BUFFALO BILLS (8-6) AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (11-3)
SERIES HISTORY: 115th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead series, 70-43-1. The rivalry dates back to the AFL. Buffalo dominated for stretches, including nine straight wins in the early 1970s and 11 of 13 from 1988 to 1994. Lately, though, it has been all Patriots. New England won 15 straight from 2003 to 2010 and has won 29 of 34 since Bill Belichick took over the Patriots in 2000. Buffalo did score a 16-0 win last season, beating third-string rookie QB Jacoby Brissett in Foxborough.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bills struck a winning balance last week against the Dolphins. Tyrod Taylor had a decent game, especially in the first half as he threw for 165 yards and led the Bills to three touchdowns. They also ran well when they needed to, and that type of performance will be necessary to beat the Patriots.
One of the big keys will be, as always, to keep Tom Brady off the field. In the first game, a 23-3 win by New England, the Patriots had the ball for 20 minutes in the second half as they pulled away for a 9-3 halftime lead. That has to go the other way for the Bills this time.
On defense, the Bills might play nickel and dime defense all day in an effort to stop the Patriots' proficient passing game. It's asking for trouble, but the facts are the facts: The Patriots are the No. 1 passing team in the NFL, and they are 16th in rushing.
Also, they won't have injured RB Rex Burkhead in this game, a player who had been earning more playing time and scored two TDs against the Bills three weeks ago.
The Patriots' offense has sputtered a bit in recent weeks, with inconsistency on the ground, in the red zone, on third down and pretty much any time Brady hasn't thrown to Rob Gronkowski. Look for coordinator Josh McDaniels to try to get off to a fast start, maybe with some up-tempo looks to get things going. Certainly, Brady will try to get some quick throws to get the passing game moving, but also expect some balance with Dion Lewis runs to keep the Bills on their heels.
The offensive line needs to win the line of scrimmage in order for the offense to avoid long-yardage situations that have been an issue over the last month. In the last meeting, sacks led to field goals rather than touchdowns in three first-half red-zone trips, so maximizing scoring chances will be an emphasis this week.
Defensively, the Patriots just can't seem to find a way to stop the run, especially when opponents attack the edges. LeSean McCoy will do just that.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski vs. Bills safeties. The Bills have played pretty well on pass defense this season, but they did not have a good day when Gronkowski tuned them up for 147 yards on nine catches three weeks ago. No one stops Gronkowski, so the Bills have to hope they can disguise their coverages well enough to give Tom Brady pause. The proper play would seem to be to double Gronkowski all over the field, but that would open the door for Brady to exploit other areas of the defense.
--Bills RB LeSean McCoy vs. Patriots' linebackers. The Bills have to control the ball because that's really the only way they will keep the game tight throughout. McCoy, who earned his sixth Pro Bowl berth this week, has run better in the second half of the season as the offensive line has started to come together in the Bills' revised blocking scheme. The Patriots rank last in the NFL in yards allowed per rush at 4.9, so there should be some opportunities to move the sticks for Buffalo.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--Out: WR Andre Holmes (neck)
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
--Out: DT Alan Branch (knee), RB Rex Burkhead (knee)
--Questionable: RB Brandon Bolden (groin), WR Chris Hogan (shoulder), S Brandon King (hamstring), DE Eric Lee (ankle), WR Matt Slater (hamstring), LB Kyle Van Noy (calf), T LaAdrian Waddle (ankle), RB James White (ankle)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bills CB Tre'Davious White. He will have plenty of motivation against the Patriots, especially Rob Gronkowski. Three weeks ago, Gronk cheap-shotted White after the Buffalo rookie intercepted a fourth-quarter pass. The hit earned Gronk a one-game suspension and sent White into concussion protocol. White found himself one-on-one with Gronk a few times in that game, and he held his own despite giving up six inches and about 60 pounds. White also succeeded in irritating Gronk; if he can do that again, perhaps he can get Gronk off his game.
FAST FACTS: Bills QB Tyrod Taylor passed for a TD and rushed for a TD in Week 15. Since 2015, he has 10 games with both a passing and rushing TD, tied for second most in the NFL. In the past six games on the road against the division, he has eight TDs and no interceptions, with two rushing TDs. ... RB LeSean McCoy reached 10,000 rushing yards in the fifth-fewest carries (2,145) in NFL history. He had 96 scrimmage yards and two TDs last week. He has 95-plus scrimmage yards in four of the past five games. In five games against New England, he has 510 scrimmage yards (102 per game) and three TDs. ... LB Preston Brown had a team-high 10 tackles in Week 15. He aims for his sixth game in a row with seven-plus tackles. ... Patriots QB Tom Brady leads the NFL with 4,163 passing yards and ranks third with a 104 passer rating. He has passed for 1,757 yards (292.8 per game), 12 TDs and two interceptions in the past six meetings with Buffalo. He has 28 passing TDs and can become the fourth player in NFL history with 30 in seven-plus seasons. ... RB Dion Lewis had 92 rushing yards in the last meeting. He has 230 scrimmage yards and a rushing TD in his past two games against Buffalo. He leads the team with a career-high 674 rushing yards. ... LB Kyle Van Noy has two sacks in the past three games.
PREDICTION: The Bills have far exceeded preseason expectations, making it to Week 16 with playoff hopes intact. But Gillette Stadium isn't the place you go when you have to win, unless your name is Tom Brady.
OUR PICK: Patriots, 30-16.