For the first time in 2017, the Buffalo Bills face their interdivisional nemesis.

That team is none other than the New England Patriots, who come to New Era Field this Sunday in a game where expectations favor the visitors. The AFC number two seed heads into this weekend’s tussle as fairly sizable favorites.

New England’s dominance in this series since Tom Brady assumed the starting quarterback role for the Pats is simply staggering. That becomes evident when considering Buffalo has a mere three wins in the 30 games that Brady’s started.

The Bills open their December slate riding a bit of momentum, ending their two-game road stand with a 16-10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs last week. The performance on the defensive side of the football was a sight to behold. It’s a promising sign after the forgettable outings in the previous three weeks.

But New England is trending in a different direction than the Chiefs. The irony of that statement considering what transpired when those two played in week one is fairly dramatic. Since starting the season 2-2, the Pats are 7-0 with an average margin of victory slightly south of two touchdowns in those games.

So the Bills have their work cut out for them if they want to get to seven wins through their first 12 games for just the second time since 2000. What needs to transpire for it to become reality?

Don’t Let Tom Brady Take the Crowd Out of the Game

When New Era Field is rocking, it’s as formidable a venue for the opposition as any in the NFL. Heading into this week’s clash, a few Patriots players gave their thoughts to the media about what it’s like to play in Buffalo. Safety Devin McCourty was among those who chimed in.

“It’s not really friendly for us up there,” McCourty told Boston.com on Wednesday. “When we pull into that stadium, there’s nobody happy to see that bus pull in there. A lot of middle fingers, a lot of mouthing words because we can’t hear them on the bus – we’ve got our headphones on – that don’t seem to be compliments of any sort.”

That necessitates not letting Brady and company establish any sort of a rhythm on offense early on. Whether it’s utilizing their bevy of running backs in the screen game or finding Rob Gronkowski down the seams, flummoxing Brady and forcing New England into punts is paramount for the Bills to get the upper hand. That’s easier said than done.

The 40-year-old future Hall of Famer shows no signs of letting up in 2017. He currently leads the league in passing yards and is Pro Football Focus’ highest graded signal caller by 4.8 points. But he did show some signs of fallibility in last week’s 35-17 win against the Miami Dolphins. In the first half, Brady threw an interception and lost a fumble that inevitably resulted in a Reshad Jones scoop and score.

If the Bills are to come away with a second straight upset, their playmakers on defense including Pro Bowl candidate Micah Hyde and talented rookie Tre’Davious White need to step up. Not only will that keep the crowd hyped. It may bring to the surface the as yet undetected but inevitable creep of “father time” for Brady.

Replicate Last Week’s Performance in Run Defense

After three forgettable performances defending the run, the Bills turned in a phenomenal effort against the Chiefs. They limited them to a paltry 55 rushing yards and held rookie phenom Kareem Hunt to 17 yards on 11 carries. Much of it can be attributed to a sound game plan from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier as well as immensely improved gap discipline from Buffalo’s linebackers.

Frazier utilized a 3-3-5 stack defense almost exclusively in Kansas City. And despite the nickel look, the Bills’ defensive front found themselves in the backfield regularly. It came about for the most part from the linebackers recognizing blocking schemes and effectively shooting the gaps. Preston Brown had his best game of the year in that regard and will need to put together a repeat effort against the Patriots.

Under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, New England employs a lot of basic run game concepts that are far from basic in terms of their efficacy on the field. It’s the epitome of a running back by committee with Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee and James White all contributing. Though it isn’t the flashiest thing in the world, it gets the job done in the grand scheme of the Pats offense.

Buffalo is certainly in for a challenge when it comes to replicating what they did last week. In addition to the aforementioned weapons, New England also boasts a formidable offensive line. Not only does the unit excel at protecting Brady, it also does a great job dictating things at the line of scrimmage on run plays. The unit includes Shaq Mason, whose athleticism is on full display when setting the edge on pull blocks.

Shutting down New England’s uniquely effective run game is absolutely necessary in order for Buffalo to get to seven wins.

In Tyrod We Trust

Tyrod Taylor has become an unjustly polarizing figure in Buffalo. It’s pretty clear he gives the team the best chance at making the postseason. Though he definitely floundered in the last Bills’ home game against the New Orleans Saints, Nathan Peterman‘s performance the following week makes it pretty evident Taylor must remain the starter moving forward.

And yet Sean McDermott continues to waver. After their win over the Chiefs, he essentially implied that Taylor’s status as starting quarterback is week-to-week. This despite the fact that his potential replacement’s body of work to this point is five interceptions in a single half of action. Surely Taylor deserves a better vote of confidence  than that.

On Sunday, the Bills likely need a more prolific performance than they got out of him in Kansas City. With the possibility of LeSean McCoy not being at 100 percent due to knee soreness, the passing game needs to punch above its weight. That’s easier said than done against a Pats secondary that includes ball-hawking players such as Duron Harmon, Malcolm Butler and former Bills corner Stephon Gilmore. That trio’s combined for seven interceptions so far in 2017.

For Buffalo to pull off the upset, Taylor must be at his best. He must continue to prove the doubters within this organization wrong. That includes turning in a reliable performance where he takes more risks than usual. If those risks pay off, the Bills may indeed triumph on Sunday against their implacable AFC East foe.

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