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Patriots’ playoff spot on line at emotionally driven Bills

NEW ENGLAND (8-8) at BUFFALO (12-3)

Sunday, 1 p.m. EST, CBS


AGAINST THE SPREAD: Patriots 7-8-1; Buffalo 7-8.

SERIES RECORD: Patriots lead 77-48-1.

LAST MEETING: Bills beat Patriots 24-10 on Dec. 1 in New England.

LAST WEEK: Patriots beat Dolphins 23-21; Bills game at Cincinnati suspended and since canceled due to Buffalo S Damar Hamlin going into cardiac arrest on the field and taken to the hospital in first quarter with Bengals leading 7-3.





TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Patriots plus-7; Bills even.

PATRIOTS PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Rhamondre Stevenson. He enters this week 14 yards shy of reaching 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career. He would become the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Patriots since 2016 when LeGarrette Blount rushed for 1,161. He also enters the week fourth in the NFL among running backs with 64 catches and eighth with 393 receiving yards.

BILLS PLAYER TO WATCH: All of them. The Bills have gone from being emotionally devastated in witnessing Hamlin having to be resuscitated on the field in Cincinnati to being uplifted when the second-year player addressed the team on a video chat Friday. Their emotions should be running high, especially playing in front of what is expected to be a loud home crowd.

KEY MATCHUP: Patriots QB Mac Jones Vs. Bills pass D. With Buffalo expected to focus on stopping the Patriots running attack, the pressure will be on Jones to loosen up the Bills D with the passing game. Jones has struggled in finding his rhythm, going a combined 38 of 71 for 359 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in three meetings against Buffalo, including the playoffs. In his lone win, Jones completed just two of three attempts for 19 yards in gusty conditions at Buffalo last season.

INJURIES: Patriots TE Jonnu Smith and DB/PR/KR/WR Marcus Jones both began the week in the concussion protocol, but returned to the practice field Thursday. DBs Jalen Mills (groin) and Jonathan Jones (chest) were both limited Wednesday. WR DeVante Parker also returned to practice on a limited basis after missing the previous three games with a concussion. Coach Bill Belichick said Friday that P Jake Bailey (back) has reverted back to injured reserve and is done for the season. … Aside from Hamlin, the rest of the Bills’ roster is injury-free, including CB Taron Johnson, who practiced fully Friday after sustaining a concussion Monday.

SERIES NOTES: The Bills have won four of the past five regular-season meetings. … The teams split last year’s regular-season series, with the Patriots winning in Buffalo 14-10 in Week 13, and Buffalo winning in New England 33-21 in Week 16. The teams met again in the wild-card round of last year’s playoffs, with the Bills defeating the Patriots in Buffalo 47-17. It marked the second postseason meeting between the two clubs. Allen set career highs in touchdown passes (five) and passer rating (157.6) in the victory. … The Patriots won 15 straight games against the Bills from 2003 through 2010, tied for the fourth-longest winning streak over a single opponent in NFL history.

STATS AND STUFF: The Patriots are in the hunt for a wild-card berth and will clinch their 13th playoff spot in 14 seasons with a win. New England can also clinch a spot should the Dolphins and Steelers lose, and Jacksonville beats Tennessee. … With their game against the Bengals canceled, Buffalo’s only shot of clinching the AFC’s top spot is Kansas City (13-3) losing at Las Vegas. … The Patriots’ 52 sacks lead the AFC and rank second in the NFL behind Philadelphia (68). It is the fifth-most in team history. … New England has scored a defensive touchdown in each of the last four games. The last NFL team to do it in five straight games was the Los Angeles Raiders in 1994. … The Patriots enter the week tied with Pittsburgh with an NFL-high 18 interceptions. They have returned five INTs for TDs this season, also the most in the NFL. … S Kyle Dugger is the first Patriots player to score three defensive touchdowns in a season with two interceptions returned for scores and one fumble returned for a TD. Since 1990, only three players have scored four defensive touchdowns in a season — Janoris Jenkins in 2012 with St. Louis, Derrick Brooks in 2002 with Tampa Bay and Eric Allen with Philadelphia in 1993. … LB Matt Judon is third in the NFL with 15 1/2 sacks, trailing only Nick Bosa (17 1/2) and Hasson Reddick (16). Pro Football Hall of Famer Andre Tippett is the only player in franchise history with more sacks in a season, totaling 18 1/2 in 1984 and 16 1/2. … LB Josh Uche has a career-high 11 1/2 sacks. He has two, three-sack games this season. … PR/KR Marcus Jones ranks second in the NFL with a 13-yard punt return average and fifth in the league with a 24.5-yard kickoff return average. … S Devin McCourty enters this week tied with Harrison Smith for the most interceptions among all active NFL players with 34. … LB Ja’Whaun Bentley has a team-leading and career-high 115 total tackles. … The Bills have already clinched their fourth straight playoff berth and third consecutive AFC East title, marking their best runs since the Jim Kelly-era spanning the late 1980s and early ’90s. … The Bills are one win short of matching a single-season franchise record for victories (1990, ’91 and 2020). … The Bills have won six straight to match their longest run since closing the 2020 season with six wins. Buffalo hasn’t won seven in a row in one season since an 8-0 run in 1990. … With 32 TDs passing this year, QB Josh Allen is two short of holding the top three single-season spots on the franchise list, and five short of matching the team record he set in 2020. … With 103 catches this season, including two against Cincinnati, Diggs already holds the top-three single-season spots on the team list in three seasons in Buffalo. He set the team record in 2020 with 127 catches, and had 103 last season. … The Bills are 11-0 in games starting S Jordan Poyer plays this season. … Opponents have scored just six points off six Bills turnovers over Buffalo’s past six-plus outings, including the canceled game against the Bengals.


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