Five things to watch as the Patriots take on the Bills in Buffalo

Sunday, 03 December 2017, 11:43:03 PM. ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — With a victory today, Tom Brady would match Drew Bledsoe for most wins by a quarterback in this city since 2001, a fairly amazing fact considering that former Patriots quarterback Bledsoe started for the Bills for three full seasons.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — With a victory today, Tom Brady would match Drew Bledsoe for most wins by a quarterback in this city since 2001, a fairly amazing fact considering that former Patriots quarterback Bledsoe started for the Bills for three full seasons.

Statistical oddities aside, there’s a bigger picture. The Pats look to win their eighth straight game and keep the pressure on Pittsburgh as the teams barrel toward a Week 15 clash. The Pats might also have to run the table in the AFC East for just the third time in the Brady era in order to keep their hopes alive for the AFC’s top seed.

Here are five things to watch today:

Hold that line!

After the Dolphins treated Brady like a ragdoll last week, one goal today has to be keeping him out of harm’s way. A banged-up Brady missed Wednesday workouts two weeks in a row, so it’s a good idea to keep the pass-rush-deficient Bills at bay, which shouldn’t be difficult in theory. The Bills have 17 sacks, which is the second-fewest in the NFL. However, with LaAdrian Waddle (ankle) questionable, the Patriots might have to start third-string right tackle Cameron Fleming, who has allowed two sacks in just 22 snaps over the last two games.
 

Slippery slope

If things go according to plan for the Buffalo, the sure-tackling Patriots will have their hands full with Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running back LeSean McCoy, who can be as good as any tandem in the league at evading defenders’ grasps. McCoy is particularly problematic with 758 rushing yards and a team-high 46 catches for 295 yards with five offensive touchdowns. Taylor causes most of his problems when he ducks out of the pocket, so it’s crucial to confine him. This task got that much harder with more hits to the Pats front seven as linebacker Trey Flowers (ribs) and defensive end Trevor Reilly (concussion) were downgraded to out last night.
 

Happy return?

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore has been good over his last four games, as he has allowed 13 catches on 26 targets for 106 yards (26.5 yards per game), one touchdown, one interception for an opponents passer rating of 57.5 when being targeted. That’s quite the contrast from his opening four-game stretch in which he allowed nine completions on 13 targets for 243 yards (60.8 yards per game), one touchdown and one interception for a 105.4 rating. Gilmore has routinely said that he drowns out criticism, but it’d be a surprise if the coaching staff didn’t relay the reports that the Bills were laughing from afar at his early struggles. Let’s allow the Bills’ actions speak for them, as we see just how willing they are to throw in his direction as he returns to town today.


Homeward bound

A native of nearby Amherst, N.Y., tight end Rob Gronkowski loves playing in his hometown region, so expect a flurry of spikes this afternoon. In six career games in upstate New York, Gronk has amassed 35 catches for 583 yards and seven touchdowns, and he has scored in five of those visits. Gronk knows how to put on a show in front of his friends and family, but there’s another element at play here, too: The Bills haven’t been good in a couple decades, and the Patriots know how to exploit such deficiencies. Watch Gronkowski spread his Buffalo wings and fly.


Devouring Cookie

Wide receiver Brandin Cooks has been on a tear of late, and he now leads the Patriots with 51 receptions and 869 yards, and he is second to Gronkowski with five touchdowns. He is on pace for 74 catches and a career-high 1,264 yards. Cooks has produced far more often than not this season, but he has been more consistent from a receptions standpoint, averaging 5.4 catches per game during the winning streak. He has a legitimate opportunity to be the first first-year Patriot to lead the team in receiving yards since Randy Moss in 2007.

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