The Patriots made one minor transaction this week, releasing DL Louis Leonard, who had signed with the team last week just to add a little depth up front, and signing fellow lineman Landon Cohen.
Linemen Mike Wright, Ron Brace and Myron Pryor all missed last week's game with injuries, so the Patriots have needed all the help they can get. The lack of healthy bodies has certainly put a strain on the starters who've been asked to play extra snaps, especially this past weekend with Green Bay dominating the time of possession battle, but with only two weeks to go in the regular season and the Patriots likely having a first-round bye in the playoffs, fatigue shouldn't be an issue.
The Patriots probably would have been more worried if depth was a problem in September. Right now, they've got enough left in the tank to make a deep playoff run with whoever is available to them along the defensive line.
GAME PLAN: The tale of the tape for Sunday doesn't look pretty if you're on Buffalo's side of the field. The Bills are ranked in the bottom third of the league in offense and defense, so they don't do anything particularly well, but the Patriots need to be wary of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick following their inability to stop Green Bay this past weekend.
Fitzpatrick actually played fairly well against the Patriots earlier this season, but also got picked off twice in the fourth quarter to stall Buffalo's comeback attempt. The Patriots had problems with Green Bay's Matt Flynn this past weekend, but part of that had to do with the fact they had never seen him before. This will be their second crack at Fitzpatrick, so it'll be interesting to see how they approach this game defensively.
The one thing Buffalo can try to do is take advantage of New England's lack of depth up front with their three-headed monster at running back. The Packers ran successfully and that's why Flynn had an easy time moving up and down the field.
First and foremost, the Patriots need to tighten up their defense at the line of scrimmage. If the Bills can't run the ball, Fitzpatrick will be in trouble -- especially if the conditions are like what they usually are in Buffalo at this time of year.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bills RB Fred Jackson vs. Patriots LB Jerod Mayo. As noted, the matchup of New England's run defense against the Bills' running game is an important one, especially in the aftermath of last week's game between the Packers and Patriots. The Patriots are thin up front and their defense is logging more minutes than usual, so expect Buffalo to try to establish the run early in an effort to control the clock. Mayo will more than likely have something to say about that.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick vs. Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Belichick is known for confusing young quarterbacks, but Green Bay's Matt Flynn had a strong game last weekend, proving that perhaps the key is to try to counter with something New England hasn't seen on its own end. Fitzpatrick had some success in the first meeting between these two teams this season, but it'll be interesting to see if Belichick cooks up a different game plan Sunday to throw Fitzpatrick off balance.
Bills CB Terrence McGee vs. Patriots WR Deion Branch. McGee is Buffalo's best cover corner while Branch has become Tom Brady's No. 1 target again. Branch, however, is nursing a sore knee, so he'll need to be 100 percent given the way McGee tends to stick to opposing receivers. If Branch is not a factor, Brady will have to rely on his running game and his tight ends to move the ball, which has proven to be a strong weapon for him thus far.
INJURY IMPACT: The Patriots are thin up front with Ron Brace, Mike Wright and Myron Pryor suffering from injuries. Brace appears to be on the road to recovery, which would be a big help this weekend in Buffalo. The Patriots' defense stayed on the field for nearly 40 minutes last weekend against Green Bay. The Bills have the ability to run the ball and control the clock, so it remains to be seen whether New England's lack of depth could lead to some fatigue Sunday afternoon.
OLB Arthur Moats has two more games to convince the coaching staff he can be an impact starter in 2011.
The sixth-round pick from James Madison recorded a sack in last Sunday's win over Miami, giving him 2.5 sacks on the year. He's been generating consistent pressure on the quarterback, something the Bills' defense lacked early on.
"In the last four or five weeks he might have made as much progress as anybody on our football team. Probably (WR) Donald Jones would have to rank up there somewhere, but he's learning how to play outside backer," observed coach Chan Gailey.
Moats had 29 career sacks at James Madison where he was the 2009 Buck Buchanan Award winner as the top defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision. The Bills first considered Moats, who is 6-2, 250, as an inside linebacker but he quickly changed their minds in training camp.
"It was more of what we saw in practice than anything. He's a natural pass rusher," Gailey said. "That's what he did in college. So, we had to try to fit him where he could produce the best.
"He is learning to play the position and he's got a chance to be a good outside backer before it's over with."
GAME PLAN: The Bills couldn't have picked a tougher opponent to host the day after Christmas. New England's players are no strangers to cold and snow and in fact thrive in tough conditions. Meanwhile, the Patriots have won six consecutive games in Buffalo and 14 straight in the series. Job One will be to limit QB Tom Brady and his offense ranked No. 1 in scoring in the NFL to under 30 points. New England is 59-2 under coach Bill Belichick when it scores at least that much. The Bills have a good chance to move the ball and find the end zone against New England's No. 28 defense but they have to protect the ball. The Patriots are 30th against the pass and Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown a TD pass in 15 consecutive games but New England is also plus-20 in turnover ratio. If Buffalo's defense doesn't make a few game-changing plays, Fitzpatrick isn't likely to win a shootout against Brady (31 TDs, four interceptions), who hardly ever loses to the Bills. He had three TD passes in this year's first meeting, a 38-30 Patriots win. New England has plenty of motivation in this rematch, too: It can clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff picture with a win and earn the right to rest its key people in the final game of the year.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is enjoying a career year with 23 TD passes, vs. Patriots secondary which has 21 interceptions, four returned for scores. Two came against Fitzpatrick in Week 3.
--Bills C Eric Wood, making his third start at the position, vs. Patriots NT Vince Wilfork, one of the best at plugging the middle.
--Bills No. 32 run defense vs. Patriots versatile running game featuring Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis (824 yards, 12 TDs) and underrated FB Danny Woodhead (782 all purpose yards).
| --Bills SS Donte Whitner vs. Patriots dynamic rookie TE duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who combined for nine catches, 118 yards and one TD in this season's first meeting.
--Bills special teams vs. Patriots return game. Brandon Tate has returned two kicks for touchdowns and is averaging 26.1 yards per return.
INJURY IMPACT: With Shawn Nelson placed on reserve with migraine headaches, free agent Scott Chandler is getting an opportunity to play and perhaps earn a permanent roster spot in 2011. Chandler, a productive player during his college career at Iowa, was a fourth-round pick of the San Diego Chargers in 2007. He also had looks with the Giants and Cowboys. The Bills claimed him off waivers in early December when the Cowboys released him. Chandler has imposing size (6-7, 272) and last week caught his first NFL pass. At Iowa, he caught 117 passes for nearly 1,500 yards.