1. Man on fire
Patriots QB Tom Brady is playing at a level that could net his second MVP award. The NFL's top-rated passer has been particularly hot during his team's six-game winning streak, with a 70.7 completion percentage, 17 touchdowns and a 129.6 rating. He hasn't thrown an interception in 292 consecutive pass attempts, 16 short of the NFL record. The Bills' seventh-ranked pass defense has to decide what weapons to take away. The Packers focused on Wes Welker and Deion Branch, but Brady has other options in rookie TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who have combined for 77 catches, 953 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Bills are blitzing more as season moves on, but can they do it effectively against Brady?
2. Move the chains
The one way to slow Brady and the Patriots' offense is keep them off the field. Because the Patriots lack a consistent pass rush, Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick may be able to exploit a young New England secondary. He got a lot of mileage out of his young receivers last week. The Patriots have been able to limit the Bills' top receiver (see Lee Evans), so someone will have to step up if Stevie Johnson gets double-teamed. RBs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller will be a key to the Bills' ball control plan; they need to gain positive yards against a Patriots defense that is stout in the middle with NT Vince Wilfork and ILB Jerod Mayo, the NFL's leading tackler. The Patriots are last in the NFL in third-down defense, so the Bills hope to take advantage of that, which would limit Brady's opportunities.
3. Little engines that could
The Patriots usually run just to keep defenses honest, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead have made huge contributions. Green-Ellis leads the team in rushing (824 yards) and touchdowns (12). He runs mostly between the tackles and is more physical than his size (5-foot-11, 215 pounds) would suggest. He has averaged more than 100 yards in two starts against the Bills. Woodhead has been a godsend for the Patriots after they lost third-down specialist Kevin Faulk to a knee injury. Woodhead is a 5-foot-7 scatback who averages 5.3 yards per carry and is effective on draws and screens where he can get lost behind his blockers. The Bills are still last in the NFL against the run despite some strong efforts lately. They'll need another one today.
4. The specialists
The Patriots might be wary of kicking to Spiller, who burned them for a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown earlier this season. He also has come close to breaking one on punts. The Bills are just as concerned about Brandon Tate, who averages 26.1 yards and has two touchdowns on kickoff returns. Julian Edelman has been solid returning punts. Buffalo K Rian Lindell has only 20 field goal attempts (tied for 25th in the NFL), but has made 75 percent of them. New England's Shayne Graham, one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, is 9-for-9 six games since replacing injured Pro Bowler Stephen Gostkowski. Given the potential for a high-scoring game, Ps Brian Moorman and Zoltan Mesko might not see much work. When they do it may come on a short field, so directional kicking will be a key. Moorman (16) and Mesko (15) rank near the bottom of the league in punts inside the 20-yard line.
The Bills are 4-2 in their last six games, but the Patriots are 6-0 in that same span and have beaten more quality opponents. They have built big leads on Pittsburgh (10-0), Colts (14-0), Jets (17-0), and Bears (36-0) en route to impressive victories. Falling behind early against New England has cost the Bills in this series. In the last five meetings at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Patriots have outscored the Bills, 149-33. Turnovers might be a difference in the game. The Patriots lead the NFL with a plus-20 turnover margin. The weather is always a factor this time of year, but it doesn't bother Brady, who is a remarkable 19-2 in games played in snow, ice or below-freezing temperatures. Buffalo desperately wants to end its 14-game losing streak to New England, but with the AFC East title and home-field advantage in the playoffs at stake, the Patriots won't overlook the Bills.
The Streak continues. Patriots, 31-20.