Patriots expect 'a different game' in crucial AFC East rematch against Bills

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots captains Matthew Slater and Devin McCourty often share words of wisdom with their teammates, and it is timely this week for them to share one of their most painful early-career experiences.

Slater was in his third year and McCourty a rookie during the 2010 season when the Patriots were shocked at home by the New York Jets in a 28-21 loss in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. No one saw it coming, especially because six weeks earlier the Patriots had pasted the Jets 45-3 in the same venue.

That history is pertinent as the Patriots (9-5) begin preparations to host the Buffalo Bills (8-6) at Gillette Stadium on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) in a game that has major AFC East ramifications. It's the same Bills team the Patriots beat 14-10 on Dec. 6.

The lesson is this: What happened in the first meeting doesn't guarantee what will happen in the second.

"Buffalo is not the same team we played a few weeks ago," veteran running back Brandon Bolden said. "It's one of those we're going to have to go back and relearn them as if we didn't play them."

Added quarterback Mac Jones during his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI: "Obviously, it's the same team, but it will be a different game. We obviously won the game [Dec. 6], but it could have gone either way."

Further amplifying that point was how the weather conditions on Dec. 6 in Orchard Park, New York -- with wind gusts of about 40 mph -- affected the play on the field. It should be much calmer in Foxborough, as the long-range forecast for Sunday calls for partly cloudy skies, a high of 40 and winds at 10-15 mph.

"It affected the strategy in the kicking game, it affected some strategy in the passing game. I don't know if it affected the running game matchups a lot; probably not," coach Bill Belichick said of the conditions on Dec. 6.

"I'm sure they'll do some things differently. Regardless of what the weather conditions are, they would make some changes. I'm sure we would make some changes. Both teams have a game-plan element to their style of play anyways."

Magnifying the importance of Sunday for both teams is that the Patriots would slip to second place in the AFC East with a loss, giving Buffalo control of the division.

The Patriots follow Sunday's game against the Bills with a home date against the Jacksonville Jaguars and then a road finale versus the Miami Dolphins. The Bills finish with home games against the Atlanta Falcons and Jets, and should be favored in both.

How the Patriots are approaching the quick-turnaround matchup with the Bills is notable from a coaching perspective.

"Whenever you play a division opponent this close together, there's always kind of a bit of a tug of war going on," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "Because you may have had success with something, and then you go, 'Man, we have to do this again, right?' But the other team knows you had success with it, so then they try to stop it, or may play it differently. And it forces you to, too. So it's sort of a chess match with yourself, if you will."

McDaniels stressed that the "biggest mistake people can make is relaxing and not going through the preparation as if this is the first time we played them."

Said safeties coach Brian Belichick: "You know the team well, obviously, having just played them. You obviously look at the first game and see how that went, [but] this is a pretty unique situation given the [weather] conditions in the first game.

"You kind of have to, in a way, approach it with a clean slate so you don't ... miss something in your preparation."

Linebacker Jamie Collins said he is less focused on that aspect of the matchup coming off Saturday's disappointing 27-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts that he believes could be a helpful serving of "humble pie" to the team.

"It's always about focusing on your craft," Collins said. "Yes, the game plan is the game plan, but in order to beat the guy across from you, you have to make sure you're intact. Coming off the performance we just had, it's something we need to work out in terms of getting back to playing Patriot football."