Buffalo Bills (6-9) at New England Patriots (13-3)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
VENUE: GIllette Stadium
SURFACE: Field Turf
LOCATION: Foxboro, Mass (map)
WEATHER: current forecast (45', mostly sunny, 11mph
wind, 10% chance of rain)
TV: CBS, Don Criqui, Randy Cross
PREDICTION: Patriots 32-28
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bills rallied from a 21-0
deficit to shock the Patriots, 34-31, at home in Week 3. But Buffalo's
offense lacks that level of firepower with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing
13 touchdowns vs. 16 interceptions since that day. RB C.J. Spiller is
starting to come into his own, and is a versatile threat as a runner
and receiver that coach Chan Gailey needs to utilize to help the Bills
sustain drives. The defense isn't likely to pick Tom Brady off four
times again, and he still threw for 217 yards and two touchdowns in the
first meeting. WR Wes Welker also caught 16 passes and the Bills will
struggle to get off the field on third down.
FAST FACTS: Buffalo hasn't swept the season series
since 1999. ... The Patriots have won the past 10 meetings at home.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Wide receiver Steve Johnson, the club's No. 1
receiver with 72 catches for 964 yards and six touchdowns, could play
his last game in a Bills uniform Sunday when the team finishes its
season at New England.
Johnson, a seventh-round draft pick in 2008, is a
free agent. He had been in contract talks with the front office but
those ended weeks ago. Johnson, however, has a gut feeling he'll be
back in Buffalo.
"Walking off the field, looking around and looking
at the crowd was kind of crazy because it seemed like four years went
by pretty fast for me, playing really only two years of it," said
Johnson of what raced through his mind as he walked off the field at
Ralph Wilson Stadium after Buffalo's 40-14 victory over Denver. "But
... I don't think I'll be somewhere else next year. I'm still pretty
sure that I'll be here next year."
Johnson had no definitive news that he would in
fact re-sign with the Bills. He is just speculating that coach Chan
Gailey and general manager Buddy Nix would want him back to keep some
continuity intact. As a No. 1 receiver, Johnson's market value is in
the $8 million-a-year range.
"I just feel like being here four years and with
the coaches that I have here and with the players, with Fitz
(quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick) signing his deal you would think you
would like to have the one-two punch. When Fitz came on, I came on so
you would think they would keep us together."
As for Sunday's game against New England, Johnson
is looking for a big finish that would boost his leverage as a free
agent. The Bills, who defeated the Patriots and Tom Brady 34-31 back on
Sept. 25, can sweep the season series for the first time since 1999.
"It's something to play for besides us being
professionals and going out to win either way. The way the season has
gone and whether it's good or it's bad it's still another opportunity
to show the world that you're NFL players," Johnson said.
Sticking to the company line they've toed
throughout Bill Belichick's tenure in New England, the Patriots refuse
to acknowledge the upcoming playoffs, including where they stand among
their conference rivals and who they might play two weeks from now in
their postseason opener.
"I (couldn't) care less who we play," nose tackle
Vince Wilfork said. "The only thing for sure now is that we have one
game in the regular season left and one playoff game right now. Where
it is, who knows?
"One, two seed -- who knows? (I) really don't
care. Our main goal is playing good football, (and) being able to play
good football. You can't compare any other season to this, because each
one is different. You have different players, you have different
coaches, and you have different teams in the playoffs, so you really
To some extent, Wilfork is right; you can't
compare 2011 to any other season in Patriots' history, not even last
year when they entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the AFC
despite question marks on defense and promptly got bounced at home by
the Jets in the divisional playoffs.
The point is, despite losing their last two
playoff games at home (including two years ago against Baltimore), the
Patriots still want every advantage they can get, including home-field
advantage throughout the playoffs, which they can wrap up Sunday with a
win over Buffalo.
Being the No. 1 seed doesn't guarantee a
particular opponent, but it does mean that for at least one round they
can avoid whoever finishes with the No. 2 seed, which will either be
Baltimore or Pittsburgh.
The Ravens have already proven they can win a
playoff game in Foxboro, as evidenced by their 33-14 wild-card victory
in 2009, and the Steelers have already beaten New England this season,
albeit in Pittsburgh. The only way that scenario could repeat itself in
the playoffs is if the Patriots lose Sunday, Pittsburgh beats Cleveland
to earn the No. 1 seed via tiebreaker, and both the Patriots and
Steelers advance to the AFC title game, which, under that scenario,
would be held at Heinz Field.
The Patriots would never admit this publicly, but
there's no doubt they'd rather host a potential playoff showdown
against the Steelers rather than go back to Pittsburgh, where they were
dominated on both sides of the ball in a 25-17 loss on Oct. 30.
The team spokesmen, such as Wilfork, will say all
the right things leading up to Sunday, but there's no denying the
importance of obtaining the No. 1 seed, if for nothing else than to
avoid the teams New England doesn't match up well against for at least
"The one thing we can do is play better, coach
better, (and) just do the little things right," Wilfork said. "That's
what we can control."
--LB Nick Barnett will wrap up a very productive
season on Sunday at New England. The Green Bay free agent, who replaced
Paul Posluszny (Jacksonville) in Buffalo's lineup, has a team-leading
119 tackles, 3.0 sacks, two interceptions, three pass breakups and one
--CB Justin Rogers has seized the team's kickoff
return job heading into 2012. The rookie has averaged 30.1 yards on 11
attempts, nearly 12 more yards per return than Brad Smith, who last
year averaged 28.6 for the New York Jets.
--RB Johnny White, the team's backup ball carrier,
is practicing fully after a concussion. He has five special teams hits.
--WR/QB Brad Smith is nursing a hamstring injury.
He's questionable for Sunday's game at New England. Smith has 23
--C Colin Brown will be the Bills' third starting
center this season Sunday at New England. He replaces Kraig Urbik
(knee), who had replaced Eric Wood (knee).
--QB Tom Brady participated in a limited portion
of Thursday's practice due to a left shoulder injury, but should be
ready for Sunday's game. Brady underwent X-rays Wednesday, but
everything appears to be fine heading into this weekend.
--WR Wes Welker has been practicing on a limited
basis this week due to a lingering knee injury, but he hasn't missed
any game time in recent weeks and will likely be ready for Sunday.
--OT Matt Light, who was a late scratch last
weekend due to an ankle injury, has practiced on a limited basis this
week and could be ready to return to the lineup Sunday.
--OG Logan Mankins did not practice Thursday due
to a knee injury sustained last weekend and will likely miss Sunday's
--OT Sebastian Vollmer sat out practice Thursday
due to knee and back injuries and will likely miss Sunday's game with
the hope that he can be ready for the playoffs in two weeks.
Detroit Lions (10-5) at Green Bay Packers (14-1)
Indianapolis Colts (2-13) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11) at Atlanta Falcons (9-6)
New York Jets (8-7) at Miami Dolphins (5-10)
Chicago Bears (7-8) at Minnesota Vikings (3-12)
Washington Redskins (5-10) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-8)
Carolina Panthers (6-9) at New Orleans Saints (12-3)
San Francisco 49ers (12-3) at St. Louis Rams (2-13)
Tennessee Titans (8-7) at Houston Texans (10-5)
Buffalo Bills (6-9) at New England Patriots (13-3)
Baltimore Ravens (11-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)
Seattle Seahawks (7-8) at Arizona Cardinals (7-8)
Kansas City Chiefs (6-9) at Denver Broncos (8-7)
San Diego Chargers (7-8) at Oakland Raiders (8-7)
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-4) at Cleveland Browns (4-11)
Dallas Cowboys (8-7) at New York Giants (8-7)