New England Patriots (6-1) at Buffalo Bills (4-3)
SERIES HISTORY: 113th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead the all-time series, 68-43-1. The battles date back to the original AFL days, but of late New England has dominated the Bills as much as any opponent in the Brady/Belichick era. The Patriots are 27-4 against Buffalo since 2001, including a 14-2 mark at Gillette Stadium. The two losses in Foxborough, including this season's 16-0 Buffalo upset, came against backup quarterbacks for New England. Tom Brady is 25-3 against the Bills.
KEYS TO THE GAME: A week after nearly a 50-50 split in the first half against the Steelers, look for New England to be a bit more pass-heavy in an attempt to get an early lead and put pressure on the Bills to keep up on the scoreboard. Certainly Rob Gronkowski in the middle of the field is a matchup that Tom Brady will target given the tight ends past success in Buffalo as well as his recent run of good health and production.
Defensively, the Patriots will focus first and foremost on taking away a Buffalo ground attack that could be without LeSean McCoy. The ends won't get too far up the field or be too aggressive, looking to keep Tyrod Taylor in the pocket to force him to make plays with his arm.
Defensively, the Bills might be without safety Aaron Williams, which won't help in their coverage of Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. The only way it will be possible for Buffalo to slow down the Patriots will be to get pressure on Brady and somehow create turnovers. The Bills are second in the league with a plus-8 turnover margin, they lead the league in red zone defense, and they're fourth in sacks per pass attempt.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Bills QB Tyrod Taylor vs. Patriots DE Rob Ninkovich. Taylor is the centerpiece of the Bills' offense, especially with LeSean McCoy nursing a hamstring injury. Taylor can make plays as both a passer and a runner, as he did in the first meeting this year to help the Bills to victory. Ninkovich has yet to record a sack or a QB hit since returning from his four-game suspension to open the year. In his fourth game back, he'll be a big part of a controlled Patriots pass rush that will try to keep Taylor in the pocket but also try to keep him from getting too comfortable as he makes his reads and throws.
--Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Bills coach Rex Ryan and DC Rob Ryan. Brady has been on fire since returning from his suspension, completing 76 percent without an interception and notching a 132.6 passer rating. He has a long history of doing battle with Ryan-schemed defenses, with varying degrees of success. The Ryan brothers will need to find a way to get pressure on Brady, likely without doing too much blitzing, against a Patriots offensive line that has been less than stellar. As Brady goes, so goes the Patriots' offense.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski. The All-Pro's next touchdown will set a franchise record -- and he just happens to be playing a team he grew up rooting for and has toasted many times in his career. In 10 games against the Bills, Gronkowski has 10 touchdowns, including three games with multiple scores. He had just one reception for 11 yards in Week 4 against the Bills, coming off a hamstring injury. Now healthy, Gronkowski is running roughshod through opposing defenses yet again.
INJURY REPORT: New England -- Questionable: TE Martellus Bennett (ankle), WR Julian Edelman (foot), DT Woodrow Hamilton (shoulder), CB Jonathan Jones (hip), WR Malcolm Mitchell (hamstring), LB Elandon Roberts (ankle), DT Vincent Valentine (back). Buffalo -- Out: WR Marquise Goodwin (concussion), S Aaron Williams (neck). Questionable: RB LeSean McCoy (hamstring).
FAST FACTS: Patriots QB Tom Brady has won eight of his past nine games vs. Buffalo, throwing for 2,509 yards, 19 TDs and four interceptions. He leads the NFL with a 132.6 rating this season. ... Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount rushed for 127 yards and two TDs last week. He is tied for the NFL lead with eight rushing TDs. ... The Bills are looking for their first season sweep of the Patriots since 1999. ... In the past three meetings, Bills RB LeSean McCoy has 347 scrimmage yards (115.7 per game) and two TDs. ... Bills DE Jerry Hughes has 3.5 sacks and two tackles for loss in the past five meetings. ... Bills LB Lorenzo Alexander leads the NFL with nine sacks and is tied for second with three forced fumbles.
PREDICTION: Brady and a healthier Gronkowski should make the difference as the Patriots look to exact a little revenge for the shutout loss on Oct. 2.
OUR PICK: Patriots, 24-13.