The season is not on the line, but the long term fall out is pretty big. If the Patriots win, they have sold possession of first place in the division and the driver's seat to another division title. If they lose, the Bills are in first place and the Patriots will have started with an 0-2 division record- a not-insurmountable climb, but a climb nontheless.
The Patriots would love to leave Buffalo with a victory, especially is it comes with another complete effort on all sides of the ball. Stringing together two consecutive positive games would do wonders for the team to continue to build moving forward.
Here's how they can leave with a victory:
1) Offensive balance. Last week was outstanding for the offense as the team was able to run the ball, set up the play action pass, and effectively move the ball down the field against a tenacious Bengals defense. The Bills defense provides yet another challenge as they took the crown for "Best Defense" once the Patriots knocked it off of Cincinnati's head. The Patriots need to draw from the same well as last week to take advantage of the Bills weakness up the middle of the field.
2) Overcome injuries. Center Bryan Stork will be missing the game, as are defensive starters Dont'a Hightower and Dominique Easley. The team is thin on both the offensive line and the defensive front seven; how the team reacts is crucial. Unfortunately, the Bills match up well against both of those flaws. The Bills boast a deep defensive tackle roster who will be up to the task of taking on whoever is playing right guard. Buffalo's offense is extremely capable of stretching defensive front sevens and attacking the edge. The Patriots will have to hope the replacements are up to the challenge.
3) Stop Fred Jackson. Jackson picks the Patriots apart every single year. It's clockwork. Hopefully Jamie Collins is up to the task of following Jackson all over the field because if the defense can slow Freddie down then the rest of the game becomes a lot more simple. Jackson is the undeniable engine and should be who Bill Belichick is scheming to stop.
4) No big plays. Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, C.J. Spiller, and Jackson are all capable of breaking for a big play, with Watkins and Spiller especially dangerous. Devin McCourty is nursing a rib injury and the Patriots have to hope that he won't reinjure it during the game. Expect Darrelle Revis to match-up in press against Watkins to prevent Buffalo from getting the ball out quickly and forcing Kyle Orton to make decisions in the pocket. If the Patriots can prevent big plays, then they should have their way against the Bills offense.
5) Take advantage of Brandon Spikes. Spikes is one of the best run defenders in the league, but he's liable to attack the wrong hole against the run, and he'll be a definite liability against the pass. With linebacker Kiko Alonso out for the season, the Bills don't have a great coverage linebacker, meaning if the Patriots can get the Bills on the field with the right personnel, they should be able to flex to no huddle and pick it apart. Tim Wright and Rob Gronkowski running up the seams should be especially dangerous.