Patriots-Bills matchup of the day: Thursday

Posted Dec. 23, 2010 @ 3:23 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

Here's a matchup to watch in the Week 16 game between the Patriots and Bills:

Bills KR C.J. Spiller vs. Patriots kick-coverage unit

Spiller took a kickoff back 95 yards for a touchdown when these two teams met back in Week Three, his first career kick-return TD. He also added a receiving touchdown on a screen in the rookie's best game this season. He has battled injuries and has split time in the backfield, making his numbers much lower than expected, but Spiller has shown recently how electric he can be as a back and returning kicks.

Last week, the Patriots' kick coverage held Packers KR Sam Shields to a 21.3-yard average, but he did break 45-yard return. Overall, New England ranks 17th in the NFL in opponent kickoff-return average. As we mentioned last week, a perfect recipe for an upset is giving up a kickoff-return touchdown, and Spiller already has done that to the Patriots once this season.

Spiller is gaining 24.3 yards per kickoff return with two returns that have gone for more than 40 yards.

With the Patriots likely scoring often, Spiller should get ample opportunities to bust off a huge return, and that could be exactly what the Bills need to pull off an upset. Remember, they weren't too far off last time, scoring 30 points in a 38-30 loss.

For the Patriots, their keys on kickoff coverage are special-teams aces Dane Fletcher, Sammy Morris and Tracy White, in addition to secondary members Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. It has not helped that PK Shayne Graham has just two touchbacks out of his 43 kickoffs this season. The Patriots could try pooch kicks or squibs to keep Spiller's hands off the ball, because it would give the Bills a huge boost if he takes one to the house.