The scouting report on this week’s National Football League game between the Buffalo Bills (6-9) and the New England Patriots (11-4):
Sunday, 4:25 p.m., at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. TV: CBS; Announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Keys to the game: The Bills want to see QB EJ Manuel (knee) play in the season finale, but will turn to Thad Lewis if their rookie isn’t ready to go. In either case, it will be the ground game that propels the offense. Buffalo is up to No. 2 in the NFL with an average of 142.5 rushing yards per game, while New England’s biggest weakness remains its 29th-ranked run defense.
The Bills nearly pulled the upset in Week 1 with a 23-21 loss to the Patriots, and while Buffalo still lacks a formidable passing game to engage in a shootout it does have the defense to put a scare into the Patriots yet again. QB Tom Brady has a backfield by committee and a receiving corps that lacks a physical presence minus TE Rob Gronkowski.
There will be some scoreboard watching for New England, which can earn home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs or wind up playing next week. On the field, Brady will rely on quick drops with Buffalo boasting a trio of players with double-digit sacks and an NFL-high 56 as a team.
Matchup to watch: Bills CB Nickell Robey vs. Patriots WRs Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman: Robey, a rookie from Southern Cal, played 81 percent of the team’s snaps last week and can expect an even heavier workload this week with Buffalo likely to be in a base nickel package with New England spreading the field.
Player spotlight — Bills WR T.J. Graham: The second-year player is in line to start again with Stevie Johnson not expected to play as he mourns the loss of his mother. Graham has to show something to remain in the team’s long-term plans — the speedster has two catches for 27 yards over the past four weeks, both coming last week.
Fast facts: Of DE Mario Williams’ 23.5 sacks in two seasons with the Bills, 13.5 have come on third-down plays. … Bills PK Dan Carpenter needs two field goals to tie Steve Christie’s single-season team record of 33. … The Patriots are 18-2 in their past 20 December games.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
Patriots games come down to the wire on an almost weekly basis, and Week 17 will prove no different with Buffalo able to control the clock against New England’s poor run defense. In the end, the Bills lack the quarterback play to pull the road upset.
Our pick: Patriots 20-16