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Tedy Bruschi foresees Bills dropping Patriots to 1-3

By Tim Graham

When I used to cover the AFC East for ESPN.com, one of my favorite features each week during the regular season was "Bruschi's Breakdown," Tedy Bruschi's analysis of the New England Patriots' upcoming game with ESPNBoston.com reporter Mike Reiss.

Bruschi and Reiss never disappointed with their analysis. You couldn't help but feel smarter about football by the time you got to the end.

That holds true again for this week's installment. Bruschi shared his thoughts on Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The former Patriots linebacker, who picked the Bills to go to the playoffs this year, predicted they will beat the Patriots by three points in Orchard Park a second straight season.

I recommend that you read the entire Q&A conversation, but here are some highlights of Bruschi's analysis ...

On Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick:

I see him as a quarterback who stares down his receivers and has an elongated delivery. He gives everything he has into throwing the ball. As defenders you can get a good read on that, and get good breaks on the ball, so this is a guy you'll have the opportunity to get interceptions on.

On pressuring Fitzpatrick without sacking him:

Fitzpatrick has only been sacked one time, so you might not get to him, but there are still opportunities to make plays with a bull-rush-and-elevate strategy. Fitzpatrick isn't the tallest guy and sometimes there is an angle-type delivery, almost sidearm, so if you bull rush and get those hands up, it can make it more challenging by having him throw the ball through a forest. It's similar to what Tom Brady said in the Super Bowl last year and trying to throw through the Giants' defense. That can help out your defense tremendously.

On the Patriots' ability to bounce back from two straight losses:

"Based on what?!" That's what Coach Belichick used to say when players felt it was only a matter of time before we started playing winning football again. Well, based on what I've seen from the Patriots the past two weeks, they have a long way to go. Going into Orchard Park to play a solid Bills team might be too much for them.

Bruce DeHaven denies rift with Brian Moorman

By Jay Skurski

Buffalo Bills special teams coach Bruce DeHaven denied a rift with former punter Brian Moorman contributed to the team's decision to release him Tuesday.

"I liked Brian. I think he tried to do everything we were trying to do in the punt game," DeHaven said after practice today. "I have absolutely no problem with Brian in terms of any kind of relationship or anything he was trying to do when he was here. He was helpful. I thought he bought in to trying to do what we were trying to do."

DeHaven did not go into details when asked why the decision was made.

"I think I'll go with what [General Manager] Buddy [Nix] said. He's the guy that speaks for the organization," DeHaven said. "In terms of reasons for the move, I'll stick with what he had to say.

"I don't want to say anything that would denigrate Brian in any way. He had a great career here. He's got a great reputation in town. The move has been made, and I don't want to say anything that might be misconstrued as something negative about Brian."

On new punter Shawn Powell, who at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds is the biggest in team history, DeHaven said, "Personally, I've always liked tall punters. I just think it's a deal [where] you've got more leverage. Most of your big, tall golfers hit the ball a little bit farther than the shorter guys. There's more of an arc there. … It's not that the punters that aren't quite as tall can't kick as far because there's some like that in the league. But right now most of the punters that have come into the league in the last five or six years are 6-4 or 6-5."

Backup quarterback Tyler Thigpen will do the holding Sunday on extra points and field goals. Both Thigpen and Powell have worked on holding in practice.

"Tyler might have been a hair smoother than Shawn is right now," DeHaven said. "There wasn't a whole lot of difference. They're pretty close to the same. I just like the idea that Tyler has been handling the ball more over the last month.

"Shawn’s been down there in Georgia, punting. But he hasn't been catching snaps. He hasn't been handling the ball a lot. I kind of like the idea of a guy that's been taking snaps from center. He's been in the league. And now Shawn's only got one thing to think about, and that's punting. I believe that at some point he'll be the holder because he's doing a good job."

DeHaven said from a practice standpoint, it's better to have the punter hold.

"I made Chris Mohr wait two years to be the holder one time," DeHaven said. "Of course, I had a pretty good holder in Frank Reich. You'd rather the punter be the holder because it's easier during the week, during practice."

Video: Duffy on Bills lease talks

Wannstedt anxious to see his young corners against Tom Brady

By Jay Skurski

Ready or not for the Buffalo Bills’ cornerbacks, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are coming to town Sunday.

“We don’t have a choice at this point,” Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt said with a smile today when asked whether his young corners are ready for their biggest challenge. “The truth of the matter is they have gotten better from Week One to Week Two to Week Three and this’ll be their biggest test.”

Wannstedt went on to explain what makes preparing against the Patriots so difficult.

"They’ve got outstanding receivers, yes, but Tom does such a great job. Every time the ball’s snapped, [the corners] have to assume their guy is going to be the receiver who gets the ball thrown to him,” Wannstedt said. “As compared to most quarterbacks where you’re content to teach some concepts and say ‘hey, when they line up in this formation or do this, this is what they’re focusing on, and this is where the ball’s probably coming.’ With Brady, it makes no difference. You’ve got to cover the whole field."

Wannstedt the biggest development for cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, Aaron Williams and Justin Rogers has been increased confidence.

“I think they’re all serious about it. I think they’ve all gained confidence, and that’s the biggest thing at that position,” Wannstedt said. “They know what to do, but early on you don’t want to give up the big play, so you play a little softer than you would normally, and that’s not really what we do. They’ve gained confidence and this’ll be a big challenge. I’m excited to see what they do."

Gronk added to Pats' injury report; Edelman, Hernandez out

By Jay Skurski

The New England Patriots' injury report has a new addition today: tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Amherst native is listed as questionable for Sunday's game with a hip injury after practicing on a limited basis this afternoon.

New England will be without receiver Julian Edelman (hand) and tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle) for the game after both were ruled out. Edelman missed the second half of last Sunday's loss to the Baltimore Ravens after being hurt. His absence is a big one for the Patriots -- he had earned a starting role.

In addition to Gronkowski, the Patriots list nine other players as questionable. They are: Defensive end Brandon Deaderick (ankle), cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring), defensive tackle Justin Francis (ankle), defensive tackle Kyle Love (knee), guard Logan Mankins (hip), offensive lineman Nick McDonald (shoulder), cornerback Sterling Moore (knee), running back Shane Vereen (foot) and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back). Deaderick and Mankins did not practice today, the rest were limited.

Mankins did not practice all week, for more on the significance of that check out this post from Tim Graham.

The Bills will be without receiver Ruvell Martin because of an ankle injury. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin (groin) is probable. As Mark Gaughan reported earlier, running backs Fred Jackson (knee) and C.J. Spiller (shoulder) are questionable.

Video: Gaughan, Skurski provide Bills update from OP

Fred Jackson optimistic for Sunday, C.J. Spiller a maybe

By Mark Gaughan

Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey said today running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller both took part in practice Friday and both will be listed as questionable for Sunday's game against New England.

"I think they both have a chance, a legitimate chance," Gailey said after the team's workout in the Bills Fieldhouse. Both were somewhat limited in the workout. Jackson is coming back from a sprained knee, Spiller from a shoulder injury.

Jackson, in the locker room after practice, was optimistic about playing.

"It got better as the day went on today, so that's always good," Jackson said. "It felt good yesterday, too, after practice. Excited to see what happens on Sunday."

Gailey acknowledged he would not have expected on Monday that Spiller would have been able to do some work Thursday and Friday.

"Not a chance," Gailey said. "It was great to get Spiller back because it keeps our Wildcat stuff alive, so that's good."

Still, given the fact Spiller only got a couple of snaps on Thursday, he's probably more questionable than Jackson.

On the line from Vegas: Trends look raggedy for Bills

By Tim Graham

A week ago on the Press Coverage blog, Las Vegas oddsmaker Joel Staniszewski relayed an NFL trend that proved prophetic.

Staniszewski is a Buffalo State grad who works for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, one of the world's most prominent line-setting operations. Last week, he noted teams that started a season 0-2 were 80-57-1 in Week Three against the spread -- a wager-healthy .584 win percentage. The win percentage increased to .642 for 0-2 underdogs.

And what happened Sunday?

Four out of five 0-2 underdogs won straight up, with the lone exception being the Cleveland Browns at home against the Buffalo Bills. The New Orleans Saints were the only 0-2 favorites to lose, but they played the 0-2 Kansas City Chiefs.

"I'm an oddsmaker, but first and foremost I'm a Bills fan," Staniszewski said Thursday from Las Vegas. "Any time a trend works out and the Bills win their game, it's the best week possible.

"What can be better than that?"

Staniszewski certainly wouldn't mind watching his Bills defeat the New England Patriots on Sunday, but the trends aren't encouraging.

"Everyone knows the history of the Bills and the Pats," Staniszewski said. "So it historically doesn't look good.

"Over their last 20 games, the Bills are 2-18 straight up. They are 1-6-1 against the spread their last eight home games. Previous to last year, they were 0-6-1 against the spread at home. Over their last 21 games within the AFC East, the Bills are 4-17 against the spread."

The Patriots opened as a 3 1/2-point favorite. Early money on the Patriots moved the line to 4 points. The over-under total opened at 51 1/2 points and shifted slightly to 52 points.

"The last 13 games within the AFC East, the game involving New England has gone over the total 12 times," Staniszewski said.

Staniszewski noted the uncertainty surrounding Bills running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller hasn't had a huge impact on the numbers so far.

Live NFL Chat with Mark Gaughan

Injured Logan Mankins a critical piece to Patriots' offense

By Tim Graham

Mankins2When considering the New England Patriots' best players, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker quickly come to mind.

Don't overlook, however, the importance of left guard Logan Mankins. The four-time Pro Bowler is one of the NFL's top ogres.

In a division loaded with great offensive linemen, I ranked Mankins the AFC East's ninth-best player regardless of position entering the season. His peers voted him the 64th-best player in the league for the NFL Network's "Top 100" list -- ahead of stars such as Roddy White, A.J. Green, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dwight Freeney.

Then it's notable for the Patriots' offense that Mankins already has missed two practices this week with a hip injury, putting his status in question for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

New England has given up seven sacks this year with Mankins in the lineup. Without him, the path to Brady opens up that much more for Buffalo's warming pass rush.

Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams told me this week he enjoys tangling with Mankins every year, but I'm sure Williams wouldn't be downtrodden if Mankins couldn't play or was less than 100 percent.

"He's a big guy, a physical player," Williams said. "He stays after you. He plays hard. A lot of times you see guys that are talented but don't play as hard as he does. He stays after guys.

"We've gone at it over the years, and it's always fun to play guys that considered some of the best. ... When you get in the week and you play players with good reputations, you look forward to the challenge because of where they've been and the team they've stood for. It's always fun to play the best."

Mankins is a major reason the Patriots' offense has been able to plug in a variety of running backs -- bruisers or slashers, undrafted players or waiver pickups -- and still perform at a high level. In his seven seasons, the Patriots have finished in the top 10 in total offense six times.

Mankins went to the Pro Bowl and was voted first-team All-Pro in 2010 -- despite playing only nine games because of a contract dispute.

Williams, one of the NFL's most underrated players, isn't overly impressed by the accolades. He pointed out those are the rewards that are given to players on winning teams.

As such, Williams isn't disposed to fawning over the Patriots. He just wants to beat them.

"Obviously, you have great respect for them for what they have done and the team that they are," Williams said. "We want to be at the level of team that they're at. But by no stretch of the imagination does that mean that people are going to quiver when they're coming to town.

"They have to play the same amount of snaps that we do. With us, if we can continue to play well and go out and make plays Sunday, I think teams are going to notice and say, 'We have to prepare for these guys because they can play.' That starts this Sunday: division opponent, team that's owned our division, been to the Super Bowl, conference champions.

"We have a big challenge in front of us, but we're not going to get to where they are by being scared when they roll in here and backing off. We have to get after them Sunday."

(Photo: Associated Press)

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham | tgraham@buffnews.com


Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan | mgaughan@buffnews.com


Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski | jskurski@buffnews.com

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