Top 3 Individual Matchups
1 – Charles Clay vs. Patrick ChungThese two have met up for years going back to when Clay was playing for the Dolphins. The Bills tight end has never been able to put a monster game together against the Patriots, but Clay is back to full strength after a Week 5 knee injury and looked fast last week.
2 – E.J. Gaines vs. Brandin CooksCooks leads the team in passing targets with a half dozen more than Rob Gronkowski, and for the most part has delivered. In his last three games Cooks has 18 receptions for 306 yards with a pair of touchdowns. Five of his 18 catches in that span have gone for more than 25 yards.
3 - Micah Hyde vs. Rob GronkowskiGronkowski has been a Bills killer over the years. Buffalo's safety tandem is brand new to this divisional matchup. Hyde figures to draw more of the coverage assignments than Jordan Poyer.
Bills Top 2 Advantages
Good advantage – Red zone offenseBuffalo ranks seventh in the league in red zone touchdown percentage (58.6%) and converts third downs inside the opponent's 20 at almost a 55 percent clip (54.5%). The Patriots are last in the league in yards per play given up inside their own 30-yard line (4.24) and are only marginally better inside their own 20 where they rank 25th (3.13).
Best advantage – Run gameThe Bills rushing attack has taken steps with its consistency of late. New England is still last in the league in first down run defense giving up an average of more than five yards per carry (5.29). Buffalo should be able to keep the Patriots defense off balance with a clever mix of run looks and play action to stay in manageable down and distance.
Bills Number 1 Must
Win on first downIf there's an area that New England has been unable to firm up defensively it's their play on first down. They have the worst run defense in the league on first down and rank last in first down efficiency on defense where they give up a play of four yards or more a whopping 56 percent of the time (56.6%). Buffalo's offense has to take advantage of the Patriots first down deficiencies and stay ahead of the sticks to extend drives and win the time of possession battle.
Defensive adjustmentEarly in the season the Patriots tried to become a predominantly man coverage defense, which was a main reason why the team signed Stephon Gilmore in free agency to a giant contract ($14.3M per season). It was evident early on that New England's personnel weren't cut out for it as they gave up an average of 32 points per game. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia shifted back to more zone-based concepts and the results were almost instantaneous. New England hasn't given up more than 17 points in a game since and the team has won seven straight. They still play a fair amount of man coverage, but not nearly as much as they attempted early in the season.
Sack surgeThe lack of a pass rush had also been a problem for the Patriots, but last week against the Dolphins they exploded for seven sacks, with six of them coming in the second half. It was the most sacks by an NFL team in a half in 15 seasons. It could just be a one-game aberration as Miami's offensive line struggled with zone blitzes in the game because prior to last Sunday the Patriots had the fifth-lowest sack rate in the league.
New combinationAt the outset of the season New England's backfield combination was largely Mike Gillislee and James White. Over the past month Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead have shouldered most of the team's rushing load. Gillislee has been inactive the last few games and hasn't seen the playing field since Oct. 29th.
Lewis and Burkhead offer more diversity in New England's backfield than Gillislee, who is not much of a receiving option. Up until this past week against Miami, however, the Patriots run game had not reached 100 yards in three straight games.
Big plays aplentyIt's not surprising that the Patriots passing attack is as lethal as ever, but Brandin Cooks has provided a true deep threat to complement their trademark short passing game. Cooks is the main reason why the Patriots are second in the league in pass plays of 20 yards or more with 47 in 11 games. Cooks is tied for the league lead with Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins, with 12 receptions of 25 yards or more.
Brady being BradyNew England's franchise quarterback has just continued on with his dominant play. Brady leads the league in passing yards (3,374), touchdown passes (26), interception percentage (0.7%) and passer rating (111.7). He's third in completion percentage (68.4%).
Watch the blocksThe Patriots special teams unit has had a good deal of success blocking kicks this season. Often times they'll game plan for one if they see a weakness in an opponent's formation. Thus far this season New England has blocked three kicks. Rex Burkhead blocked a punt against Denver, Lawrence Guy blocked a field goal against the Chargers and Cassius Marsh blocked a field goal against Atlanta.
In addition, New England's special teams units have successfully executed a fake punt last week against Miami on their first series of the game from their own 27-yard line.
Relive memorable Bills versus Patriots games throughout the years.
Quote of the week"A big team, a good team, a winning team. They're 9-2. They're a tough group. A lot of good players on that side. I think that win would be big for us. It really would."
--RB LeSean McCoy
Stat of the weekThe Bills have allowed the second-fewest passing touchdowns in the league this season (10).
Milestones in reachPreston Brown needs eight tackles to become the first Bills player to post four consecutive 100-tackle seasons since London Fletcher (2002-06).
LeSean McCoy needs 63 yards from scrimmage to reach 13,000 in his career.
Kyle Williams needs one game played to become the Bills all-time leader in games played by a defensive tackle, passing Fred Smerlas (162).
Final noteTom Brady has just six career games in which he has thrown four interceptions. Two of them occurred in Buffalo (Wk 1 - 2003, Wk 3 - 2011).