Top 3 Individual Matchups
1. Stevie Johnson vs. Devin McCourty – Johnson is a flat out playmaker that cleverly gains consistent separation, but the Patriots’ top pick is having an impressive rookie season with a share of the AFC lead in INTs with six. This could be the most entertaining matchup in the game.
Bills Top 2 Advantages
Good advantage – Passing offense – New England’s secondary has improved since their first meeting with Buffalo in Week 3 as Devin McCourty has emerged as a playmaker as well as Patrick Chung. But they’ve still surrendered the third most passing yards in the league this season. The Bills passing attack should be able to move the ball Sunday.
Best advantage – 3rd down offense – Buffalo has been pretty efficient this season in converting their third downs with
Bills Number 1 Must
Win third downs – While Buffalo’s offense figures to win the battle on third down, their defense must at least keep New England’s attack to around 40 percent conversion on third downs for the Bills to have a chance in this one. Keeping Tom Brady and the Patriots offense off the field is the only true way to stop them, and even that isn’t always successful as evidenced by New England’s game last week when they held the ball for all of 19 minutes and won by four.
Facing the league’s top rated third down passer in Brady won’t make it easy for the Bills defenders, but they have to get stops and Buffalo’s offense has to consistently move the chains for them to have a shot at the upset.
No other team in football is even close to the Patriots when it comes to holding onto the football. New England is an astounding plus-20 in turnover margin this season. Ranking fourth in the league in takeaways with 29, the Patriots also have a lead low nine giveaways with just five interceptions and four fumbles lost on the season.
If the season ended today, the Patriots would set a team record for turnover margin. Not surprisingly, New England is 11-0 this season when they win the turnover battle.
The Patriots are currently on a six-game winning streak due in large part to two main factors. First, the league’s highest scoring team has scored 30 points or more in each of their last six games, which is impressive enough in its own right. Making their current winning streak even more impressive is they have not committed a turnover on the six-game stretch.
The streak of 30 points or more and no turnovers in six games is an NFL record. No other team in league history has done both for more than three consecutive games.
Points of many returns
As productive as their offense has been on the scoreboard this season, New England has been getting points from other places too. The Patriots have a total of eight touchdowns this season courtesy of their defense and special teams. New England has four interception returns, two kickoffs for touchdowns, a blocked field goal return for a touchdown and a fumble return for a score.
The eight touchdowns by their defense and special teams ranks second in the league to Arizona, which has 10 non-offensive touchdowns. New England’s team record is nine.
Tight end tandem
Rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have been terrors for opponents in the passing game. Gronkowski leads all rookie tight ends with seven touchdown receptions. Hernandez is second with six touchdowns. Last week Hernandez had a pair of touchdown catches in the four-point win over Green Bay, and the two combined to make nine receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown in their first meeting with the Bills in Week 3.
Gronkowski and Hernandez are the first pair of rookie tight end teammates with at least five touchdown receptions in the same season in league history.
Patriots QB Tom Brady has once again shown remarkable consistency in 2010. Already leading the league in passer rating (109.9), Brady is tied for the league lead in touchdown passes with 31 (Drew Brees). With another two touchdown passes last week, Brady made it seven straight games with two TDs and no interceptions to set an NFL record.
Right now Brady has the longest single-season streak of pass attempts without an interception as he enters Sunday’s game with 292 pass attempts. He has not thrown an INT since Oct. 17, and has a league low four on the season among starting quarterbacks.
He also needs just 439 passing yards over the last two games for his fourth career 4,000-yard passing season.
Running it in
Despite all their passing exploits the Patriots have shown an ability to run the football effectively as well. Though they rank in the middle of the pack in rushing (15th), New England is averaging a productive 4.3 yards per carry this season.
They’re also tied for league lead in rushing touchdowns with 17. BenJarvus Green-Ellis stands second in the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 12. He also needs just 176 rushing yards in his last two games to post his first career 1,000-yard rushing season, something a Patriots back has not done since 2004.
Quote of the Week
“The confidence of knowing we can win instead of just playing with a team. We go in expecting to win now. Coach Gailey has instilled in us going into games expecting to win. You can play against these guys and you can win these games. Our whole overall mode is changed and our mentality is different from the last time we played.”
--WR Stevie Johnson
Stat of the Week
Milestones in reach
Ryan Fitzpatrick needs two touchdown passes to join Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly and Joe Ferguson as the only Bills signal callers to have at least 25 TD passes in a season.
Fred Jackson needs 189 rushing yards for his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season.
The Patriots are 59-3 when Tom Brady has a passer rating of 100 or higher. His career passer rating vs. the Bills is 102.8.