The Buffalo Bills are in position to secure their first postseason berth since 1999 but they face a rugged road to get there, beginning with Sunday’s matchup at bitter rival New England. The Patriots also have plenty of motivation, with a chance to wrap up a first-round bye and maintain the inside track for the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC.
It’s the second meeting in three weeks between the teams, with New England pulling away in the second half for a 23-3 win at Buffalo on Dec. 3 — its 27th victory in the past 31 meetings. “There’s a lot of things we need to do better than the last time that we played them, but they’re a good football team,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “They’re well-coached and I’m sure that we’ll get their best shot. We need to give them ours.” New England, which clinched its ninth straight AFC East title, is coming off a dramatic 27-24 win at Pittsburgh and owns the tiebreaker for the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Bills, likewise, have the tiebreaker over Baltimore for the second wild card and, with the stakes so high, dismissed seeking retribution against Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski for his illegal hit to the back of the head of Buffalo safety Tre’Davious White earlier this month.
TV: 1 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Patriots -11.5. O/U: 47
ABOUT THE BILLS (8-6): Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was hurt early in the last matchup and eventually carted off the field in the fourth quarter after throwing for only 50 yards versus the Patriots, but he threw for 224 yards and a TD while rushing for 42 and another score in last week’s 24-16 win over Miami. Expect Buffalo to feature a steady diet of running back LeSean McCoy, who has gone over 100 yards from scrimmage in his last four games against New England. While the Bills are hoping Kelvin Benjamin (knee) will be available for the rematch, Charles Clay looks to be getting back to full health with five catches for 68 yards last week. Buffalo’s defense registered three sacks and held Tom Brady without a scoring pass for only the second time this season in the first meeting.
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (11-3): New England’s offense showed how reliant it is on Gronkowski, the reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week who has sandwiched a pair of nine-catch, 100-plus yard games around a loss at Miami, when the behemoth tight end was suspended for his hit on White. Although Brady leads the NFL with 4,163 passing yards, he has only two scoring passes against three interceptions in the past three games after throwing for 26 touchdowns versus two picks in the first 11 contests. Rex Burkhead, who scored on a pair of touchdown runs versus Buffalo, will sit out, leaving Dion Lewis and possibly ex-Bill Mike Gillislee to carry the ground game. After going eight straight games without allowing 17 points, the Patriots have yielded 51 in the past two weeks.
1. Brady is two shy of becoming the fourth QB with 30 TD passes in seven straight seasons.
2. Taylor has eight scoring passes and zero interceptions in his last six division road games.
3. Gronkowski has 61 catches and 11 TDs in 12 games versus Buffalo.
PREDICTION: Patriots 27, Bills 19