FOXBORO -- The Patriots have just one more game between them and the postseason: A home tilt against 6-9 Buffalo. With a first-round bye on the line, what better situation could New England ask for than facing a familiar AFC East opponent?
Well . . .
"It's an advantage and it's a curse," Bill Belichick said Tuesday. "We have a lot of information. We'll have to try to put our chips on certain numbers and play the percentages, and know that there's also other things that they can do and they have done that we can't ignore. But we can't prepare for everything. We've just got to see how the game plays out."
Practice is where the Patriots will whittle down that mountain of intel. A good place to start is self-scouting.
"If there's something we've had a problem with and that's something that they do then that's easy: Why would they not do it? They have it, we've been hurt with it. I think the real question is, if you've been hurt with and they don't do it, then you're saying, 'Do you think they would put this in?' because it's not something that they normally do. You could be defending a ghost because they haven't done it, but the other hand, if you've been hurt with it it's hard to ignore it and say, 'Why wouldn't they try to do the same thing that somebody else was successful with?'
One reason why not is timing. It's Week 17, after all; teams aren't really looking to reinvent themselves.
"I'd say for the most part, when you get to this point of the season not too many things are going to come up that you haven't dealt with already during the year. I'd be surprised if they could throw a lot out there that we would say, 'Oh my God we haven't seen that before.'"
Which is not to say the Patriots are taking it easy this week.
Though New England won the first meeting on September 8, it was close at 23-21, and did it on a 35-yard field goal with nine seconds left in regulation. Belichick mentioned how the Bills have the league's second-best rushing average (142.5 per game), lead the league in sacks (56.0) and have the second-most interceptions (22).
Of course it's impossible to ignore the divergent paths these teams have taken since. Consider the fact Buffalo didn't string together consecutive wins until its last two in Weeks 15 and 16. But it's not Belichick's way to care about records.
His focus is elsewhere.
"The thing that I'd say is a little bit different about them is just their tempo. Baltimore was a no-huddle team but they weren't a fast no-huddle team. Buffalo is much more of a fast no-huddle team similar to what we saw in training camp against Philadelphia. But again we've seen that before, we played them once earlier.
"That's a little bit of a challenge and that's not the easiest thing to simulate in practice because sometimes when you're running their plays, it's hard for your offense, who's running their plays, to do it at the tempo that they do it at. So our communication and our ability to get plays called, get them in, get them run properly, that'll be a challenge for us. We'll work on it the best we can in practice, but I'm sure it will be faster in the game then what we'll be able to do in practice."