Patriots - Bills: Game Plans & Matchups

News, notes, injury reports, including key matchups, and game plans for both teams in this Week 17 matchup.

New England Patriots

   Journeyman DB Ross Ventrone was again a casualty of the transaction wire as the Patriots released him early this week to make room for newly acquired FB Lousaka Polite. Ventrone was subsequently re-signed to the practice squad -- the 21st transaction he's been a part of this season.
Ventrone joins DE Aaron Levarias, who was also added to the practice squad.

   The moves made this week don't reflect much of what's going on in the locker room, though Polite could be a key addition if the Patriots implement a few new blocking schemes to compensate for the loss of offensive linemen Matt Light and Logan Mankins.

   Polite hasn't played in four months, but is practicing with the team this week and could be on the active 45-man roster for Sunday's finale against Buffalo.

   --QB Tom Brady did not practice Wednesday, but his absence was not injury-related, which means he'll likely return by the end of the week and be ready for Sunday's season finale.
   --OL Logan Mankins missed practice Wednesday due to a knee injury sustained last weekend and is a safe bet to miss Sunday's game.
   --OL Sebastian Vollmer missed Wednesday's practice due to back and knee injuries and will likely sit out another week with the hope that he'll be ready for the postseason.
   --OL Matt Light participated in a limited portion of Wednesday's practice, which is slightly positive considering he was a late scratch Saturday. There's a good chance Light will be ready for Sunday.
   --DB Patrick Chung appears to be closer to returning to the lineup now that's he practicing on a limited basis despite a foot injury, but the jury is still out since he's been practicing recently and yet hasn't been in the lineup.

    This is a matchup fit for a team like New England that can seemingly score at will. The Bills rank near the bottom of the league in the two most important defensive categories -- points allowed per game and yards allowed per game.

   With the Patriots in position to wrap up the No. 1 seed in the AFC, it's hard to imagine Buffalo posing much of a threat defensively. This is a chance for Tom Brady to work on getting off to a better start, especially after last week's near-debacle in which the Patriots trailed by 17 at halftime.

   The Bills are susceptible over the middle, which means there will be plenty of opportunities for either Aaron Hernandez or Rob Gronkowski to get open and make big plays. With some questions on the offensive line, Gronkowski could take on more of a blocking role, which means Hernandez would wind up the target of choice.

    Patriots' LB Jerod Mayo vs. Bills' RB C.J. Spiller -- With Fred Jackson out of the lineup, Spiller has become the lead running back in Buffalo. In the last two games, Spiller has rushed for a combined 202 yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots had problems with Reggie Bush last weekend. Spiller brings a different set of skills to the table, but the early returns Sunday could be similar if the Patriots don't establish their defensive presence from the get-go.

   Dolphins' DE/NT Marcell Dareus vs. Patriots' LG Donald Thomas -- Injuries to Matt Light and Logan Mankins forced the Patriots to insert the untested Thomas at left guard. The experiment had its moments; barring a quick return by Mankins, Thomas will either get another start Sunday or least play significant minutes to alleviate some of the pressure. This is an important match-up against the Bills' defensive line, particularly Dareus, who can line up as an end or play nose tackle.

   Patriots' CB Devin McCourty vs. Bills' WR Steve Johnson -- Some would argue that David Nelson is the more consistent receiver in Buffalo's lineup, but Johnson is the most dangerous big-play threat. With that in mind, McCourty becomes a big target this weekend due to his struggles throughout the year. Until he comes up with a few plays here and there, opposing quarterbacks will continue to throw in his direction.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills will enter next season with three starting offensive linemen coming off serious leg injuries.

   Eric Wood sustained an ACL tear earlier this year and went on injured reserve. Last week vs. Denver, guard/center Kraig Urbik and left tackle Demetrius Bell sustained what coach Chan Gailey confirmed were serious injuries that likely would require surgery. Urbik and Bell will not play in Sunday's season finale at New England.

   What's it mean heading into next year for a unit that has generally performed well, tying for the fewest sacks allowed in the NFL with Tennessee with 21 with one game to go?

   "I'm much more concerned about this game than I am next year," said Gailey. "I want to make sure that we get the five guys that are on the field knowing what to do and execute. It's a great opportunity for the guys that are going to play now to get some experience and show what they can do. That's what this last game's about. I'm not concerned about next year. I'm much more concerned about this ball game."

   Colin Brown will start at center and rookie Chris Hairston at left tackle.

   --C Kraig Urbik and LT Demetrius Bell will miss the regular-season finale at New England, putting second-year pro Colin Brown and rookie Chris Hairston into the starting lineup. It's a tall task for Hairston, who will square off vs. the Patriots pass rush which included sack artists Andre Carter (10 sacks) and Mark Anderson (9.0) off the right edge of the Pats defense. With Carter out, look for more of Rob Ninkovich playing off the edge.

   The Bills can't expect Ryan Fitzpatrick to match big plays with Tom Brady for a second time this year. Fitzpatrick was marvelous in rallying the Bills from a 21-0 hole in Buffalo's big September upset. But he's mostly struggled the past two months and Chan Gailey would be wise to run the ball often and more often against New England's 32nd-ranked run defense. Second-year pro C.J. Spiller has emerged as the weapon they hoped he'd be when the Bills drafted him ninth overall in 2010.
   Defensively, the Bills forced Brady into four interceptions the first time around, but he also carved them up with four TD passes. If they don't find a way to slow down Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, Brady (4,897 yards so far) will easily join Drew Brees in eclipsing the 5,000-yard barrier. New England ranks third in points scored at 30.9. The Bills could also use a big play from special teams and rookie kick returner Justin Rogers and punt return man Leodis McKelvin have been spectacular of late.

    Bills SS George Wilson, who has had a nice season, vs. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, who has had a brilliant season with 15 TD catches -- Gronkowski burned Buffalo with seven catches for 109 yards and two TDs in the first meeting.

   Bills CBs Drayton Florence or Aaron Williams vs. Patriots' WR Wes Welker, who has 116 catches for 1,518 yards -- Sixteen catches and 217 of those yards came against Buffalo in September.

   Bills offensive line, which will feature two more new starters due to injuries, vs. Patriots multi-faceted pass rush led by Mark Anderson (9.0) and LB Rob Ninkovich (6.5).

   Bills WR Stevie Johnson (72 catches, 964 yards, 6 TDs), who needs a big finish heading into free agency, vs. Patriots CB Kyle Arrington, who has seven interceptions.

HOT TOPIC: Patriots - Bills Game Thread

More Bills news: Buffalo Football Report
More Patriots news: Patriots News
Patriots Daily Newswire

Patriots Insider Top Stories