Playoff-bound Patriots face playoff-deprived Bills
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Another year, another playoff berth for the
New England Patriots. For the Buffalo Bills, the postseason drought
With their fifth straight AFC East title already achieved, the Patriots
(11-4) can clinch a first-round bye Sunday. The Bills are simply ending
their 14th straight season, the NFL's longest current streak, without
reaching the playoffs.
But under first-year coach Doug Marrone, Buffalo (6-9) has a solid
defense and a chance to finish with three straight victories by beating
"We just lost some heartbreaking games," running back C.J. Spiller
said. "We just have to find a way to be able to get over that edge and
we will. We've got a great leadership group. We've got a lot of great
guys coming back in the near future. We're definitely going to get over
that hump and make the Bills fans happy."
The Bills lost the season opener to the Patriots 23-21 on Stephen
Gostkowski's field goal with 5 seconds left. They dropped overtime
games to Cincinnati and Atlanta. And they've used three quarterbacks
because of knee injuries to rookie E.J. Manuel, who was limited in
practice this week.
But a victory would make them the only AFC East team with a winning
record in division games.
"That would be important for what we want to be able to build on,"
Marrone said. "Really (we're) just trying to change things."
Change has been a constant for the Patriots in an injury-filled season
with five key starters — defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, linebacker Jerod Mayo, tight end Rob Gronkowski and right tackle
Sebastian Vollmer — on injured reserve. But as long as Bill Belichick
is the coach and Tom Brady is the quarterback, their divisional
dominance is likely to continue.
The Patriots want more, starting with their eighth bye in Belichick's
14 seasons as their coach. They also would drop into a wild-card game
if they end up seeded third or fourth.
"You'd think that we've played for 15 games, but there's still a lot to
be seen with this team," Brady said.
Five things to know about the Bills-Patriots matchup:
MORE THAN BRADY: Despite having new wide receivers
and with Gronkowski sidelined for all but seven games, Brady is having
an outstanding season. But there are many other reasons for the
A defense with rookies and free agent pickups filling in has progressed
to the point where it allowed just one touchdown and had four takeaways
— two returned for touchdowns — against Baltimore in last Sunday' 41-7
win. And the Patriots have won six games by three points or fewer.
This year's team is "one of the most mentally and physically tough
football teams I've been on," said special teams captain Matthew
Slater, a six-year veteran.
SACK HAPPY: The Bills hope to increase their NFL-best sacks
total of 56 after getting seven in last Sunday's 19-0 win over Miami.
"They have great players up front," Belichick said. "Kyle Williams (10
1-2 sacks) is playing as good as any defensive lineman that we've seen
all year. He's unblockable, borderline unblockable, a lot of the time."
When Brady does get the pass off, he'll throw into a defense that is
second in the NFL with 22 interceptions.
GROUND GAME: Only one team has more yards rushing
than the Bills. Only three have allowed more than the Patriots. So New
England's run defense should be tested. Buffalo has the strong Fred Jackson, with 836 yards rushing, and the elusive Spiller, with 822, to
give the Patriots different looks.
In their last two games, the Bills rushed for 198 and 203 yards in wins
over Jacksonville and Miami.
EDELMAN'S EXCELLENCE: Julian Edelman has emerged as
the unexpected successor to WR Wes Welker, who signed with Denver as a
free agent. He has 96 receptions, fourth in the NFL, after totaling 69
in his first four seasons since New England drafted him in the seventh
round. His speed and shiftiness also make him one of the league's top
"There are a lot of things to like about Julian," Belichick said, "his
toughness, his speed, his quickness, his ability to run with the ball
after he catches it and break tackles, and be elusive and have good run
skills in the secondary. He's a tough kid who can come in and block.
He's smart. He's got versatility."
HAPPY AT HOME: The Patriots have won their last 12
home games against the Bills, 11 since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002.
Since then, their 90-18 record, including playoffs, is the best home
record in the NFL. And they're 30-5 against AFC East opponents there in
"I think our team realizes the challenge we have in going to New
England," Marrone said. "We have not won up there in Gillette Stadium.
We know we're going to have to play extremely well."
Five Point Preview: Patriots vs Bills
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