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Week 17 Preview: Bills at Patriots

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Buffalo Bills (8-7) at New England Patriots (12-3)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. – TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots

*Keys to the game: The Bills narrowly missed out on the playoffs largely due to struggles along the interior of their offensive line and the inability of QB Kyle Orton to lead a one-dimensional attack when the ground game is shut down. Buffalo averaged just 3.0 yards per carry in a 37-22 drubbing at the hands of New England in Week 6. Orton did throw for 299 yards that day, but the Patriots’ pass defense has steadily improved, and many Bills fans would like to see EJ Manuel at the helm to close out the season.

Coach Bill Belichick has not tipped his hand, but it’s a good bet the Patriots will play their starting units for at least a few quarters to keep them sharp before resting key veterans. Ideally, New England races out to an early lead and then turn the keys over to rookie QB Jimmy Garoppolo and a host of other youngsters. That may not be easy against a stout Buffalo defense that shut New England out for the first quarter in Week 6. But the Bills’ defense also appears to be tiring down the stretch and may not have the wherewithal to slow Tom Brady & Co. out of the gate.

*Matchup to watch – Bills WR Robert Woods vs. Patriots CB Brandon Browner: With Darrelle Revis shadowing Sammy Watkins, the rookie managed just two catches for 27 yards in the first meeting. But Woods enjoyed one of his best efforts, catching seven of 10 targets for 78 yards and a score. However, that came primarily against Alfonso Dennard as the physical Browner was inactive.

*Player spotlight – Bills TE Scott Chandler: While Belichick’s sentiment that Chandler has “killed” the Patriots in the past might be overkill (22 catches for 325 yards and three TDs over the past five meetings), he has been a solid underneath option to help extend drives.

*Fast facts: Buffalo leads the NFL with 50 sacks and is the only team with three players to each have at least 9.0. … Brady is 23-2 with 58 TDs and a 101.9 passer rating in his career against the Bills.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The drama was sapped when Buffalo stubbed its playoff toe at Oakland and New England wrapped up home-field advantage in Week 16. The Patriots don’t want to break their unblemished record against the Bills at Gillette Stadium (12-0) and won’t rest key players until the outcome is in hand.

*Our pick: Patriots 26-19


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