CBs Ashton Youboty and Jerametrius Butler will see a lot of action on Sunday in nickel and dime roles. They'll be thrown into the heat after normal nickel back Kiwaukee Thomas suffered a severe groin pull against Miami and was placed on injured reserve. Buffalo is down to just four healthy corners: Terrence McGee, Jabari Greer, Youboty and Butler. That's not a comforting fact heading into a game against Tom Brady (33 TD passes) and a receiving corps featuring Randy Moss (53 catches, 924 yards, 12 TDs), Wes Welker (61-651, 7) and Donte Stallworth (28-453, 3). Asked about his comfort level with Youboty and Butler, coach Dick Jauron said: "We have to feel good about them, and we do."
The Patriots have had the top passing attack in football over the first two months of 2007 and there is no reason to believe that it will slow down in this meeting. Tom Brady and Co. have had a chance to recharge the batteries after the battle in Indy, while the offensive coaches had a week to self-scout and improve production. That's a scary thought for a Bills secondary that sports a couple mediocre cornerbacks and a pair of fill-in starters. The front does little to help out the defensive backs with pressure as Aaron Schobel and Co. have just nine sacks on the year. No pressure from the front plus questionable coverage in the secondary against this Patriots passing attack should equal another big day for Brady and his boys.
--RB Dwayne Wright is likely to get the bulk of the carries Sunday against New England with fellow rookie Marshawn Lynch hobbled with a bad ankle sprain.
--KR Terrence McGee has 4,982 kick return yards in his career. He ranks 10th in the NFL in kick return yardage with one team.
--The following Patriot players currently lead the fan Pro Bowl voting at their respective positions: WR Randy Moss, LT Matt Light, KR Wes Welker (kick returner), IL Vince Wilfork (interior lineman), ILB Tedy Bruschi, ST Larry Izzo (special teams) and P Chris Hanson. Meanwhile, Tom Brady -- a virtual shoe-in for league MVP -- is currently third among quarterbacks.
--LB Eric Alexander (knee) didn't participate in during this week's practice and was ruled out for Sunday. Alexander has missed the Patriots' last five games
--S Eugene Wilson (ankle) didn't participate in this week's practices. Wilson was ruled out for Sunday, so James Sanders will start at safety alongside Rodney Harrison.
--WR Wes Welker (team decision) had limited participation during Thursday's practice. Welker is expected to start this week against Buffalo.
--LB Mike Vrabel (team decision) had limited participation during Thursday's practice. Vrabel is expected to start Sunday against Buffalo.
--G Stephen Neal (shoulder) had limited participation in Thursday's practice. Neal has been ruled out vs the Bills.
Bills: Recent Bills-Patriots games have always been a case of too little talent against too much talent. That was clearly the case in September's 38-7 New England victory, particularly after QB J.P. Losman was knocked out of the game on the first play by a late hit by DT Vince Wilfork. But Buffalo's failure to win in 13 of the last 14 meetings has also been a case of too little confidence and too little killer instinct. The Bills actually led 7-3 in Foxborough this season and then forced consecutive turnovers. But with a chance to seize control of the game, the offense punted both times, New England regrouped, and Tom Brady (four TD passes) romped. So what's the game plan in this big Sunday night rematch? Well, seize on the crowd and seize on those moments where momentum hangs in the balance. Buffalo's defense is playing inspired, but holding New England under 30 points would be a good night. So this one is on Losman and Co. They'll need some downfield throws to eat yardage, but it won't be easy without RB Marshawn Lynch setting up play-action against a fierce New England pass rush (25 sacks).
Patriots: The Patriots ground game hasn't been as dominant through the first nine games as the passing, but it still ranked in the top 10 in the league. Buffalo has a developing young front that's played well over the last month-plus, including young tackles Kyle Williams and John McCargo. Laurence Maroney is averaging 4.7 yards per carry for the year, but it doesn't feel like he's run the ball that effectively when looking at his season as a whole. He's yet to hit for a run of 20 yards or more and no longer has the luxury of splitting the load with anyone. It's his show now. While the passing game is good enough to get the job done on most weeks, sooner or later the Patriots may actually have to get some yards on the ground to win a game. Maybe. This week might be a chance to work on it.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Bills: Bills CBs Terrence McGee and Jabari Greer vs. Patriots WRs Randy Moss and Wes Welker, who combined for 11 catches, 184 yards and two TDs in the last meeting.
Bills defensive line, which regressed against the run in Miami, vs. Patriots running game, featuring Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk. Each is averaging more than 4.0 yards per carry, and Maroney topped 100 yards in the last meeting.
Patriots: Patriots CB Asante Samuel vs. Bills WR Lee Evans. Samuel is having another strong season, proving his worth after his 11-interception campaign in 2006. Evans got off to a slow start this year but has heated up in recent weeks. Evans is the Bills' only big-play option at receiver, so it will be up to Samuel to keep him under wraps.
Patriots NT Vince Wilfork vs. Bills C Melvin Fowler. The Bills will try to establish the run against the Patriots and in order to do so, they'll need to block Wilfork. Wilfork has developed into an elite nose tackle and Fowler is going to have his hands full trying to move the big guy and open up holes for Marshawn Lynch.
Bills: Key reserves CB Kiwaukee Thomas (groin) and TE Matt Murphy (torn calf) became the 11th and 12th players to go on season-ending injured reserve, further denting Buffalo's paper-thin depth. Thomas was Buffalo's nickel corner and was playing well. His absence leaves the Bills with just four healthy corners facing Tom Brady. Murphy is the third tight end to go on IR, following Kevin Everett (spinal cord) and FB/TE Derek Schouman (calf). The Bills were forced to add two tight ends to their roster, Brad Cieslak and Tim Massaquoi, and FB Jonathan Evans was added to the practice squad after OL Christian Gaddis was promoted. Cieslak, cut in camp, spent his first two seasons with Buffalo and knows the system. He could help immediately.
Patriots: The Patriots come off the bye week in good shape on the injury front. This is a direct contrast to recent seasons when New England had to battle numerous injuries to key players. With the return of Richard Seymour and Troy Brown, this is actually the healthiest the team has been all season, a bad sign for the rest of the league. The loss of Sammy Morris to a chest injury is really the only significant injury the Patriots have suffered so far this year.