FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots’ history of dominance over the Buffalo Bills should play no part in planning for this week’s matchup, which holds the added caveat of having playoff implications in the AFC.
The team has said as much this week, and players have set themselves up mentally to go out and earn the win, including a first-round bye, and possibly home field advantage throughout the playoffs. That’s their motivation.
But how do they get there? Here’s a few things we’re watching that will help the Patriots achieve that goal.
1. Dealing with the two-headed monster — The Patriots will have to contain running backs Fred Jackson (836 rushing yards, 8 TDs) and C.J. Spiller (822 rushing yards, 2 TDs). The duo have helped the Bills become the second best rushing offense in the league (142.5 yards per game), a source of strength for a team that has had to deal with a fluctuating cast of quarterbacks under center. The Patriots are allowing 131.7 yards per game on the ground. Run stuffers Brandon Spikes (85 tackles) and Dont’a Hightower (91 tackles) will have to be on top of their game.
2. Containing Thad Lewis — Bills quarterback Thad Lewis, while not as well regarded as a runner as E.J. Manuel, is still well respected by the Patriots for his ability to scramble. He has only 22 carries for 48 yards (2.2 ypc) and a touchdown. The Patriots have done a good job of limiting the movement of quarterbacks of late, especially after the fiasco in Carolina.
3. Maintaining vigilance — The Bills will be without starting wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who is in California following the death of his mother. He has been the focal point of the Patriots’ pass defense for the past four seasons when facing Buffalo. But without him, the Bills still have a bevy of receivers that require quite a bit of attention, including rookie Robert Woods (39 receptions, 560 yards, 3 TDs). Woods caught a 18-yard touchdown against the Patriots in their first matchup. And then there’s tight end Scott Chandler, who leads the Bills in receiving with 50 catches for 600 yards. T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin have combined for 36 receptions and 560 yards. Running back Fred Jackson also plays prominently in the passing game. He has caught 44 passes on 61 targets. The Patriots, who will likely have rookie Duron Harmon at safety in place of Devin McCourty, are the 18th-ranked pass defense in the NFL. They’ll have to get good performances out of Harmon and their linebackers against this talented group.