The NFL season has gone by so quick, and yet, it seems like an eternity ago that the New England Patriots came back from down four points in the fourth quarter to beat the Buffalo Bills, 23-21, in Week 1.
There's not much on the line for the Bills, who will finish with the worst record in the AFC East regardless of what happens in the last week of the season. For the Patriots, on the other hand, there's a lot at stake -- the outcome of this game, and a few others, could have the Patriots finish anywhere from the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye to the No. 3 seed and playing a Wild Card playoff game.
For a closer look at what lies ahead for the Patriots, here's a scouting report on the Bills.
How they got here: It's been a turbulent season for the Bills, to say the least. They were up-and-down to start the season, before quarterback EJ Manuel injured his knee against the Cleveland Browns and missed four games, which sent the Bills on a 1-3 tailspin. Several of those were close games (two of the three losses were by 10 points or less, and the win came by a two-point margin). Since Manuel's return, the Bills have gone 3-3 and are currently on a two-game winning streak after victories over the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins.
Key cog, offense -- Fred Jackson, RB: It seemed like C.J. Spiller was poised to step into a bigger role as the Bills' lead back. Jackson, however, has remained a steady presence in the backfield and leads the team in yards from scrimmage (1,170) and total touchdowns (nine). He ranks third on the Bills with 44 receptions, indicative of his dual-threat nature. He's not known for elite breakaway speed or quickness, but he consistently hits holes with conviction and he is tough to bring down, averaging 2.59 yards after contact according to Pro Football Focus. He is also one of the best pass-blocking backs in the league.
Key cog, defense -- Kiko Alonso, LB: At 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds, Alonso is far from a thumping linebacker, but he makes plays all over the field with his speed and instincts. The rookie linebacker out of Oregon is a top candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, and leads the Bills with 145 total tackles (81 tackles, 64 assists). He is also a standout in pass coverage, with four interceptions and five pass-defenses on the season. His dependability is unparalleled; he has played every single snap for the Bills this season.
X factor -- the quarterbacks: Just like the first meeting between these two teams, we are unsure of who will be the starting quarterback. Manuel missed Buffalo's Week 16 win over the Dolphins with a knee injury, and while head coach Doug Marrone was once "110 percent" sure that Manuel would play the season finale, there's now some doubt around who will be the starter. If Manuel is unable to play, backup Thaddeus Lewis would likely get the start.
Stats and notes:
- Notable injuries: As mentioned above, Manuel (knee) is the primary injury to monitor. Wide receiver and return specialist Marquise Goodwin (knee) left last week's game and did not return. Jackson (ribs) was listed as probable headed into last week's game, but he played 42 of the team's 80 snaps.
- On the non-injury front, wide receiver Stevie Johnson missed last week's game following the death of his mother. Rookie receiver Robert Woods threw a punch at Dolphins safety Reshad Jones and was ejected; it remains to be seen whether he will be suspended.
- The Bills have more rush attempts than any team in the NFL, and they are one of four teams that has more rush attempts (511) than pass attempts (493).
- Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is known for his aggressive scheme, adopted over the years under the tutelage of Jets head coach Rex Ryan. Pettine has already put his stamp on the team. The Bills logged 36 sacks as a team in 2012, and that number is up to 56 this year, which is a franchise record and the most in the NFL this year.
- The Bills have fielded 329 different defensive personnel combinations this year, the fourth-most in the league. That being said, they've used their most common personnel package on 8.8 percent of their defensive snaps, the fifth-highest percentage in the league. That package is a dime defense featuring four defensive linemen, one linebacker and six defensive backs.
- Their extensive use of the dime package might help explain the team's struggles stopping the run; they have allowed the 10th-most rushing yards against them (1,796; 119.7 yards per game).
The author is solely responsible for the content.