Top 3 Individual Matchups
1 – Mark Anderson vs. Nate Solder –The two former teammates will square off in this pivotal division contest. Anderson is a slippery pass rusher who logged his first sack of the season last week. Solder had a good game against the Ravens giving up just a single quarterback hit on 49 pass snaps.
2 – Wes Welker vs. Justin Rogers –Welker has been virtually unstoppable for the Bills. He had 16 catches for 217 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first meeting last season. Buffalo did a better job the second time holding him to 51 yards on six receptions. Rogers could prove to be a good matchup in terms of short area quickness.
3 – Vince Wilfork vs. Eric Wood –Wilfork is still a handful particularly against the run, but the Bills offensive line is playing some of its best football. Wood is likely to get some assistance in this matchup, but the Bills interior has been solid.
Top 2 Bills Advantages
Good advantage – Punt return –Buffalo's return unit has been solid and Leodis McKelvin is a threat to go the distance every time he has room to return as evidenced by his league-leading average of 29.7. New England is 31st in net punting, but a respectable 12th in punt coverage. The Patriots may just choose to kick it out of bounds when Zoltan Mesko steps on the field.
Best advantage – Run game –Yes, the Bills are likely to be without C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson won't be 100 percent. As talented as both of them are, the offensive line has been a major reason why Buffalo is third in the league in rushing. There might not be as many home-run plays in the run game, but the Bills offensive line will be the best the Patriots have faced and they will be successful in moving the chains on the ground.
Bills Number 1 Must
Pass rush –Buffalo's pass rush is much improved and getting home with just their front four is essential if the Bills want to slow down New England's high-powered passing attack. The Patriots did a good job in neutralizing Baltimore's pass rush last week, though they had to use more than five in their protections a good amount of the time.
Gronk a blocker?As mentioned above the Patriots did a solid job of keeping the Ravens pass rush under control for most of the game allowing Tom Brady to have a very effective passing performance in hanging 30 points on Baltimore in their building. To accomplish that however, New England had to sacrifice one of their prime passing weapons in Rob Gronkowski, who was asked to stay in and help right tackle Sebastian Vollmer in pass protection. As a result Gronkowski was targeted just three times in the passing game and made just a pair of receptions.
Pass defense differentThe Patriots' pass defense has taken on a decidedly approach with their pass defense. New England used to rely on man coverage on the back end, but thus far this season they've used a lot more zone looks in their secondary with two deep safeties. The results have been mixed. Through three games the Patriots have given up eight pass plays of 25 yards or more, good for fourth-most in the league.
Run defense improvedLast season New England finished in the middle of the pack in run defense (17th) allowing just over 117 yards rushing per game. The front seven have tightened things up through three games this season. The Patriots are allowing just 82 yards on the ground per game good for seventh best in the league. That's 18 yards better than Buffalo's improved run defense despite seeing the same number of run plays per game (24).
O-line changesThe Patriots have been grooming some young offensive linemen the past couple of seasons, and finally have inserted them in the lineup full time. Former first-round pick Nate Solder, who saw work as a rookie mainly at right tackle is the team's starting left tackle. Sebastian Vollmer, who worked at both tackle spots at times last season is now the full time right tackle. Fourth-year lineman Ryan Wendell is now the starting center replacing long-time and starter Dan Koppen. By most accounts the unit is still rounding into form.
Red zone sputtersThe Patriots offense finished the 2011 season second in the league in red zone touchdown percentage converting a possession inside the opponent's 20 into seven points almost two-thirds of the time (65.3%). Through three weeks this season New England has only cashed in half the time (50%) converting six of their 12 opportunities into touchdowns. Buffalo's offense meanwhile has assumed New England's spot near the top of the league with a 70 percent success rate good for second in the NFL.
Jones and Hightower still learningNew England's first-round draft choices Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower have had their moments on defense for the Patriots, but it's clear they're still learning on the job. Jones was very effective in each of his first two NFL games at right defensive end logging 10 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles. Last week against Baltimore, Michael Oher held him in check.
Hightower also had less of an impact in Week 3 against Baltimore after better performances in Weeks 1 and 2. Both are going got be solid additions for New England's defense for a long time, but they still can be handled by experienced and talented offensive linemen, something Buffalo possesses.
Quote of the Week"This being a division game, this being a home game where we're going to have the crowd with us, we've got to win these games. In order to get back to the playoffs, in order to do all that stuff, this is the type of game we have to win. They're going to be a great opponent on Sunday, they're a great team, and it's going to show us a lot about ourselves."
--QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Stat of the WeekIn his past six September games Ryan Fitzpatrick has 17 touchdowns against six interceptions and a passer rating of 99.8.
Milestones in reachRyan Fitzpatrick with two or more touchdown passes will become the third QB in team history to throw multiple touchdowns in each of his first four games of a season.
Stevie Johnson with a touchdown catch would mark the fifth straight game he has pulled in a TD reception.
Bryan Scott with an INT will have logged three in his past four games.
Final NoteThe Bills have won five of their last six September games.