When: Monday, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough
TV, radio: ESPN, Ch. 5, WBZ-FM (98.5)
When the Bills run
LeSean McCoy is on the upswing. One of the league's most productive backs over the past six-plus seasons, he has battled hamstring woes during his first year in Buffalo but now seems near 100 percent after back-to-back 112-yard rushing efforts. At 5 feet 11 inches, 208 pounds, McCoy is a well-built, shifty runner with deceptive inside power. He has excellent vision and instincts. McCoy spots running lanes quickly and darts through them. He is very agile, has great lateral quickness, and has a knack for making the first defender whiff. McCoy is not a true bruiser but he's adept at deflecting hits and wiggling out of tackles. If he's not wrapped up right away, there is a good chance he'll escape. Karlos Williams can be a little scary. The 6-1, 230-pound rookie is a solidly built, north-south runner with obvious strength and surprising speed. An upright runner with wide shoulders and good balance, Williams sticks his foot in the ground and takes off. He doesn't have a great first step but has pretty good moves and will build speed. He possesses the power to finish his runs but his effort is sometimes lacking. Center Eric Wood (he's rugged), right guard John Miller (he's powerful), and left guard Richie Incognito (he's nasty — and that's a compliment) will battle hard with New England's rotation of interior big guys, which features both experience and youth.
Rushing yards per game:
Buffalo offense: 142.3 (second)
New England defense: 88.2 (second)
When the Bills pass
Tyrod Taylor is extremely athletic and extremely exciting. He can also be extremely hard for defenses to contain. He lacks prototypical size for an NFL quarterback (6 feet 1 inch, 215 pounds) but makes up for that with exceptional mobility and guts. He can make plays from the pocket but he's at his best when shuffling around, trying to find passing lanes (sometimes those tall guys block his vision) or running lanes (he has a good feel for pressure). What separates Taylor from a lot of scramblers is that he keeps his eyes downfield. He has an accurate arm, and his accuracy doesn't suffer much on the run; his improvisational skills are exceptional. Taylor has underrated arm strength, and though he excels in the short passing game, don't sleep on him because he can hit the deep ball, too. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins (6-1, 211) is oozing with talent. When healthy (never a given), he has an elite combination of speed, strength, and versatility. He can run every route in the tree and turns into a track star after the catch. He is tremendously elusive in the open field and can downshift and accelerate effortlessly. Robert Woods is quick and shifty, with good hands and vision. He lacks strength, however. Tight end Charles Clay is a Taylor favorite. Clay (6-3, 255) is big and athletic. He has a good feel for open areas, strong hands, and is a bull after the catch.
Passing yards per game:
Buffalo offense: 200.3 (29th)
New England offense: 255.6 (22d)
When the Patriots run
LeGarrette Blount has awesome size and strength to go along with surprising speed and swiftness for a man of 6 feet, 250 pounds. Blount is a hard charger who absorbs a lot of pounding but runs with really good balance and body control. He can be a physical between-the-tackles thumper who will move the scrum and make a ton of yards after contact. Blount does a great job of keeping his feet moving even after being hit. He can also occasionally bounce outside and get past the edge. He takes some time to build speed, but when he does, he is your basic bull in a china shop. Brandon Bolden is a big, smart, versatile back. He doesn't have great quickness or speed but possesses good vision and instincts. He can rip off some sneaky long runs. He has adequate strength and elusiveness. James White (5-10, 205) is quick and slippery. He has the versatility to line up everywhere but hasn't gotten consistent touches. He lacks great power, but if he slips the first defender, he can be dangerous. The Bills can be tough against the run at all three levels. It starts up front with tackles Marcell Dareus (he's big, explosive, and powerful) and Corbin Bryant (he's big but raw). The linebackers are active and destructive. Middle man Preston Brown (he strikes with force) and wingmen Nigel Bradham (he lowers the boom) and Manny Lawson (ditto) don't miss many tackles. Safeties Corey Graham and Duke Williams will get physical.
Rushing yards per game:
New England offense: 92.8 (27th)
Buffalo defense: 97.7 (ninth)
When the Patriots pass
The bad news is that Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman are gone (as are their 97 catches), but the good news is Tom Brady (and his 251 completions) is still here. There is no shortage of bodies ready to step up, and if they have a pulse, No. 12 will get them the ball. Tight end Rob Gronkowski's size (6 feet 6 inches, 265 pounds), strength, and athleticism make him a mismatch at every level. He's both quick and fast, runs fantastically precise routes, and is a beast after the catch. He'll face a lot of double teams but he'll still get his catches. Danny Amendola is extremely competitive, tough, and fearless. He is versatile enough to line up everywhere and run every route. Amendola goes all-out on every play and will lay out for every catch. He has become more trusted and more clutch with every game. Brandon LaFell is getting up to speed, and when he gets his timing completely back, look out. He has good size (6-3, 210), soft hands, and good body control. He excels at catching balls in traffic. Other options for Brady include Aaron Dobson (he's tall and fast) and Chris Harper (he's slick and slippery). If either or both of them can make some early snags, it would go a long way in building their confidence and Brady's confidence in them. There are playmakers all over the Buffalo secondary, including sticky cover guys Corey Graham, Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, and Bacarri Rambo.
Passing yards per game:
New England offense: 325.9 (second)
Buffalo defense: 251.9 (18th)
Bills’ key player: QB Tyrod Taylor
Taylor can kill you with his arm and break your heart with his legs; he's a third-down nightmare for defenses. He has great improvisational skills and never gives up on a play.
How he beats you: By being a complementary piece. He's at his best when managing the offense, not carrying it (see the last three games). Anything more than 20 attempts and you're asking for trouble.
How to shut him down: By containing him. When the pocket collapses or plays break down, Taylor will take off and weave his way through the maze. Keep him from getting outside and he can't get to the chains.
Bills’ key to victory
1. Buffalo soldiers: The LeSean McCoy-Karlos Williams backfield combo is a pretty nifty 1-2 punch. Run them ragged and let them set up the pass.
2. Buffalo wild wings: Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods have the outside speed, and Tyrod Taylor has the arm to take a few deep shots.
3. Buffalo sabres: Ends Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes have to get off the blocks quickly and prevent Tom Brady from firing the ball quickly.
Patriots’ keys to victory
1. Group effort: All the pass catchers must step up and help fill Julian Edelman's shoes. Divide the passes among the many and conquer the Bills.
2. Group mentality: Swarm the running backs and make the first hit count. Both LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams give second effort.
3. Group health: Injuries are part of the NFL equation — but this team can't afford to take many more licks.
PREDICTION: Patriots 28, Bills 23.
Jim McBride can be reached at email@example.com