The weather is beginning to get frightful, but the Patriots are in a delightful position heading to Buffalo this weekend. A win wraps up the AFC East title for the second year in a row and guarantees the Patriots home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a first-round bye as well.
The Bills haven't played particularly well this season, but the Patriots always prepare for the possibility of a tough division game, especially on the road in what could be treacherous weather conditions in New York.
"There's no question that we're going to get their best effort, like we always do," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "It's always tough against Buffalo, but I have a lot of respect for (head coach) Chan (Gailey) and his staff and the job that they do.
"I know that he'll have his team well prepared. I hope I can do a good job with our team. I think their players, they play well every week and I'm sure they'll play well on Sunday. We're going to have to go out there and try to play better than they do. But there's no doubt about it; they're a good football team. They're playing well and I know that they'll play well against us. We'll just have to play and coach well against them. It's a big challenge for us."
Team chemistry has certainly been a key to New England's success, and it's something nose tackle Vince Wilfork referenced this week. The team always seems prepared regardless of the challenge, which reflects on not only the coaching, but the leadership among the players.
"I think the guys we have here are here for one reason: to win," Wilfork said. "They love football and obviously all year we've been through tough games and better games, weather games, you name it. And I think everybody has done a great job of coming together and playing as a team. That's been the story for us all year. I think guys have really got it. The focus level is where it needs to be and the commitment level is where it needs to be.
"We can win a lot of ball games around here if that continues to get better. That's where we're at right now with leadership and I think it's not just a couple guys. You can't say it's just the captains. Everybody in that locker room plays a role; we all play a role. Just because you see some of us more on TV or in the media or in the paper, that doesn't mean we don't have more leaders. I think from the coaches down, it starts everywhere and that's how we've been playing. That's been a non-issue for us this year."
This weekend, the Patriots will be wary of Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has helped lead the Bills to four wins in their last six games.
"He just looks real comfortable in the pocket," Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "Fred Jackson is still doing a lot of the running for them. He's doing an excellent job for them, so they have a lot of weapons."
The Patriots recognize the importance of the game as the New York Jets continue to chase them for a division title. A win Sunday eliminates the possibility of any upsets or calamities in Week 17.
"We need it," Mayo said. "We're fighting for home-field advantage for a bye week. We're preparing hard this week, and hopefully we'll go out and play well."
Added team captain Alge Crumpler: "I think every team wants to control their own fate. That's what we talk about and now we've put ourselves in this position. That's a good thing. Getting this win would be great."
101st regular-season meeting. Patriots lead series, 59-40-1. They've won 14 consecutive games against Buffalo and have not lost a game in this series since the 2003 season opener in Buffalo. The Patriots' 59 wins over Buffalo are the most they have against any opponent, even the Jets, whom they've beaten 51 times. Even at Buffalo, the Patriots own a winning record of 28-21-1 in this series, including the last six. They'll attempt to sweep the season series Sunday for the seventh year in a row.
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