Why this game is intriguing: The last time these AFC East rivals played, the Patriots found themselves at a crossroads, trailing at halftime and about to go into a deep hole on the road against a Bills team that had high expectations for 2012. Then Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes forced a fumble, and the franchises have been going in opposite directions ever since. After dropping a 45-spot on the St. Louis Rams in London, the Pats spent their bye week tinkering with -- not overhauling -- a 5-3 team that is coming into its own on both sides of the ball. As for the Bills, they seem reluctant to give carries to C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, while the "D" has been more like an "F." In Gillette Stadium, the Patriots might just steamroll on. But if Buffalo wants to keep its heart beating, the Bills have to have this one.
Tom Brady is looking to keep the New England Patriots' league-best offense rolling after a bye week.
Based on recent history, he should have no problem doing that against the struggling Buffalo Bills.
The Patriots host the Bills on Sunday looking for a 12th straight home win in the series and a 23rd victory in the last 25 meetings overall.
Brady is 19-2 against Buffalo, completing 65.3 percent of his passes for 5,170 yards, 49 touchdowns -- his most against any team -- and 17 interceptions for a 103.4 rating.
New England (5-3) faced a 21-7 deficit in the third quarter of their last meeting on Sept. 30. But the Patriots forced four turnovers in the final 30 minutes and Brady's big second half -- he threw for 199 yards and three TDs -- led to a 52-28 victory.
The Patriots' bye last week followed a 45-7 blowout of St. Louis in London, their fourth win in five games. New England gets back to work with a one-game lead in the AFC East and believing it has plenty of improvements to make.
That includes Brady, whose 301.0 passing yards per game rank second to New Orleans'Drew Brees (318.6).
"I think he can improve a lot," coach Bill Belichick said. "Every day there are things that we talk to him about for that week or from the previous practice or whatever it is. He's always very anxious to hear them. He has a lot of his own ideas. He has things that he feels like he or we can do."
Leading the NFL in total yards per game (440.8) and points (32.8), a high-powered offense is nothing new for the Brady-Belichick Patriots. New England has finished eighth or better in both categories in each season dating back to 2007.
But the way they're operating now -- with a bigger focus on the running game -- is a little different. The Patriots' rushing attack (fourth in the NFL at 149.6 ypg) ranks slightly better than the passing offense (fifth at 291.1).
At the forefront of New England's change is running back Stevan Ridley, who is on pace to become the first Patriot with 300 carries since Corey Dillon ran 345 times in 2004. Ridley's 89.5 rushing yards per game rank fifth and his 47 rushes for a first down are the most in the NFL.
"I think like most good backs he has good vision," Belichick said. "He can break tackles, avoid people, he runs hard, he's able to make some yards on his own and able to find the holes."
Ridley, who had 106 yards and two touchdowns at Buffalo in September, could be in for another big day. The Bills (3-5) allow 169.5 rushing yards a game, the second most in the league, and an average of 5.7 yards per carry that's easily the NFL's worst.
Some would like to see Bills coach Chan Gailey more committed to his own ground game after it virtually disappeared in last week's 21-9 loss to Houston, Buffalo's fourth defeat in five games.
The Bills' rushing offense ranks sixth at 141.3 yards per game, but ran the ball a season-low 15 times for 74 yards at Houston despite having C.J. Spiller, who leads the NFL with 7.2 yards per carry.
Spiller, who had only six carries, was not among those questioning his use.
"That's not my job description," he said. "I don't have to sit around and mope and be mad and try to go upstairs and talk to the coaches."
Gailey opted to have quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throw 38 times in the loss, and Fitzpatrick didn't have a touchdown pass for the third time in four games. He also expressed no problem with the possibility of Spiller being more involved.
"We know we've got to give him the ball," Fitzpatrick said. "We've just got to find ways to do it."
Fitzpatrick will hope to have Stevie Johnson at his disposal after his leading receiver suffered a thigh injury against Houston. Johnson, who has four touchdown catches, didn't practice Wednesday but is expected to later in the week.
Brady, meanwhile, will hope to have Aaron Hernandez back after the tight end skipped the team's trip to London because of a lingering high ankle sprain. Hernandez returned to practice in a limited capacity Wednesday, but his status for Sunday is unclear.
New England made great use of its star tight ends the last time both were healthy against Buffalo. Hernandez caught seven passes for 138 yards and a score while Rob Gronkowskihad eight catches for 108 yards and two TDs in a 49-21 win at Foxborough on New Year's Day.
Gronkowski has eight touchdowns in five career contests against the Bills and three straight 100-yard games.