On paper, the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills should not create one of the more competitive games on a weekend full of season finales that factor into playoff scenarios.
But that won’t prevent New England (11-4) from treating the home game against Buffalo (6-9) as it would any other contest. That includes putting in as much time as possible during a holiday week to get familiar with the division foe.
And therein lies the intrigue. Playing a division opponent on a week when Patriots players had Wednesday off to celebrate Christmas with their families might seem ideal. There is a familiarity that might be an advantage.
But looking deeper, there is a bit more to consider as the Patriots look to finish the season strong with an intention of locking up at least the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs, and earning the important bye that comes with that. Heck, with a Raiders upset of the Broncos in Oakland, New England could even slide into the No. 1 seed and earn home-field advantage throughout January.
According to coach Bill Belichick, there is a double-edged sword in preparing for an intra-division game on a week that is out of the ordinary due to the holiday.
“I think there’s always advantages to playing teams that you’re more familiar with. Of course, the more you know, the more you know, the more you know and you have to prepare for,” Belichick said of the Bills. “We’re looking at literally 15 regular season games from Buffalo plus we did a ton of work on them for the opener from the preseason and even going back offensively to (Doug Marrone’s time at) Syracuse and going back defensively to the Jets defense (under current Bills coordinator Mike Pettine). We have way more information than we would be able to use in this game or they would be able to use in this game. We’re looking at a couple thousand plays and there’s going to be 60 to 70 on each side of the ball. It’s an advantage and it’s a curse.”
Normally this matchup with Buffalo is seen as a pushover. The Bills might be preparing for another long offseason, while New England would be looking to continue to dominate the month of December and roll into the postseason.
But these Patriots haven’t rolled through much in 2013. New England has played 11 games decided by seven points or less. Seven games by three points or less. That all began on opening day when it needed a last-second field goal from Stephen Gostkowski to pull out the 23-21 victory and avoid the upset in Buffalo.
And considering New England already lost once in December — 24-20 to Miami — while also going down to the wire in wins over Houston and the Browns, the Patriots are not positioned to take anything for granted.
“It’s going to be a huge game for us, so I think we’ll need our best effort,” Tom Brady said. “I think we showed last week (in the 41-7 win at Baltimore) what we’re capable of if we can play four quarters of football, and that’s what we’re going to try to do this week, that’s what it’s going to take. We’re playing one of the best defenses in the league, a team that’s sacked the quarterback more than anybody in the whole league. They’ve got, I think, (the) second-most interceptions, so they put a lot of pressure on you offensively, and we’re going to have to find ways to answer, because they do a really great job.”
Brady is hoping his team avoids all distractions and finishes the season strong as New England heads into another postseason with hopes of another Super Bowl run. But first things first, and that’s beating a Bills team that has won two straight and would like nothing more than building momentum heading to the offseason by disrupting New England’s finale.
“It’s just a lot of mental preparation, and it’s the holiday season, but at the same time, it’s the most important game of the year,” Brady said. “So I think when we’re here, we’ve really got to focus on what we need to do, which is play our best game and be on top of things right from the kickoff all the way through the fourth quarter.”
SERIES HISTORY: 107th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead series, 64-41-1. With a history that goes back to the inception of the AFL in 1960, these teams have met twice a year for more than five decades. New England has dominated the play since Bill Belichick took over, having won four straight after the Bills snapped a 15-game losing streak with an upset in September 2011. Still, Buffalo has won just three times since 2000. The Bills actually dominated the series back in the Jim Kelly days of the late ’80s and early ’90s, when they won 11 of 13. The first meeting this year in Buffalo was nearly another Bills upset, as New England needed a game-winning 35-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal with 5 seconds to play for the 23-21 victory after blowing a 17-7 halftime advantage.