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Scouting the Matchups: It all starts up front

Stopping the run will be the key for the Patriots defense on Sunday.


The Bills have been mediocre against the run thus far, while the Patriots appear more committed to their running game with so much uncertainty at the quarterback position until Tom Brady returns next week. LeGarrette Blount has run with a sense of purpose this year and has handled the responsibility of shouldering the load, rushing for at least 100 yards in back-to-back games. The Bills have two solid run-stuffers in Preston Brown and Zach Brown, but without much resistance from the defensive line, too many of their tackles are occurring downfield, meaning opposing teams are simply gashing the Bills up front. The Patriots are rarely a run-first team regardless of who's throwing the ball, but it's hard to imagine Buffalo offering much resistance whenever it needs to get a key stop in short-yardage situations.  Advantage: PATRIOTS


The Bills were the league's No. 1 rushing offense in 2015 but hadn't been nearly as effective this year until this past Sunday's game against the Cardinals in which LeSean McCoy finally cracked the 100-yard plateau and reached the end zone twice in Buffalo's surprising win. Even with health issues up front, the Bills should be better and still have the potential to be elite in the running game. The Patriots have been a top-10 run defense through three games in 2016, even with Dont'a Hightower and Jonathan Freeny dealing with their own nagging injuries. Jamie Collins has continued to develop into an elite run-stopper, and few teams have been able to run against New England's base nickel. The Bills haven't been consistent enough yet to earn the benefit of a doubt. Advantage: PATRIOTS


The Patriots have proven they're capable of moving the ball through the air regardless of who's behind center. Jimmy Garoppolo was tremendous against Arizona and Miami before he got hurt, and rookie third-stringer Jacoby Brissett proved to be reliable when necessary, even if he won't be allowed to take many chances downfield. The Bills have looked susceptible against teams that get rid of the ball quickly, which is where New England excels. Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby struggled in a Week 2 loss to the Jets, though Jerry Hughes is enjoying his new role as a pass-rushing outside linebacker. The Patriots need to continue to utilize their skill players as blockers and keep it short and simple with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and whichever tight end combination they have available. There are too many weapons for the Bills to account for. Advantage: PATRIOTS


He's only in his second year but quarterback Tyrod Taylor is still struggling with consistency. It doesn't help that his best receiver, Sammy Watkins, is dealing with a nagging foot injury. No one else has really stepped to the forefront as a reliable pass-catching threat other than McCoy, who has at least three catches in each game but is not a big-play threat in the event the Bills fall behind early. After struggling against the pass in Weeks 1 and 2, the Patriots pitched a shutout against Houston behind a tremendous, all-around effort defensively. Other than tight end Charles Clay, who didn't even catch a pass in Week 3, the Bills don't have many threats and have been woeful on third down. If the Patriots stop the run on early downs, it'll be a long day for Buffalo trying to play catch-up without any legit threats in the passing game. Advantage: PATRIOTS


This is a close matchup since the Bills have been solid in the return game and have even shown the ability to pin teams deep in their own territory behind the punting of Colton Schmidt. With so many problems offensively, leading to the early firing of coordinator Greg Roman, the Bills have had to rely on special teams to help with field position. The Patriots are coming off their most dominant performance of the season on special teams in last week's win over Houston in which they forced two fumbles on kickoff returns. Stephen Gostkowski's mastery on kickoffs and Ryan Allen's exceptional punting (six of his punts against the Texans were downed inside the 15-yard line) give New England the slight edge, despite the fact the Bills rank near the top in the league in the return game both offensively and defensively. Advantage: PATRIOTS


It's always entertaining when Rex Ryan is preparing for a game against Bill Belichick and the Patriots, but this team isn't nearly as good as the Jets teams he coached several years ago. Even with his brother, Rob Ryan, as the defensive coordinator, the Bills haven't shown much resistance despite their promise to improve the defense. The Patriots have been a pleasant surprise with how they've handled diversity and lineup changes during Brady's suspension and are nearly unbeatable at home against AFC East rivals. They've been particularly dominant against the Bills, who have only won once in New England since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002 and have lost 23 of their last 25 against the Patriots overall. The Bills are already in danger of falling out of the playoff race and won't get much sympathy in Foxboro. Advantage: PATRIOTS

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