For Buffalo, the game is meaningless outside of draft position. Coming off a 19-0 upset win over the Miami Dolphins, the Bills are trying to finish strong under first-year head coach Doug Marrone. Buffalo is also trying to avenge a loss suffered to New England the first week this season, when a last-second field goal by Stephen Gostkowski was the difference.
New England can clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs with a win over Buffalo. At 11-4, the Patriots are rolling after crushing the Baltimore Ravens 41-7 last weekend. New England could still technically be the top-seed, if the Denver Broncos somehow lose to the lowly Oakland Raiders.
Meet the Bills
It is unclear whether Thad Lewis or EJ Manuel will get the start on Sunday, with both quarterbacks getting playing time as Manuel tries to fight back from a knee injury. When healthy, Manuel has been solid with a 58.8 completion percentage to go with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
However, the Bills will rely on the ground game regardless of who is behind center. C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson lead the second-ranked ground attack, which gains 142.5 rushing yards per game. The duo has combined for 1,658 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground, providing a serious challenge for New England.
Defensively, the Bills lead the NFL in sacks with 56. It is a total group effort, with Mario Williams amassing 13.5, Kyle Williams notching 10.5 and Jerry Hughes having 10. Kiko Alonso has also been a tremendous asset and likely the Defensive Rookie of the Year award winner with 145 tackles and four interceptions.
Meet the Patriots
Despite losing Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilford, Jerod Mayo, Sebastian Vollmer and others between the end of last season and now, the Patriots continue to play winning football. It's a testament to head coach Bill Belichick, who might be doing his best coaching job yet.
Of course, Belichick has a little help from Tom Brady. Brady is putting up below-average numbers by his standards, but considering the talent around him it's not a bad season by any stretch. Brady has thrown for 4,221 yards and 24 touchdowns against only 10 interceptions. His main target has been Julian Edelman, who has 96 catches and 991 yards.
Chandler Jones has been the standout on defense, recording 11.5 sacks to easily pace New England. Jones has come into his own, now in his second full season out of Syracuse University. Rob Ninkovich is chronically underrated at the outside linebacker spot, putting together 86 tackles and seven sacks, second-best on the team in both categories.
Local take: Buffalo
Brian Galliford of Buffalo Rumblings discusses some of the defensive stars from last week's shutout:
Kyle Williams and Nickell Robey each had two sacks and a few tackles. Leodis McKelvin had a pick, too, while seven sacks around the defense should warrant some other mentions. No matter, we're pretty confident one of those first two names
Local take: New England
Richard Hill of Pats Pulpit wrote about the offensive line's terrific showing last week, especially Josh Kline:
Undrafted rookie Josh Kline, who toiled most of the season on the practice squad, jumped into active duty last week and started at left guard against one of the best linemen of the past decade. Did anyone hear him getting singled out for a negative play all game? He definitely was walked back more than a couple times, but he fought every single snap and greatly impressed. I was hard on Kline during the preseason for being the weakest of the rookie linemen trying out for a roster spot and he made me eat my words. Extremely impressive.
Follow the fun
Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Buffalo Rumblings and Pats Pulpit, for more analysis and highlights from the game.
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Patriots vs. Ravens: By the Numbers http://t.co/qcArElm3c0— Greg Knopping (@patspulpit) December 23, 2013
@MockingTheDraft Probably because he’s a UB guy. And fans seem to think he can play ILB. You won’t get complaints about Watkins, either.— Buffalo Rumblings (@BuffRumblings) December 23, 2013
With a bye week on the line, it's impossible to pick Buffalo on the road in this game. It's very likely the Patriots will put on the full-court press and try to blow the Bills out early so they can rest starters and relax come the second half. Buffalo is frisky and could stay in the game for a bit longer than expected, but it will not win.
Pick: New England 34, Buffalo 17
The Patriots are favored by 10 points at home over the Bills, according to Oddsshark.com.
The Bills will be on a golf course while the Patriots ready for the playoffs.