Patriots - Bills: What To Watch

When the New England Patriots host the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, it will be to determine who gets to keep at least a share of the AFC East lead. Both teams are tied with the New York Jets at 5-3. Here are some things to watch for in this matchup.

New England Patriots Notes:

The Patriots placed rookie linebacker Shawn Crable on injured reserve Wednesday and signed veteran cornerback Jason Webster, who spent the summer with them in training camp.

Crable's loss is no big deal considering the Patriots never activated him this season. He injured his leg in practice two weeks ago and never returned to the field.

The Patriots could afford to lose him because they needed help in the secondary. Webster provides a veteran presence, though his lengthy injury history makes him a gamble as well.

Deltha O'Neal will likely continue to start, assuming he's healthy, though it wouldn't be a surprise if Webster gets the nod Sunday. Terrence Wheatley is dealing with a hand injury and may not be available this weekend, so keep an eye on the newly acquired veteran.

GAME PLAN: The Patriots are facing a team that's stout at stopping the run, but is dealing with injury problems in the secondary, so this would be a good week to throw the ball.

Then again, the Colts were signing players off the street prior to last weekend's game and the Patriots still decided to run the ball, so don't be surprised if there's no aerial show. Still, the absence of defensive back Donte Whitner and pass-rushing end Aaron Schobel makes this defense ripe for the picking, plus we don't know if either Sammy Morris or LaMont Jordan will be back to boost New England's running game.

On the flip side, they need to do a better job rushing the passer. They didn't lay a finger on Peyton Manning last week and subsequently got picked apart by the two-time MVP. The reoccurring theme in their three losses has been the lack of pressure and that needs to change Sunday against an inexperienced quarterback who's begun to struggle as of late.

Trent Edwards has done a fine job, but his numbers are beginning to decline and he may be hitting in the wall in just his first full season at the helm. The Patriots need a big game from Richard Seymour to force Edwards out of his comfort zone in the pocket.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bills LB Kawika Mitchell vs. Patriots TE Ben Watson. Mitchell was signed to be a playmaker on Buffalo's defense and he's done just that. He has the ability to knock the ball loose and is a proven performer in clutch spots. Watson spent a lot of time blocking last week to protect Matt Cassel and will be asked to do the same Sunday afternoon. He needs to chip away at Mitchell to keep Cassel's backside clean.

Patriots DE Richard Seymour vs. Bills LT Jason Peters. The Patriots didn't get enough of a pass rush against Indianapolis last week and that needs to change in a hurry. Seymour must dominant his matchup against Peters, who has butted heads with his adversary many times since 2004. This one could go either way, but Seymour is starting to peak, so he may have the slight edge.

INJURY IMPACT: WR Randy Moss was listed as having limited participation in Wednesday's practice due to a foot injury. Moss has not been limited at all this season and should be ready to go Sunday. Jabar Gaffney would get more reps in his absence.
--NT Vince Wilfork was listed as having limited participation in Wednesday's practice due to a toe injury. Though there's been no mention of his condition publicly, it's believed Wilfork suffered the injury in Sunday's loss. He should be ready to play Sunday.
--WR/KR Matthew Slater was listed as having limited participation in Wednesday's practice due to an ankle injury. In a side note, Slater wore a white jersey during the session and lined up with the offense.

Buffalo Bills Notes:

Is QB Trent Edwards suffering from the after-effects of his serious concussion suffered on Oct. 5 at Arizona? He says no but the numbers say yes.

Edwards, who had a two-week break after his injury thanks to a bye, started against San Diego on Oct. 19 and performed extremely well, completing 25 of 30 passes for 261 yards, one TD and no interceptions in a 23-14 win. But the past two weeks, losses to the Dolphins and the Jets, he's thrown one touchdown pass, three interceptions, lost two fumbles, taken a safety, and been sacked seven times.

"No, that hasn't even crossed my mind," Edwards said of the possibility of post-concussion syndrome, something the team hasn't indicated he has.

"I didn't even realize that I had a concussion until you just asked me that question. I've put that in my past. I really don't feel like that's happened. I thought the Chargers game was fine, I didn't feel any effects of that, and these past couple games haven't gone the way we've wanted them to, but I haven't really felt any effects from taking that hit in Arizona."

--DE Aaron Schobel, who has missed three games with a foot injury, was scheduled to visit a foot specialist. He won't play this Sunday at New England and remains out indefinitely.
--WR Josh Reed did not practice again due to his ankle injury and he's not likely to play Sunday at New England. Coach Dick Jauron said Reed's Achilles tendon is likely sore but that otherwise that tendon isn't injured, too, from what he's been told. That could mean a quicker return than expected for Reed.
--OLB Kawika Mitchell sat out practice with an ankle injury. He's expected to test the injury Thursday in hopes of playing against New England. Buffalo's linebacker depth is paper thin and Mitchell's absence would be hard to overcome.
--SS Donte Whitner missed practice with a separated shoulder and will not play this Sunday at New England.
--OG Brad Butler (knee), who has missed two games, returned to practice on a limited basis and could return to the lineup on Sunday.

GAME PLAN: With no Tom Brady to contend with, Buffalo has a prime opportunity to snap its nine-game losing streak to its division rival. But doing so on the road while missing key personnel will make the job challenging if not impossible. This is still a good New England team that plays solid defense. For the Bills, it begins with protecting young QB Trent Edwards, who has been sacked seven times the past two weeks and has turned into a turnover machine. This is the third consecutive game he'll be facing a 3-4 defensive scheme but he and his teammates will need to be mentally sharp because Bill Belichick's veteran players are adept at disguising their looks, minimizing an opponent's ability to hurt them with "hot" reads in the passing game. Defensively, Buffalo catches a break with New England's running back corps banged up. If the Patriots struggle running, the Bills can put pressure on backup QB Matt Cassel and not let him get into a rhythm with his deep receiving corps, led by Randy Moss. Ultimately, Buffalo can't be intimidated like it has been so many times in the past facing the Patriots. A win would be a huge statement and make them 1-2 in the division.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bills C Duke Preston, who had his hands full with Jets NT Kris Jenkins last week, vs. Patriots NT Vince Wilfork, who is also capable of disrupting the Bills' entire offensive flow.

Bills RB Marshawn Lynch, still looking for his first 100-yard game, vs. Patriots rookie LB Jerod Mayo, who leads his team with 65 tackles and is being touted as a candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Bills LT Jason Peters, who is having his worst season after a failed contract holdout for a line that has given up seven sacks in two games, vs. Patriots DE Richard Seymour, who has rebounded from injuries to record four sacks, nine QB hits and 32 tackles.

Bills WR Lee Evans, who hasn't topped 40 yards receiving in his past four games against New England, vs. Patriots S Brandon Meriweather, a 2007 first-round pick starting for Rodney Harrison who is out with a season-ending quad injury.

INJURY IMPACT: WR Josh Reed's foot injury has put pressure on rookie James Hardy to pick up the slack and take pressure off No. 1 target Lee Evans. But Hardy has struggled with just seven catches, none last week against the Jets. He's due for a breakout game.

OLB Kawika Mitchell's ankle injury is a concern. If he's out, or less than 100 percent, the Bills have no experienced depth behind him. Veterans Angelo Crowell (knee) and John DiGiorgio (knee) are out for the year.

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