The New England Patriots will host the Buffalo Bills in a regular season finale on New Year's Day. The Patriots are looking to close out another dominant season, while the Bills are trying to pick up the pieces from a crumbled campaign that started with so much promise.
The Bills were able to halt a seven game skid, by thwarting Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos last week, while the Patriots came from behind to stun the Miami Dolphins 27-24, their seventh straight victory.
The Patriots can clinch home field advantage through the playoffs with a win or a tie, as they would finish 13-3 with a win. The Bills are just hoping to salvage a bit more respectability as they are currently 6-9.
Here are the particulars for this AFC East battle:
When: Sunday, Jan, 1 at 1:00 p.m. ET
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
Listen: WBZ 98.5FM (New England), WEDG-FM 103.3 (Buffalo)
Live Streaming Audio: NFL.com Audio Pass ($29.99 for year, $27.99 team specific, $9.99 a month)
The Patriots are 13-point favorites, according to oddshark.com. That is obviously due to the teams' recent play, and not the fact that Buffalo handed the Patriots one of their three losses earlier in the season.
What's At Stake?
Home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is at stake for the Patriots, so there will be no let up from New England. This will have to be the Bills' equivalent to the Super Bowl. They are playing for a chance to thwart a division rivals run to the conferences' top seed and to say they swept the season series.
Patriots Injury Report
The following players missed Wednesday practice, but their status was not given, unless otherwise noted:
Offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer (back/foot)
Offensive lineman Logan Mankins (knee): Out
Bills Injury Report
Kicker Dave Rayner (groin)
Quarterback/receiver Brad Smith (hamstring)
Offensive lineman Kraig Urbik (knee)
Offensive lineman Demetrius Bell (knee)
Tight end Mike Caussin (knee)
Receiver Ruvell Martin (hamstring) had limited participation.
Fantasy Start 'Em, Sit 'Em, Sleeper
Start: Tom Brady, QB
Bill Belichick is notorious for keeping the pedal to the metal. This year, the Pats actually need the game. Brady will torch the abysmal pass defense from the Buffalo Bills, especially considering they picked him off four times in the first meeting.
Sit: Brad Smith, WR
If you by chance are in the championship, and you have Smith, and you're considering starting him at a flex spot, don't do it. He is banged up and too big a risk at this stage of your season.
Sleeper: Stevie Johnson, WR
Many are down on Stevie Johnson because of his antics and drops over the second half of the season. Johnson is still a talented WR who has put up some nice fantasy numbers this season. He only needs 36 yards to reach 1,000, and this could be his farewell to Buffalo. He may just have a big game against a Pats secondary that still isn't great.
What They're Saying
During Tom Brady's weekly press conference he talked about nearing the 5,000-yard passing mark again:
You don’t think about it much. You don’t think about touchdowns or yards. What I like to think about is our offensive production and if we’re getting the ball in the end zone, if we’re winning games, if we’re building on week to week, our performance and if we’re getting better over the course of the season. I think that’s the thing that’s on my mind. Personal records or anything like that really, in a team sport, to me there’s just not any emphasis on those.
Brady has a good shot at blowing past Dan Marino's old record, recently shattered by Drew Brees. It would be so Patriot-like to try to blow past Brees and hope that Carolina can limit Brees so that Brady ends with the record.
Patriot-like, but unlikely.
Chan Gailey talked about Justin Rodgers and the Bills' newfound weapon in the return game:
“He’s continued to get better," said Gailey. "He finally got an opportunity and when he got it he took advantage of it. He’s been a force in kickoff return and I guess that says something about me not having him there earlier. Maybe I should have.”
Patriots Player to Watch: Tom Brady
How close will Brady come to the old passing record? How close will he and Brees finish? Brady has an excellent chance of at least posting the second highest passing total for a season in league history.
He currently has 4,897 yards, while Brees has 5,087. Brady will probably need a 500-yard game to take the record.
Bills Player to Watch: CJ Spiller
Spiller took over just after the midseason mark for Fred Jackson. He got his first 100-yard rushing game last week against the Broncos.
It will be interesting to see what he does in the finale, as well as what the Bills do next year when Jackson returns.
The Bills secondary vs Tom Brady is the key matchup for the game and the record. They will be trying to victimize Brady again, but another four pick day is highly unlikely. If the Bills want to stay close, they must be disciplined in the secondary and hope the front seven can apply pressure.
On the Hot Seat
Bills defensive coordinator George Edwards is the man here. His defense gave up less than 23 points last week for the first time since Week 8.
Hopefully, a strong performance can save his job, but it doesn't seem likely.
As hard as Buffalo will play, the Pats are a different team than they were in Week 3, and so are the Bills. The Patriots will throttle the Bills without mercy on Sunday to claim the top spot in the conference.
The offense is in one of those grooves, and Buffalo's defense is struggling mightily.
Patriots 42 Bills 14