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Scouting the Matchup: Patriots look to avoid trap

The Patriots need to avoid a letdown against the Bills, who are still in playoff contention.


The last time these two teams played in early December, Rex Burkhead scored two rushing touchdowns, Dion Lewis continued his resurgence with 94 yards and the Patriots totaled 191 rushing yards as a team, their second highest total of the season. The letdown in Miami was most likely an anomaly. For the past two-and-a-half months, the Patriots have been one of the league's most prolific rushing teams, even with injuries challenging their depth on the offensive line. Entering Week 15, Buffalo had allowed at least 140 rushing yards in five of six games, including a ghasty 298-yard performance in a loss to Carolina. With depth concerns at wide receiver coupled with Buffalo's high interception rate, the Patriots would be wise to stick to the same game plan that worked in Week 13, which is a heavy dose of Lewis. Perhaps former Bill Mike Gillislee gets back in the lineup in place of the injured Burkhead and takes advantage of his opportunity. Advantage: Patriots


LeSean McCoy did his part in Week 13 against New England with 93 yards on 15 carries, but Tyrod Taylor's ineffectiveness made the ground production irrelevant. McCoy will have to shoulder the load again for Buffalo to have any chance in this weekend's rematch. McCoy is one of only two running backs in the NFL to lead his team in rushes and receptions. He'll likely continue to get the ball early and often in Week 16 against a run defense that continues to get picked apart on a weekly basis. The Patriots have been forced to adjust with key players sustaining injuries. They've struggled to set the edge and have given up big plays in the running game at an alarming rate. McCoy will rack up yards, but whether those yards have any impact on the outcome of the game depends on other factors – most notably, Taylor. Advantage: Patriots


Having tight end Rob Gronkowski back in the lineup makes all the difference in New England's passing game. Gronkowski's absence in Miami exposed the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady to the Dolphins vicious pass rush, but few teams are capable of slowing the passing game when it's at or near full strength. The Bills, led by impressive rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White, are among the league leaders in interceptions and forced fumbles, so they're capable of creating turnovers. In Week 13, White intercepted a pass intended for Gronkowski with the game out of reach, but the tight end still finished with 147 yards, catching nine of Brady's 21 completions. The Bills can make big plays but give up too many yards in the process, a tough matchup against a team like New England that doesn't make many mistakes. Advantage: Patriots


The Bills passing game, in a nutshell, is predicated on the ability of tight end Charles Clay to get open or for McCoy to make plays out of the backfield. Rookie Zay Jones and veteran offseason acquisition Jordan Matthews (now on injured reserve) haven't given the offense much of a spark. Kelvin Benjamin missed the first meeting with the Bills with a knee injury but caught four passes for 104 yards while a member of Carolina earlier in the season. Taylor remains erratic at best. After plucking linebacker Eric Lee off Buffalo's practice squad in November, the Patriots knocked Taylor out of the game in Week 13 and cruised to a 23-3 victory, limiting McCoy and Clay to just five catches combined. If McCoy can do more in the passing game this time, the Bills will have a chance, but New England's defense has been among the league's best since Week 5, primarily because of the play of its secondary. Advantage: Patriots


Special teams have been a force for New England all season. Aside from the blocked field goals and blocked punts, which have been well documented, the Patriots have been tremendous in keeping teams on their own side of the field, a huge nod to their coverage in the kicking game. Until Week 14, the Patriots hadn't allowed an opponent to start on their side of the field for more than 100 drives, a remarkable testament to the tremendous ball security by the offense and the ability to limit long returns. The Bills are relatively average on special teams, but no matter who they face the Patriots will have a clear edge in special teams because of their commitment to excellence in that area. Advantage: Patriots


The Patriots have only lost twice at home to the Bills over the past 17 years, but both losses should come with an asterisk. Last year, the Bills beat the Patriots in Week 4 in a game started by third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett, and in December of 2014 they won a late-season game in which New England rested most of its starters because it had already clinched home-field advantage in the playoffs. The reality is the Patriots own the Bills both at home and on the road and have dominated this series since Bill Belichick became head coach in 2000. Late-season games against the Bills haven't always meant much, but the Patriots are still jockeying for position in the AFC playoff race and aren't guaranteed anything yet, so each game is important. Knowing what's at stake, it's hard to bet against New England at home against Buffalo. Advantage: Patriots

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