1. Stay aggressive on defense
After watching the likes of Kelly Holcomb, Gus Frerotte and Aaron Brooks throw all over them, the Patriots made some changes on defense and the results have been impressive so far. The Patriots have blitzed much more during their two game winning streak, especially on third downs. Instead of letting opposing quarterbacks sit in the pocket and survey the field, the Pats are bringing the heat and making the quarterbacks they play get rid of the ball quickly. Some of this has to do with their competition. Brooks Bollinger and JP Losman aren't exactly Pro Bowl-caliber passers but by beating up these teams, it appears the Patriot defenders are gaining more confidence and have a new attitude. Chris Simms has played well of late, cutting down on the mistakes he was making earlier in the season, but he's a still a young quarterback who can be rattled. Don't expect the Patriots to change what they've been doing on defense. Simms can expect to see a lot of pressure on passing downs and if New England can get to him early, it could be a long day for the young quarterback. It's hard to imagine the Patriots changing what they've been doing in recent weeks. The Bills only compiled 183 total yards, with 76 of those yards coming on Buffalo's final two plays. Losman was under fire all day long and Simms can expect the same on Saturday.
2. Don't let the Cadillac get rolling
While the Patriots have been more aggressive on defense in passing situations, their rush defense has been outstanding over the last month. After their loss to the Colts, New England ranked 27th in the NFL defending the run, giving up an average of 128.9 yards per game. After allowing only 14 yards rushing to the Bills last week, the Patriots now rank 11th in the league in rush defense, shaving 24.1 yards off their average. Since losing to Indy, only one back – Larry Johnson – has gone over 100 yards rushing against the Patriots and he needed 31 carries to do it. New England was missing a lot of tackles earlier in the year but now they are swarming to the ball and not letting backs break away for long runs. Richard Seymour is dominating once again while Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel have been all over the field making plays. They face another tough test this weekend. Cadillac Williams has racked up 924 yards and five touchdowns on his way to the NFL Rookie of the Year award. Cadillac is an explosive runner who is dynamite in the open field but he can also run tough inside. If the Patriots can stuff the Bucs rushing attack and put the game on Simms' shoulders, they should wrap up the AFC East title on Saturday.
3. Give the ball to not getting Brady-killin' Corey DillonWith the return of Kevin Faulk, David Givens and Troy Brown, the Patriots have rediscovered the short-passing game and that's encouraging for this offense heading into the playoffs. However, with Tom Brady and the offensive line banged up, it's vital that New England run the ball, and run it well, against the Bucs. Tampa's defense is made to defend the pass but they are a little small along their front seven, especially without Anthony McFarland in the middle of their defensive line. McFarland is expected to miss this game so the Patriots should have success running right at the Buccaneers. Corey Dillon still isn't 100 percent but he ran with authority and looked good for the first time in quite a while last week against the Bills. This is Dillon's time of year and his kind of game to run the football. This looks to be a low scoring affair against a good Bucs defense and for the Patriots to have success on offense; Dillon has to be a big factor. If Brady has to go back and throw the ball 40 times, Simeon Rice and that Bucs defense will eat him alive. The best case scenario for New England is to get out to an early lead, play good defense, and let clock-killin' Corey Dillon take care of the rest. The Patriots have shown they can run on weaker teams, now lets see them do it against one of the NFL's best defenses.
4. Which Josh will come up big?Punters don't get a lot of publicity but this game showcases the NFL's two best in Josh Miller and Josh Bidwell. Miller leads the league with a 46.0-yard average per punt and Bidwell is right behind him averaging 45.9 yards. The punters could play a big role in a game like this. Most people aren't expecting these two teams to get into a shootout, so field position and pinning the opponent deep in their own territory will play a big part in who gets the upper hand in this contest. Both punters have placed 18 kicks inside the 20-yard line and the Bucs especially are more than happy to punt the ball away and play defense. On the other hand, Tampa's offense isn't going to go 90-yards all day on the Patriots, so making the Bucs drive the length of the field will hurt their chances of scoring. Both Miller and Bidwell are having outstanding seasons and if this game is close and low scoring, one of these punters could have a big impact on which team comes away with a victory.
5. Be patient on offenseThis is by far one of the best defenses the Patriots will play this season. The Bucs play a cover-two scheme similar to what Tony Dungy runs in Indianapolis but unlike the Colts, Tampa doesn't have the firepower on offense to score 40 points. The Bucs goal on defense is to not give up the big play and force teams to drive the ball down the field. In some games this year, Brady has tried to do too much. Granted it was when a lot of key players where injured on offense but with those players back in the mix, Brady doesn't have to do it all anymore. The SI cover boy has done a good job in recent weeks of checking down and dumping passes off to Faulk and his tight ends. That will be key in this game because if Brady tries to force the ball into coverage like he did in Kansas City, the Bucs will make him pay. If he has to dump the ball off to Faulk on third-and-long and the Patriots are forced to punt, that's fine. If they are in the red zone and have to settle for a field goal, that's fine. What's important is the offense stay patient and not turn the ball over. If the Tampa defense can force turnovers and make the Patriots play from behind, they will be in good shape.
Patriots/Buccaneers connectionsDon Davis played for the Buccaneers from 1999-2000…Bucs defensive end Greg Spires played for the Patriots from 1997-2000…Buccaneers assistant strength and conditioning coach Mike Morris served as the speed coach for the Patriots during the 1997-1999 seasons…Bucs defensive end Chris Hovan was a starter at Boston College from 1996-1999…Patriots assistant secondary coach Joel Collier entered the NFL as an offensive assistant for Tampa Bay in 1990…Hank Poteat saw action in one game with Tampa Bay in 2003 before being released.