Bills-Patriots Preview

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

Buffalo Bills.

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

conference.

“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

this point.”

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.