Top 7 storylines for Bills-Patriots in Foxboro

1220-top-storylines-white.jpg


If it seems like we've just gone over this matchup, it's because we have. For the second time in three weeks it's the Bills and the New England Patriots. You have to go back almost twenty years to find a Buffalo-New England rematch that happened in a shorter time frame: in 1998, the Bills and Patriots played two weeks apart.

Here are the top seven storylines for this week's matchup with New England:

1.   THE MEMORY OF THE FIRST GAME IS STILL FRESH

It was only three weeks ago, so the Bills shouldn't have to spend too much time reviewing the video of New England's 23-3 win in Orchard Park earlier this year. Buffalo held the Patriots to nine points in the first half, but the third quarter was another story.

New England's first two possessions of the second half went for touchdowns—a 70-yard scoring drive followed by a 78-yard drive. Rex Burkhead finished each drive with a touchdown run, and the scoring ended for the day.

Most disappointing for the Bills that day was the end of Buffalo's first drive of the game. The Bills marched 66 yards downfield in seven minutes, only to have the possession end with an Eric Lee interception at the goal line. And Rob Gronkowski had a field day against the Bills finishing with nine catches for 147 yards.

**

2.   SPEAKING OF GRONK….**

The Western New York native will get much of the pregame media hype for his late hit on Bills rookie Tre'Davious White that ended up with White in concussion protocol and Gronk serving a one game suspension.

White has put to rest any talk of retaliation or retribution for the hit.

"Ultimately, I just want to go into Gillette Stadium and win," White told The John Murphy Showthis week. "That will be the biggest revenge. For us to go in there in a tough environment and go in there and win—that would be a big deal."

Gronkowski has put up two great games around the suspension, the best two games of his NFL career. With 147 yards against the Bills followed by 168 receiving yards against the Steelers last Sunday, Gronk has 315 yards in his last two games.

1220-pats-storylines.jpg

3.   PATS SNUFF OUT DRIVES AT THE GOAL LINE

Eric Lee's end zone interception to wipe out Buffalo's first drive three weeks ago was a familiar scenario for the Patriots. They did it last Sunday with a Duron Harmon interception at the goal line to end the Steelers threat.

In fact, the Patriots have created turnovers at their own goal line in four of their last five games. They're ninth in the NFL in red zone defense this year.

**

4.   BILLS OVERALL GOOD IN RED ZONE**

For all of Buffalo's offensive challenges this year, it turns out they've been pretty good in the red zone. Buffalo is seventh in the league with touchdowns 59 percent of the time the offense is inside the opponents' 20-yard line. In the last three weeks, they've found the end zone 63 percent of the time, including three touchdowns in four trips last Sunday.

The Bills have rediscovered their solid rushing offense in the second half of the season, which certainly accounts for some of their success in the red zone. They've averaged 175 yards on the ground in the last three weeks (2 wins, one loss) and they've moved up to sixth in the NFL in rushing yards per game. That's a dramatic improvement in the last two months. After week seven, the Bills ranked 29th in rushing offense.

1220-storylines-wright.jpg

5.   IS THE BILLS TAKEAWAY MACHINE BACK UP AND RUNNING?

There was a lot going wrong during Buffalo's tough three-game November losing streak. Most notably, the Bills takeaway spigot slowed down to a trickle during that span. Buffalo had one defensive takeaway in those three straight losses.

Since then, it's been a different story. The Bills have five interceptions in their last four games, including three last Sunday against the Dolphins. They're plus-four in the takeaway/turnover ratio. Pro Bowl safety Micah Hyde leads the team with five picks for the Bills.

If the takeaways continue down the stretch, it will go a long way towards putting Buffalo on the playoff path.

6.   PENALTY FLAGS UNDER CONTROL

The Bills have put the brakes on penalties in the last several weeks and it's made for much more watchable, competitive football. In their last five games, Buffalo has been assessed a total of 20 penalties, an average of four per game. Right now, the Bills are 22nd in the league in the number of penalties enforced with 88. They're on pace to finish the season with 6.3 penalties.

Last season, the Bills averaged seven penalties per game, and the year before that, they came close to a franchise record with an average of nine penalties per game.

7.   A DECEMBER WITH MEANING

The Bills will be in the hunt for a playoff spot right through to the regular season finale. And that's the first time that can be said in the last 13 years. Sunday's game in Foxboro has playoff implications for both sides.

The Bills various playoff scenarios are complex and still in flux. But it's pretty simple for the Patriots: New England has already clinched the AFC East Division title (for the ninth consecutive year). Now they're in the hunt for home field advantage through the conference playoffs. They can accomplish that this Sunday by beating the Bills and having Pittsburgh lose at Houston and Jacksonville lose to or tie the NIners. Should be two highly motivated teams on the field in Foxboro. 

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Advertising