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Game Matchups: Another big day for defense likely against offensively challenged Bills

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WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN


The Patriots may want to lean on their ground game a bit more than usual in this contest, especially since the Bills have been so good at pressuring — and bringing down — opposing quarterbacks this season. The Bills entered last week's game against the Raiders with the ninth-best run defense in the NFL (4.1 yards per carry), but had allowed an average of 5 yards per carry and 10 rushing touchdowns in the eight games leading up to that contest, and the Raiders enjoyed a field day on the ground. Of course, New England has already shown it can beat Buffalo without much of a running game. The Patriots were held to 50 yards on 27 rushing attempts (1.9 yards per carry) when they beat the Bills 37-22 earlier this season.  ADVANTAGE: BILLS

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WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS


There's no doubt that this is the game's marquee matchup. The Bills have a league-leading 50 sacks and are the only team in the league that has at least three players with nine or more sacks. Former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams is the best of the bunch up front, and enters Sunday's finale with 13.5 sacks. New England quarterback Tom Brady has been razor sharp for most of the season. He has thrown for at least two touchdown passes in 10 of his last 11 games, but was sacked four times in last week's victory over the Jets. The Buffalo defense should have plenty of confidence, since it held both Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning without a TD pass earlier this season. Few teams are equipped to deal with Buffalo's pressure defense, and the Patriots offensive line has been leaky as of late. Depending on how long Brady & Co. play, this should be worth watching. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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WHEN THE BILLS RUN


If the Bills have success moving the ball against the Patriots, it's unlikely they'll do it on the ground. Buffalo hasn't had a player rush for 100 yards in a game this season, and the team hasn't rushed for more than 120 yards in a contest since gaining 193 yards in a season-opening victory at Chicago. When healthy, running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson give Buffalo a respectable one-two punch in the backfield, but both have battled injuries this season. Spiller was cleared to play last week for the first time since he suffered a broken collarbone in Week 7, but carried the ball four times for minus-4 yards in a loss to the Raiders. Buffalo ran for 68 yards on 23 carries in the earlier meeting between the teams this season. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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WHEN THE BILLS PASS


It's hard to call this anything but a mismatch given the stingy nature of the Patriots secondary and the limited nature of the Bills passing attack. Kyle Orton (17 TDs, 10 interceptions) has been serviceable since replacing E.J. Manuel as Buffalo's starting quarterback three months ago, but it's hard to believe the Bills won't be searching for a QB in the offseason. Buffalo is 19th among NFL teams in passing offense at 224.4 yards per game, and next to last in red zone efficiency (20 touchdowns in 49 red zone possessions). Cornerback Darrelle Revis lined up across from Sammy Watkins -- Buffalo's leading receiver -- in the first meeting between these teams and held Watkins to two catches for 27 yards. He was targeted three times, but didn't have a pass thrown his way until the second half. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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SPECIAL TEAMS


Both teams have received some exceptional special teams play this season. Buffalo has been particularly good at punt and kickoff coverage, and Dan Carpenter has made six field goals from at least 50 yards. Marcus Thigpen has also given Buffalo's punt return unit a shot in the arm since he joined the team after being released by Tampa Bay on Nov. 25. Thigpen returned a punt 76 yards for a TD in a Week 16 victory over Green Bay. The Patriots have blocked five kicks this season — four field goal attempts and one punt — and returned two of those blocks for touchdowns. New England's Stephen Gostkowski has made 31 of his 33) field goal attempts this season as well. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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OTHER FACTORS


Buffalo was eliminated from playoff contention following last Sunday's 26-24 loss to the Raiders, so you have to wonder how much fight the Bills will bring to Foxborough. Buffalo, which hasn't made a postseason appearance since 1999, has the longest current playoff drought in the NFL. Buffalo defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (knee) and cornerback Stephon Gilmore (concussion) each left last Sunday's game in the second quarter and did not return. If either can't play Sunday, it would be a big blow to the Bills shot at an upset. Buffalo's record at Gillette Stadium is something else to consider. The Bills have never won their and are winless in their last 13 road games against the Patriots. New England will certainly be looking to build some positive momentum as it enters the postseason. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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