Top 3 Individual Matchups
1 – Stevie Johnson vs. Devin McCourty –McCourty isn't quite the ball hawk that fellow corner Kyle Arrington is, but he's pretty sound in coverage. That being said Stevie Johnson has had successful outings of late against the Patriots averaging better than 72 yards and five catches in his last three games vs. New England including a pair of TDs.
2 – Marcell Dareus vs. Brian Waters –Dareus is finishing his rookie season strong. Though Waters is a wily vet with several Pro Bowls on his resume, he'll need double team help on most downs to handle the Bills top draft pick from this past spring.
3 – George Wilson vs. Rob Gronkowski –The Bills likely will throw more than just Wilson at Gronkowski in pass coverage, but Wilson won his share of battles in the first matchup with an INT and 10 tackles. Gronkowski however, is peaking at the right time in New England's high octane attack.
Bills Top 2 Advantages
Good advantage – Kick coverage –New England has struggled to be productive on kick return this season ranking 29th in the league return average. Buffalo meanwhile is tops in kick coverage allowing an average of just 20.5 yards per return. The Bills have a new kicker this week, which lessens the edge slightly but it could play a large role in field position.
Best advantage - Run game –C.J. Spiller is one of the three most productive backs in the NFL in the month of December and is averaging more than six yards a carry. The former top pick has arrived and has added a valuable complement to Buffalo's passing game. New England is just 17th in the league against the run.
Bills Number 1 Must
Ball controlThe Bills won the first meeting in large part because of four Tom Brady interceptions. That's unlikely to be repeated so Buffalo must rely on their resurgent rushing attack to move the chains and extend drives thereby reducing the number of possessions in the game for New England's offense.
Brady nicked upPatriots Pro Bowl QB Tom Brady missed practice on both Wednesday and Thursday, something rather uncharacteristic for the borderline obsessive signal caller when it comes to game preparation. Brady's non-participation at practice was listed by the Patriot as 'not injury related.' However, widespread reports indicate that Brady is dealing with a non-throwing shoulder injury that prompted the need to take x-rays after last week's game against Miami.
According to reports the x-rays came back negative to investigate the possibility of a separation. Brady has been sacked 28 times this season and a fall on his left shoulder late in the game against the Dolphins last week is being cited as the play in which he may have sustained the injury. At this point Brady is still expected to start on Sunday.
Gronkowski, Welker all about the YACThe receiving exploits of Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Wes Welker are well documented. Welker just set the mark for most receiving yards in a season in franchise history last week with 1,518 on the season. Gronkowski set the team mark for most receiving yards by a tight end in a single season with 1,219.
Where both really excel in racking up those totals is with their ability to get yards after the catch. Welker leads the league in yards after the catch with 726 on the season. Gronkowski stands fourth in the league in the same category and leads all NFL tight ends with 644. Even fellow TE Aaron Hernandez ranks 20th in the NFL in yards after the catch with 431.
Red zone prowessThe Patriots lead the AFC in scoring average as they're putting up almost 31 points per game this season (30.9). Most of that success can be chalked up to their prowess in reaching the end zone after they've cracked the opponent's 20-yard line.
New England is third in the league in red zone touchdown percentage behind only the Jets and Green Bay cashing in almost two-thirds of the time (64.2%). No other NFL team has scored more red zone touchdowns than the Patriots this season (43).
Pulling away in the middleLast week the Patriots did need to come from 17 points down at halftime scoring 27 second-half points to post a three-point win at Miami. More often than not this season, New England has piled up points in the second and third quarters while also holding their opponents off the scoreboard.
The Patriots have outscored their opponents in the second and third quarters by a combined 261 to 133. Only Green Bay (283) and New Orleans (268) have put up more points in the second and third quarters this season.
Pass rushing lossTwo weeks ago the Patriots lost their most effective pass rusher in veteran Andre Carter. Carter led the team with 10 sacks in 14 games. Fellow veteran Mark Anderson (9 sacks) was listed on the depth chart as his primary replacement, but was only used in nickel packages last week against Miami. Belichick elected to go bigger in his base 4-3 alignment using veteran Shaun Ellis and Brandon Deaderick. LB Rob Ninkovich has tried to help pick up the slack with five sacks in his last six games.
Revolving running backsNew England's offensive staff isn't shy about using any one of their handful of backs in a given game plan. However, Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis has been the workhorse back with about 100 more carries than the next Patriots back.
The last two weeks however, rookie Stevan Ridley got the lion's share of the work and was effective in rolling up yardage on the ground for New England. In the three games that Ridley has been given 10 or more carries he's averaged 6.65 yards per carry more than two and a half yards better than the team's season average (4.0). On the season Ridley is averaging five yards a carry.Widely seen as the most talented back on the roster, it seems as though the staff just needed to feel like they could trust him before giving the rookie more of the work.
Quote of the Week"You hear the saying that you're only as good as your last performance and to be able to have the opportunity to end the season on a winning note and also to have an opportunity to win both games against the Patriots can certainly give you confidence and to help to set the tone as you go on to the offseason program."
--S George Wilson
Stat of the WeekWith a victory Sunday Buffalo will have the first series sweep of the Patriots by any AFC East opponent since 2000.
Milestones in reachScott Chandler (6) needs one touchdown reception to stand alone with the most touchdown catches by a Bills tight end in a single season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick needs 175 passing yards to join Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly as the only Bills quarterbacks to throw for 3,700 yards in a season.
Stevie Johnson needs 36 receiving yards to become the first receiver in Bills history to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
Final NoteNew England's won-loss record in the final four weeks of the season over the past six years is 21-2 (.913).