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Scouting the Matchups: Battle in the trenches one to watch

It will be strength against strength as the No. 2 rushing offense (Buffalo) takes on the second-best rushing defense (Patriots) in a key Monday night affair in Foxborough.


This Buffalo defense was supposed to soar to new heights under the guidance of head coach Rex Ryan, but it's been mediocre for the first half of the season with the exception of its ability to stop the run. The Bills rank among the top 10 in run defense, which is bad news for the Patriots, who are still smarting from the loss of halfback Dion Lewis, out for the season with a torn ACL. LeGarrette Blount has proven to be a solid fill-in and an effective goal-line running back, but whether or not he can sustain his productivity as an every-down back for the remainder of the season is still in question. He'll need help from Brandon Bolden and James White, and with the banged-up nature of the offensive line it won't be easy. The Bills are equipped with one of the best linebacker trios in the league in Manny Lawson, Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham, tough sledding for any opposing running back even if defensive tackle Kyle Williams' remains out with a knee injury. Advantage: Bills



This figures to be the best matchup of the game on paper. The Bills are among the best rushing teams in the NFL thanks to a collective team effort led primarily by former Philadelphia Eagle LeSean McCoy and rookie Karlos Williams, a touchdown machine ranked among the league leaders in yards per carry. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor can also make plays with his legs, but this is going to be a tough matchup for Buffalo's banged-up offense line against a New England run defense rounding into midseason form. Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower are stellar against the run, and the versatile defensive line has made a habit of winning the battles in the trenches. But Collins' illness has kept him on the sideline the last two games and caused him to miss practice time this week as well. Tackle Alan Branch has made several made big plays in the running game this year and has keyed the Patriots four-man rotation of big bodies up front, but McCoy is coming off a monster game against the stingy Jets. This will be the key to the game, and given the Patriots resurgence in the area, a slight edge goes to the home team.  Advantage: Patriots



A defensive line boasting Jerry Hughes, Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus should be putting ample pressure on the quarterback and masking the flaws of its team's secondary, but the Bills have simply been inadequate at rushing the passer this season. Maybe a matchup against New England's thinning offensive line will get the Bills back on track, but it's not as if Tom Brady can't handle pressure or adjust to his surroundings. The Patriots get the ball out quickly and will continue to do so on Monday night, but it'll be even tougher to move the ball following the injury last week to Julian Edelman. If the Patriots can run the ball effectively and get Buffalo to take its foot off the gas now and then, it might open the door for some deep plays to Brandon LaFell, who's starting to hit his stride. Don't be surprised if Danny Amendola steps up as well.  Advantage: Patriots



The Bills have the right guys running the routes and catching the ball, but the quarterback situation is still adequate at best. Give quarterback Tyrod Taylor credit in the sense that he doesn't make a ton of mistakes (Buffalo's interception rate is one of the best in football), but he doesn't take many risks, either, because he doesn't have the arm to do so. The Bills aren't much of a threat to make big plays in the passing game unless they catch New England in a few bad matchups in the secondary. The oft-injured Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods are solid and can beat teams deep, but one of the more underrated threats is tight end Charles Clay. New England's depth at safety and its ability to nickel and dime opposing offenses to death makes moving the ball through the air a tall task for Taylor. If he's patient and accurate he can succeed but the Patriots took advantage of his inability to establish consistency the first time around and will do so again. Advantage: Patriots



The loss of wide receiver and return man Percy Harvin is a tough blow for Buffalo. Even in a down year, he was always a threat to find a seam and break off a long return. It's difficult to find anyone better on special teams this year than New England. The Patriots have the game's most efficient kicker in Stephen Gostkowski, one of the most underrated punters in Ryan Allen and a special teams ace in Matthew Slater, who seemingly makes a big play in the return game on a weekly basis. They've also blocked a field goal, courtesy of Chandler Jones, and recovered an onside kick this season, all reasons why they've consistently won the field position battle. The Bills don't give up much in the return game either, but the other intangibles sway heavily in New England's favor, no surprise given their attention to detail on special teams. Advantage: Patriots



It's another division game on home turf, which almost always favors New England. The Bills actually won here in December, but that was a meaningless game in which backup Jimmy Garoppolo took the majority of the snaps. You'd have to go back to the Drew Bledsoe era to find the last time Buffalo won a game in New England that mattered. New England fell behind early in its Week 2 win at Buffalo, pulled ahead quickly and held off a late surge to win. The Bills know the Patriots tried to bury them on the scoreboard. Whether or not that gives them some extra motivation this week remains to be seen. The Bills are coming off two tough division wins against Miami and New York and appear to be New England's only competition in the division race, but they're still a longshot both on the scoreboard and in the standings. History is hard to ignore. Advantage: Patriots

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