Time is a flat circle, or something like that. Go read our preview for the Patriots and Bills game from back in week 2. Nothing has changed. The flaws that the Bills had on both sides of the ball are still their flaws. They're missing some bodies on the active roster. They've returned some players to an increased level of health.
Whatever. The team and their strategy is almost the exact same. Let's break it down.
When the Bills run the ball
The Bills top two players on offense are running backs LeSean McCoy (113 carries, 528 yards, 18 receptions, 177 yards, 3 total touchdowns) and Karlos Williams (58 carries, 360 yards, 6 receptions, 72 yards, 7 total touchdowns). The Bills rely on them to move the ball down the field and to grind down defenses.
Buffalo's offensive line is very good. Left guard Richie Incognito is playing at a very high level, while left tackle Cordy Glenn and center Eric Wood have been reliable. The Bills love to pull Incognito to the right side and run behind him, and odds are that the run will be going wherever Incognito is hustling.
The Patriots match up well because they own one of the top run defenses in the league. The Bills can't really utilize the hurry-up in the same way that the Giants could, so the Patriots will be able to use their dominating rotation of defensive tackles in the middle.
If the Patriots can stop the run, like they did in the first match-up, the Bills aren't a good enough passing team to win through the air. LeSean McCoy looks healthier now than he did back in week 2, but this strategy remains the same. Bottle up the run.
When the Bills pass the ball
Tyrod Taylor still throws the high percentage passes for the majority of the game, while taking a chance on the deep shot every now-and-then. In week 2, the Bills at least had Percy Harvin as a wrench.
Now, the Bills leading target is tight end Charles Clay, who posted a whopping 19 yards in week 2. Clay has eclipsed the 40 yard mark just once in his seven games against the Patriots. The Bills tight end has averaged 6.3 targets per game.
Most will point to Sammy Watkins as the Bills actual top receiver, and that's fine. He is averaging 55 yards per game, and 51% of his yardage this season came in one week against the Dolphins. He's a good receiver, but the Bills aren't able to capitalize on a consistent basis. Watkins averaged 5.5 targets per game.
The Bills #2 receiver is Robert Woods, who has historically given the Patriots the most trouble with touchdowns in four of his past five games. He sees 4.9 targets per game, which goes to show that these three targets are all fairly equal in the eyes of opportunity.
The catch? The Bills have no other real threats, and Woods only averages 35 yards per game. Watkins is the only player that has shown the ability to put the team on his back and the passing game is too inconsistent to make that a realized attack.
These three targets, along with McCoy out of the backfield, match up with the Patriots defenders. Slap Malcolm Butler on Watkins, and Logan Ryan on Woods. Patrick Chung and (hopefully) Jamie Collins can split time with Clay and McCoy. If the Bills want to win the game by throwing to Chris Hogan (averaging 3 targets and 26 yards per game), so be it. The Patriots can put the Bills in a hole by matching up well with Buffalo's top options.
When the Patriots run the ball
The Bills defensive line is injured as Kyle Williams isn't expected to play and Mario Williams is fighting an illness that forced him out of the Jets game last Thursday. As a result, the Dolphins and the Jets were extremely willing and able to run the ball against this front, a luxury the Patriots weren't afforded in week 2.
While the original scheme of running towards the outside still applies, teams have now been able to control the ball while going up the middle of the field. Over the past two games, the Bills have allowed opposing teams to rush for 4.98 yards per carry, the 6th worst mark in the league. LeGarrette Blount is going to be asked to run a fair amount.
Dion Lewis was heavily featured in week 2 and those concepts should still work, if the Patriots wish to use James White in a receiver capacity. The Bills have two good linebackers as Preston Brown has definitely improved as a linebacker in the open field, and Nigel Bradham hits like a truck. Still, the option to spread the running back to the outside is available.
When the Patriots pass the ball
The Bills are always around the football. Ronald Darby has quickly become one of the best corners in the league, and has probably surpassed Stephon Gilmore. Regardless, the two corners do a fantastic job of sticking to opposing receivers like glue.
Quick passes remain the key as teams have used slip screens, quick slants, and other fast-passing options to march the ball down the field. Danny Amendola should have a huge day, especially if Brandon LaFell struggles to contribute. Of course, Aaron Dobson collected 87 yards on 7 catches and 8 targets, and LaFell is a superior player. There's a fair chance that the Patriots can crack this one through either the air or the ground.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski should have a good game, too, since the Bills are weak up the middle of the field, although Leodis McKelvin is an interesting wild card as a former cornerback playing a fair bit of the safety position.
Rex Ryan loves to mess with Tom Brady presnap and will show pressure from all sides and vary where the extra rusher will come from. There are many times where the Bills will align six or seven players on the line of scrimmage and will drop two, three, or even four back into coverage, with the hope that the quarterback either brings in and wastes an extra blocker, or that there with be a panicked pass that is easily intercepted.
In week 2, Brady was able to motion players around the formation to open up a quick pass that would take advantage of these faux pressures as they wouldn't be able to drop back into coverage quickly enough. Brady also worked the sidelines and seams, using stemmed routes to break away from the coverage.
The Patriots benefit greatly from ridiculously fantastic field position in their first game and probably won't get the same on Monday. This will be a closer game. But the Patriots have all the pieces in place to leave with a victory.