Top 3 Individual Matchups
1. Wes Welker vs. Reggie Corner – Though this might be an assignment held by Corner and fellow rookie Leodis McKelvin, Corner has spent more time in the slot and this will be his first extensive action on defense making it a matchup to watch more closely. Matt Cassel relies on Welker more than Brady ever did because throwing to Welker is a high-percentage play, something the Patriots are stressing more with Cassel. Corner and McKelvin will have their hands full, but if they hold him to seven catches for 75 yards it's a victory.
- Deltha O'Neal vs. James Hardy – Though Hardy is also a rookie, this is a matchup that should favor the big receiver. O'Neal is well past his prime and was benched in favor of a rookie in Terrence Wheatley. But with Wheatley unlikely to play due to a wrist injury, O'Neal could be the target to pick on.
- Vince Wilfork vs. Duke Preston – Preston did well against San Diego's Jamal Williams, but wasn't as effective against Jason Ferguson and Kris Jenkins the past two weeks. Wilfork may not be at 100 percent due to a toe injury, but he'll still be a handful for Preston and whoever is helping him. He's questionable for the game.
Top 2 Bills Advantages
Good advantage – Red zone offense – The Patriots defensive front is still a very talented group, but one trademark of their effectiveness has experienced a drop-off, defending their red zone. New England ranks a stunning 30th in red zone defense this season allowing opponents to score touchdowns almost two-thirds of the time (63.6%). Buffalo's offense struggled last week, but on the whole has been pretty efficient inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Best advantage – Punt return – Roscoe Parrish could be instrumental in providing Buffalo with good field position in this game. Parrish ranks third in the NFL in punt return average and the Bills as a team rank second. New England's special teams are improved, but their punt coverage ranks 29th in the league.
Bills number one mustBall security – In Buffalo's three losses this season they are a combined minus-9 in the takeaway-giveaway category. Solid pass protection and securing the football upon contact will be of the utmost importance. Losing the turnover battle to any team makes winning that much harder. Against the Patriots, even without Tom Brady, it's near impossible to post a win being on the negative side of the turnover ledger.
Secondary mess: The Bills aren't the only team with an injury-jumbled mess in their defensive backfield, as the Patriots are just as thin in terms of numbers. Safeties Tank Williams and Rodney Harrison are already on injured reserve. Starting CB Ellis Hobbs has a shoulder injury and is questionable, CB Lewis Sanders has a hamstring problem and is not expected to play. Rookie Terrence Wheatley, who had been starting at left cornerback has a wrist injury is out. That leaves New England with three healthy cornerbacks in Deltha O'Neal, who lost his starting job to Wheatley, veteran Jason Webster, who was signed on Wednesday and second-year player Mike Richardson and rookie Jonathan Wilhite.
Sanders and O'Neal were part of the revolving door at left corner due in part to injury and performance, but low on healthy bodies O'Neal is back in the lineup. The Patriots have also used safety Brandon Meriweather at cornerback in a pinch as well.
Sacks allowed: Through eight games the Patriots have given up 29 sacks ranking them 30th in the league in sacks per play. Last season Tom Brady was sacked 21 times the whole season. Part of the problem has been Cassel's decision making, which understandably isn't as quick as Brady's. Protection has also been an issue at times. Establishing an effective pass rush has been a problem for the Bills of late, minus Aaron Schobel, but more success against New England seems possible.
Throwing short: With Matt Cassel at quarterback the Patriots have not taken nearly as many shots down the field as they did last season with Tom Brady under center. Last season Brady averaged 8.31 yards per attempt, a relatively high number for an entire season of play. Cassel through eight games has averaged 6.72 yards per attempt.
Early on it was due in part to conservative game planning, giving Cassel more high percentage throws while he got his legs under him. Shots down the field also weren't taken as much because protection was a bit suspect at times with Cassel not getting the ball out as quickly as Brady.
But last week Cassel still did not take many deep shots against an Indianapolis secondary that was short-handed as there were concerns about protection again. Whether the Patriots choose to make more long pass attempts against the Bills minus their best pass rusher in Aaron Schobel remains to be seen.
Improved returns: The Patriots certainly have a lot of respect for Bobby April and his special teams units, but New England is building some very capable return teams of their own. Kick returner Ellis Hobbs currently leads the NFL averaging 29.3 yards per return.
On punt return New England also ranks a very respectable third in the league with a team average of 13.2 yards a return, which sits right behind Buffalo (2nd). Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk have split the punt return duties. Welker has averaged 14.6 a return while Faulk has averaged 15.1.
Penalty free: Don't look for a lot of flags to be thrown against the Patriots on Sunday. New England has been flagged for just 24 accepted penalties in eight games this season, the least in the league. In fact in their Oct. 26 game against St. Louis the Patriots were not flagged for any accepted penalties, which was the first penalty free game in their team's history.
Hand off to who?: In addition to their injury-riddled secondary, the Patriots have some unfamiliar names in their offensive backfield as well. With Laurence Maroney on injured reserve, Sammy Morris not expected to play with a knee injury and LaMont Jordan still recovering from a calf injury, the load falls to veteran Kevin Faulk, fullback Heath Evans and undrafted rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Green-Ellis, a straight-line runner of a back, pounds it in between the tackles and has three touchdowns in his four career games. Faulk meanwhile works on the fringes and is a safety valve out of the backfield. So far so good for the Patriots, who rank seventh in the league in rushing averaging better than 135 rushing yards per game.
Buffalo ChipsQuote of the week
"They're definitely similar guys Welker and Roscoe. I go against Roscoe every day in practice, so I'm definitely prepared for the role I've got to play this Sunday."
--Reggie Corner on facing Wes Welker this week
Stat of the week
Not counting field goals, the Bills offense has been held to one touchdown scored or less in five of their last eight meetings with the Patriots defense. In Gillette Stadium New England's defense gives up an average of 15.51 points per game.
Milestones in reach
Lee Evans is two touchdowns away from tying Bob Chandler for fourth all-time in team history.
Jabari Greer (2) needs one more interception return for a touchdown to set a new team record for most interception returns for touchdowns in a season.
Rian Lindell is one field goal away from breaking a tie with Scott Norwood for the second most field goals in team history. He's also three consecutive PATs from tying Steve Christie's team record of 172.