Buffalo Bills: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 17

Brandon Croce@@BrandonCroceAnalyst IDecember 25, 2013

Buffalo Bills: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 17

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    The Buffalo Bills (6-9) will finish the 2013 season going on the road to take on the New England Patriots (11-4). The Bills have yet to win a game at Gillette Stadium, with their last win coming in 2000 at Foxboro Stadium.

    This team would like nothing more than to end the year on a high note with a win over a division rival. It won't be easy though as the team still has Tom Brady under center and Bill Belichick patrolling the Patriots sideline.

    These are some of the things Bills fans need to know entering the regular season finale.

Trying for Their First 3-Game Win Streak Since 2011

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    The Buffalo Bills will be looking for their first three-game win streak since 2011, when they started the year 3-0. The successful NFL teams know how to string wins together over the course of a season, and this is something Buffalo needs to learn.

    It will not be easy as the Patriots have dominated the Bills for more than a decade. The Bills have lost 12 consecutive games when visiting New England, and the games generally have not been close. Over those 12 games, Buffalo has lost by an average of 13.75 points.

    If the Bills are able to win on Sunday, it would go a long way toward showing the progress this organization has made over this season.

Can the Bills Defense Slow Tom Brady?

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    This may come as a surprise to some, but the Buffalo Bills currently have the eighth-best defense in the NFL and fifth-best passing defense in terms of yards. They have shown improvement in a number of different areas over the season and are playing some of their best football right now.

    In Week 1, Buffalo gave up 288 passing yards and two touchdowns to Tom Brady in the 23-21 loss. This is on par with Brady's career numbers against Buffalo: He's averaging 247.6 yards and 2.3 touchdowns per game in 23 career starts.

    This is a different defense, however, than the one the Patriots faced in Week 1. The Bills were without Jairus Byrd and Stephon Gilmore in their secondary, and both have played a major role in the defense's improvement. 

    The key to stopping Tom Brady is to get pressure on him in the pocket, and this is an area the Bills defense has excelled in. They are currently first in the NFL in sacks with 56 and have three players (Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes) who have double-digit sacks this year.

    If Buffalo is able to effectively rush the quarterback, Brady will not have a fun time throwing the ball.

Will EJ Manuel Be Healthy Enough to Play?

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    Before the Miami Dolphins game, Doug Marrone said he was '110 percent confident' that EJ Manuel would be good to go for the New England game. That confidence has seemed to wane a bit this week.

    Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News tweeted after practice on Tuesday that Coach Marrone was vague on who his starting quarterback would be come Sunday. If EJ Manuel is not able to go, the Bills will turn to Thad Lewis to make his second consecutive start.

    In terms of production, Manuel and Lewis have put up similar stats. Manuel has four wins in 10 starts while averaging 181.3 passing yards and 1.1 touchdowns per game. Lewis, on the other hand, has two wins in four starts while averaging 211.25 passing yards and .75 touchdowns per game.

    The Bills would prefer to see Manuel under center because he is the quarterback of the future and needs to get as much game experience as possible. However, the Bills do not want him on the field if he is not healthy, potentially doing long-term damage to his knees.

    This has to be the dilemma the Bills coaching staff is struggling with, and it will be interesting to see who starts for the Bills against the Patriots.

Bills Need to Win Time of Possession

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    It is a simple plan but is much easier said than done. If the Bills offense is able to extend drives and stay on the field, they will keep Tom Brady in the one place he is guaranteed not to hurt them: the sidelines.

    The Bills will have to rely heavily on the running back tandem of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller to pick up yards and eat up clock. They did a great job of this against the Miami Dolphins, controlling the ball more than 36 minutes compared to Miami's 23.

    One of the main reasons for this discrepancy came in the third quarter when Buffalo ran a 19-play, 92-yard drive that ate up 9:16 of game clock. The time of possession stat has been a good indicator for this team if it is going to win or not. In five of their six wins, the Bills have won the time of possession battle. But on the other side, they have lost it in every loss except one.

    The Bills have a great opportunity to establish the run, especially because this is an area the Patriots defense has struggled this year. It currently ranks 30th in the NFL and has been giving up an average of 131.7 yards per game. 

    If the Bills can establish the running game and extend drives, they will keep the defense rested. But more importantly, they will keep Tom Brady off the playing field.

The Patriots Have One of the Better Pass-Rushing Attacks in the League

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    The New England Patriots defense has 44 sacks this year, which is tied for sixth best in the NFL. It is led by Chandler Jones with 11.5 sacks on the year. Jones played for Marrone while he was head coach at Syracuse.

    The offensive line for Buffalo has struggled at times this season but played its best game of the year last week by neutralizing the Dolphins pass rush. The line only gave up one sack and three quarterback hits to a defense that had 41 sacks entering that game.

    The Bills have wide receivers who are best when they are able to get vertical. However, those plays take time to develop. For this offense to be the most effective, it needs these types of deep passes because it will force defenses to respect the big play.

    If the opposing defense is concerned with these passing plays, it can't stack the box, and the running game will have more room to work. It all comes back to the offensive line, though, giving the play time to develop, which they did against Miami and must do against New England.