The New England Patriots stopped being content with winning
division titles long ago. During the Bill Belichick era, their
success has been measured by Super Bowls.
Clinching a first-round playoff bye could be crucial as they try
to reach another one.
The Patriots can ensure themselves of at least the AFC’s No. 2
seed Sunday with their 20th win in 21 tries against the visiting
New England (11-4) clinched its fifth straight AFC East title
and 10th in 11 years early last Sunday when Miami suffered a 19-0
loss to Buffalo. Then for good measure, the Patriots went out later
that afternoon and crushed Baltimore 41-7.
Getting a break in the first round of the postseason has proved
particularly pivotal during Belichick’s tenure. The Patriots have
secured a bye in seven of Belichick’s first 13 seasons, including
all five in which they reached the Super Bowl.
New England can also clinch at least the conference’s second
seed if Cincinnati loses to or ties with Baltimore and Indianapolis
loses to or ties Jacksonville, but winning would remove all doubt.
A win and a Denver loss at Oakland would give the Patriots
home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
Other scenarios could see them finish as low as fourth in the
“We always say that as the season goes on, the games only get
bigger and bigger and bigger, and I think that is this week, too,”
said Tom Brady, whose 53 TD passes and 5,695 passing yards versus
Buffalo are his most versus any opponent. “We’ve worked too hard
for too long to get to this point.
“We’ve got a great opportunity ahead of us, and you just don’t
want to go out there and not give it your best and put out an
effort that’s less than 100 percent of what you’re capable of,
because, like I said, it’s been 11 months of work to get us back to
Even as dominant as the Patriots have been in this series,
winning 12 straight home matchups dating to Nov. 11, 2001, the
team’s veteran members appear to be guarding their teammates from
taking the Bills for granted. Buffalo’s lone win in the last 10
years came Sept. 25, 2011.
“We’re not even thinking about the bye or not having the bye. We
can’t overlook the present,” defensive end Andre Carter said.
“Right now our focus is Buffalo and only Buffalo.”
The Patriots defeated the Bills 23-21 in the season opener on
Stephen Gostkowski’s 35-yard field goal with five seconds left.
Brady threw two TD passes to Julian Edelman and New England held
Buffalo to an opponent season-low 286 yards.
The Bills (6-9), who lost two fumbles in the opener, have been
one of the league’s most turnover-prone teams, tied for eighth with
27. They’ve had 10 in the last four games.
Buffalo will go with backup quarterback Thad Lewis for a second
straight game after he went 15 of 25 for 193 yards with an
interception against the Dolphins. Rookie EJ Manuel hasn’t been
ruled out because of a swollen left knee, but he won’t start and is
listed as doubtful.
Lewis improved to 2-2 in Manuel’s absence by beating Miami
despite working with a banged-up receiving corps that may be short
again. Marquise Goodwin didn’t return after hurting his right knee
in the first quarter, while Stevie Johnson’s status is uncertain
with his mother’s funeral scheduled for Friday.
Buffalo may need another dominant performance from its defense.
The Bills surrendered 103 yards to the Dolphins, the fewest allowed
by any team over the last three seasons.
They also notched seven sacks, pushing their season total to a
franchise-record 56. Mario Williams, who is one sack shy of
matching a career-high 14 set in 2007, Kyle Williams and Jerry
Hughes all have at least 10.
Buffalo sacked Brady three times on Sept. 8.
The Bills are racking up an AFC-best 142.5 rushing yards per
game, including a 200.5 average over the last two contests. They
recorded 136 yards on 34 carries in the first meeting, with Fred
Jackson averaging 5.2 yards per rush.