The Buffalo Bills have an opportunity Sunday to change the outlook of their season.
If the team pulls off an upset of the New England Patriots, it will solidify itself as a playoff contender in a packed AFC wild-card race. The Bills will likely be favorites in three of their final games — next week at home against Indianapolis and the two games against Miami -- while they are underdogs Sunday against the Pats. That figures to be the same in Week 16 in New England. Win the games they are favored in, and the Bills might get in at 9-7. A win against New England, though, would drastically change the Bills' chances.
According to the New York Times' playoff simulator, the Bills currently have a 35 percent chance of making the playoffs. Beating New England and then handling their business in the games they will be favored puts the Bills' chances at 95 percent to end a 17-year playoff drought. So, yes, there is plenty at stake Sunday for the Bills.
Here are all the details you need for the game, plus five things we'll be watching for:
• TV: CBS. Announcers: Jim Nantz (play by play), Tony Romo (color analyst).
• Radio: Bills Radio Network. Buffalo-WGR 550 AM; Toronto-Fan 590 AM; Rochester-WCMF 96.5 FM and WROC 950 AM; Syracuse-WTKW 99.5 FM and WTKV 105.5 FM. Announcers: John Murphy (play by play), Mark Kelso (color analyst).
• Series history: Patriots lead, 70-43-1. New England's 70 wins over Buffalo are its most over another opponent. The Patriots have won 29 of the last 34 games between the two teams, dating back to 2000.
• Bills injury report: Out: LT Cordy Glenn (foot/ankle), RB Mike Tolbert (hamstring), G John Miller (ankle), WR Kelvin Benjamin (knee). Questionable: TE Charles Clay (knee), WR Jordan Matthews (knee), OT Conor McDermott (chest), DE Eddie Yarbrough (chest), TE Nick O'Leary (back), OT Seantrel Henderson (illness), FB Patrick DiMarco (ankle). Patriots injury report: Out: WR Chris Hogan (shoulder), OT Marcus Cannon (ankle). Questionable: C David Andrews (illness), LB Marquis Flowers (knee), DE Trey Flowers (rib), LB Trevor Reilly (concussion), CB Eric Rowe (groin), WR Matt Slater (hamstring), LB Kyle Van Noy (calf), T LaAdrian Waddle (ankle).
• Point spread: The Bills are 8.5-point underdogs, according to the website footballlocks.com.
• Did you know? Kyle Williams will play in his 162nd season with the Bills on Sunday, the most in franchise history for a defensive tackle.
• Next up: The Bills continue a three-game homestand with a visit from the Andrew Luck-less Indianapolis Colts.
Here are five things to watch against the Patriots:
1. Will the "good" running game show up? The Bills totaled 104 yards on the ground last week in a win over the Chiefs, but that total came on an average of 2.8 yards per rush. LeSean McCoy averaged just 2.2 yards per carry. McCoy has played well against New England since coming to Buffalo, topping 100 yards from scrimmage in three appearances. The Bills are 3-1 this season when McCoy runs for 90-plus yards, with the only loss coming in the five-interception meltdown by Nathan Peterman against the Chargers. The Patriots can reasonably be expected to scheme up a way to take McCoy out of the game, so it will be up to Rick Dennison to answer.
2. Are Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer and Matt Milano up to the task? The Bills' starting safeties, as well as the rookie linebacker, will spend a lot of time on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Amherst native has routinely carved up his hometown team, with 52 catches for 813 yards and 11 touchdowns in 11 career games. After struggling through an injury-filled 2016, Gronkowski is healthy this year and producing at his normal rate, with 46 catches for 702 yards and seven touchdowns. Last week, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce got open in the Buffalo secondary on a few occasions, but quarterback Alex Smith missed him. That won't happen with Tom Brady.
3. Can Jordan Matthews get on track? When he was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia during training camp, Matthews was expected to be the Bills' No. 1 receiver. A combination of injuries, offensive scheme and quarterback play have led to Matthews falling far short of expectations. He is on pace for easily the worst season of his four-year career. He admitted to The Buffalo News on Thursday that this season has been "a grind," while at the same time maintaining confidence that he can still be the player who caught 85 passes in a season with the Eagles. Over his last two games, Matthews has just three catches for 29 yards. With Benjamin out of the lineup, the Bills could use more from Matthews.
4. Can Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson follow in the Dolphins' footsteps? Brady was hit eight times last week, even though he was only sacked once. The best way to defend Brady (or any quarterback) is to make him uncomfortable in the pocket. That'll be on Hughes and Lawson, as well as defensive tackle Kyle Williams.
5. Will Stephon Gilmore get beat? Bills fans never seemed to warm up to their former first-round draft pick, who landed five-year contract worth up to $65 million in free agency. Gilmore had a rough first month in New England, but has bounced back nicely and is coming off his best game of the season against Miami. Nothing would get the New Era Field crowd going like one of the Bills' receivers beating Gilmore. On the other hand, if he makes a big play, expect the boos to be loud.