Top 3 Individual Matchups
1. Wes Welker vs. Reggie Corner – Donte Whitner and Reggie Corner worked in tandem in this matchup back in Week 10 and Welker got the better of them with 10 catches for over 100 yards. But Corner is coming off of his best game as a pro and will likely have this assignment full-time in this second meeting.
- Randy Moss vs. Terrence McGee – In the first meeting McGee had one of his best games of the season holding Moss to five catches for a pedestrian 53 yards. But Matt Cassel is throwing deep more often of late so it's likely that McGee will be tested a lot more in Sunday's game.
- Vince Wilfork vs. Duke Preston – Preston didn't fare well in the first matchup with Wilfork, but with a well-designed scheme two weeks ago against the Jets he along with his guards effectively neutralized Kris Jenkins in a similar 3-4 front. The Patriots undoubtedly expect similar tactics to be used against Wilfork. We'll see how effective Preston and his linemates can be the second time around.
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 been a problem all season, defending their red zone. New England ranks dead last in red zone defense this season allowing opponents to score touchdowns a shocking 68 percent of the time (68.2%). Buffalo's offense is coming off one of its most effective games inside the opponent's 20-yard line as they scored three touchdowns on four red zone opportunities at Denver.
Best advantage – Punt return – Roscoe Parrish could be instrumental in providing Buffalo with good field position in this game. Parrish for the second straight season ranks first in the NFL in punt return average as does the team. New England's special teams are improved in some areas, but not their punt coverage which ranks 29th in the league.
Bills number one must
Win third downs – On both offense and defense Buffalo must win the third down battle if they want to win. The Patriots controlled the clock with better than 37 minutes of possession time (37:40) in the first matchup leaving the Bills defense gassed come the fourth quarter.
Believe it or not winning third downs might be a bit more attainable for the Bills offense. Though Buffalo's attack ranks an average 19th in third down conversion percentage (38.7%) they were successful in their first matchup with New England converting almost half of their opportunities (5-11, 45%).
Defensively, the Bills have ranked in the top 10 in third down defense all season. They have to hold New England's conversions under 40 percent to have a chance. The only problem is the Patriots have improved their conversion percentage on offense since the first meeting with Buffalo. Now ranked sixth in the league in moving the chains, New England converts almost 45 percent of the time (44.3%) and converted better than 60 percent of the time in the first meeting (11-18, 61%).
Scouting eyeHealthy backfield: Even though Laurence Maroney is lost for the season, New England has both Sammy Morris and Lamont Jordan back in their lineup at running back. Neither player was available in the Patriots' first meeting with the Bills. Sammy Morris came back in Week 11 and has put up two of his three best rushing performances of the season in the last two games. Jordan, who returned to action in Week 14, has averaged better than five yards a carry the past three games (5.36 avg.). Morris is also rushing at better than five yards per rush since he's been back in the lineup (5.31).
Piling up points: New England's offense this season is close to being every bit as productive as they are with Tom Brady in the lineup. Their 47-point outburst last week against Arizona marked the fourth time this season in which they've scored 40 points or more. That ties the team record set last season. Their 47 points last week combined with their 49-point output at Oakland the week before makes the Patriots the only team in the league this year to have back-to-back 40-point games.
Rolling up yards in AFC East: The Patriots offense has also rolled over their division opponents when it comes to total net yards. Against the Jets and Dolphins in back-to-back weeks in November they had 511 and 530 total net yards for a grand total of 1,041, the most prolific two week total in team history. Just this past week New England posted their third 500-yard effort racking up 514 against NFC West opponent Arizona.
Cassel cresting: Matt Cassel's play has really taken off since the last time the Bills faced him. Going into their first meeting against the Patriots, Cassel had just seven touchdowns against seven interceptions and the team was ranked 23rd in passing. Since then Cassel has thrown 14 touchdowns against three INTs with New England now ranking 10th in the league in passing.
Cassel has thrown for over 400 yards three times in his last six games along with eight touchdown passes. He's also throwing deep more as his yards per attempt has gone from 6.72 yards to 7.12.
His only drawback is he's still taking sacks as opponents have taken him down 46 times this season. New England ranks 26th in the league in sacks per play.
Front seven down three? In the last meeting with New England, the Patriots secondary was a mess due to injury. In Sunday's meeting Bill Belichick's defense will be without Adalius Thomas and possibly DE Richard Seymour and ILB Gary Guyton. Seymour suffered a back injury. It's not believed to be serious, but the Pro Bowl defensive lineman is still a question mark. If he can't go New England would start Jarvis Green.
Thomas meanwhile has been replaced in the lineup by Rosevelt Colvin and last week Junior Seau filled the void for Guyton.
Safety blitz: Patriots SS Brandon Meriweather has proven to be a dangerous blitzer of late. In his last three games the New England safety has not only recorded a pair of sacks, but has forced fumbles on both of those quarterback takedowns as well. The Patriots recovered both of those fumbles. One led to a field goal in last week's win over Arizona while the other allowed New England to kill the clock in a tight win at Seattle.
Paltry penalty total: The Patriots have done a heck of a job avoiding the wrath of the officials this season. Through 15 games New England's opponents have accepted just 55 penalties against them. If the Bills accept three or fewer penalties against the Patriots on Sunday, New England will set a record for fewest penalties in a 16-game season. The current record is held by Seattle, which was hit with a record low 59 penalties last year.
Quote of the week
"Right now we are sitting at 7-8 and we have the opportunity to end the season at .500 and beat the Patriots which everybody around here wants to do. Losing to them so many times in a row leaves a bad taste in your mouth and we want to end with a win over there."
--SS Donte Whitner
Stat of the week
New England has won 10 consecutive matchups against Buffalo dating back to the season finale in 2003. That marks the second longest win streak against a single opponent in their history. The longest by New England is an 11-game streak that they also had against Buffalo from 1983 to 1987.
Milestones in reach
Lee Evans needs 46 receiving yards to post the second 1,000-yard season of his career.
Rian Lindell needs three field goals to tie the franchise record for field goals in a season (33).
Marshawn Lynch needs 80 rushing yards to set a new single-season career high (1,115 in 2007).
Josh Reed needs five catches and 13 receiving yards to set new single-season career highs in receptions (58 in 2003) and receiving yards (588 in 20003).
Forty-five years ago on Dec. 28, 1963 the Boston Patriots beat the Bills 26-8 to win the AFL's Eastern Division title in the league's only season-ending tie-breaker game.