and more recently Pro Football Weekly. He also is both a writer and contributor for WSCR (670the Score) in Chicago. The last three years he has authored the Pro Football Weekly Draft Guide.
Gabriel grew up in Amherst and is a 1974 graduate of Canisius College where he was a member of the football team. He and his wife Robin currently resides in the Chicago area.

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