On Tuesday, the Patriots got underway with preparations for the Buffalo Bills in a Saturday divisional matchup that will have important playoff implications. New England has secured a playoff berth, but whether they get Wild Card Weekend off or not is still up in the air, as is the AFC East title.
A win and the Pats will wrap up their 11th-straight division title. Add in a loss by the Chiefs in Chicago and they'll lock up the second seed in the conference and the invaluable bye week that comes with it.
But first, there's a potent Bills team coming to Foxboro for the kind of game their franchise has been waiting decades for -- a chance to take down the mighty Patriots in a meaningful December game.
"We're back in the division here, and Buffalo's certainly had a good year," said Bill Belichick kicking off the early week. "They've got a good football team, do a lot of things well. That's reflected by their record and the way they've played. Impressive win against Pittsburgh, certainly against Dallas on a short week down there on Thanksgiving. It came down to the last play against the Ravens. So, they have a good offense, good defense, good in the kicking game. We have a lot to get ready for."
Stephon Gilmore, currently tied with cornerback Tre'Davious White for the league lead in interceptions, was excited to see his former team.
"It's a big game," said Gilmore in the locker room on Tuesday. "We all know what's at stake in the game. They got a good football team, they got great coaches, great players, they got a good system over there. Looking forward to it, it will be a good game."
His counterpart White is playing the best football of his career and will be a significant thorn in the side of the Patriots offense.
"[White]'s smart, real instinctive, he doesn't play everybody the same," observed Phillip Dorsett. "He knows his matchups, that's why he's so good.
"It's a mind game. You both have plans in mind when you're lined up across from each other. He's a physical corner. He can be physical sometimes, he can be technical, he can be savvy. He has a lot of different ways to play you and that's just why he's so good."
Coach Belichick acknowledged the Patriots will have to be careful with the ball when they look in White's direction.
"He's a good player," said Belichick. "He's quick, he's fast, he's got good instincts, good ball-skills. So, you know, he's around the ball, and he's got good hands to finish and make the play. He has good awareness."
Josh McDaniels was impressed with the Buffalo defense as a whole, a unit that held the Patriots offense to just 224 yards of offense in their Week 4 meeting.
"This is as good a group as we see," said Josh McDaniels on Monday. "They don't give up, they don't make mistakes because they're extremely well-coached. They're very good at all three levels, they've got really good players at all three levels. They do not give up big plays, they make you drive the ball. They're very good on third down and in the red zone. They create long-yardage situations with penetration and disruptive plays by their front and their pressures are difficult to handle, and they do a good job of calling them at the right time. They're fast, they're very disruptive up front, their linebackers are fast, their secondary is extremely good when the ball is in the air. You've got to be very careful. You can't make mistakes around them."
The Patriots and Bills are close to mirror images of each other and the first meeting of the two teams reflected that, with a Matthew Slater blocked punt returned for a touchdown being the difference in the game. A similar big and unexpected mistake might decide things once again.
Practice & Injury Report
The Patriots held a walk thru inside the Empower Field House on Monday as freezing rain pelted the practice fields outside. The only player not spotted was Jonathan Jones who appeared to suffer a groin injury during the win over the Bengals.
Julian Edelman, who powered through a knee injury against the Bengals, was present.
DID NOT PARTICIPATE
CB Jonathan Jones, Groin
WR Julian Edelman, Knee / Shoulder
LB Ja'Whaun Bentley, Knee
CB Jason McCourty, Groin
DL Danny Shelton, Shoulder
|Stat||Patriots (11-3)||Bills (10-4)|
|Offensive Points||26.6 (8th)||20.8 (22nd)|
|Offensive Third Down||37.8 percent (17th)||37.4 percent (18th)|
|Offensive Passing DVOA||15th||20th|
|Offensive Rushing DVOA||16th||14th|
|Offensive Red Zone||49.1 percent (26th)||61.5 percent (11th)|
|Turnover Ratio||+24 (1st)||+5 (10th)|
|Defensive Points||12.9 (1st)||15.9 (2nd)|
|Defensive Third Down||23.3 percent (1st)||34.8 percent (6th)|
|Defensive Passing DVOA||1st||3rd|
|Defensive Rushing DVOA||7th||19th|
|Defensive Red Zone||50 percent (6th)||58.3 percent (19th)|
|Special Teams DVOA||13th||22nd|