Fresh off their bye week, the New England Patriots are recharged and ready for the time of year that has typically produced their best stretch of football under the guidance of Bill Belichick.
Since 2002, no team has performed better against its division rivals in November and December than the Patriots, and they'll get an opportunity to add to that record Sunday when they host Buffalo, a team they dropped 52 points on in Week 4.
Though Belichick says the Bills are doing some things differently since the first game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, it might be the Patriots who ultimately provide the freshest look Sunday, especially with newly acquired cornerback Aqib Talib in the fold. A new-look secondary, coupled with the reemergence of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has scored two touchdown passes in each of his last two games, could be trouble for the Bills. They rank last in the league in defense and don't have the firepower to get into a slugfest with the Patriots, as evidenced by their meltdown against New England in Week 4.
More importantly, the Patriots are just glad to be back on the field after returning home from London and resting up during the bye week. The most important stretch of the season is in front of them, and there's a sense of nervous energy as they prepare for Sunday.
"Everyone's always energized to get back on the field, getting back to practice (and) getting back to work," Gronkowski said. "It's always a good feeling."
Added Belichick: "I think any time you get that break, it can be a good thing if it's utilized properly. I think there definitely was a sense of relief from all of us -- coaches and players -- of just not having a game plan last week, and having the whole mental pressure of coming up with a game plan, and each day thinking about game plans and adjustments. The weight of studying for a final exam, if you will.
"You're grinding through a week of preparation and then you go for the final exam. After you've had eight of those, it's nice to have a week where you don't have to study, you don't have to game-plan, and you don't have a final exam. You don't have all the mental adjustments you have to go through. Now this week, we're back into that and hopefully we have a little bit of a freshness, or a better approach to it than that after eight weeks of doing it."
The good news is the Patriots return this weekend against a familiar foe, one they've played more than 100 times in their history and one they've beaten 63 times -- more than any other opponent. Granted, most of those games are irrelevant to today's team, but the level of familiarity with division rivals is unparalleled when matched against other teams, so the Patriots have a leg-up in their weekly preparation.
They've also seen plenty of Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who can shred opposing defenses, but is also prone to mistakes when under pressure. Regardless, any division game is a challenge, and the Patriots are preparing for Buffalo's best on Sunday as New England goes for the sweep.
"There's a lot of familiarity and they have some very good players, guys that really capitalize on the offensive mistakes," quarterback Tom Brady said. "It's different than playing the Rams and so forth like we did a few weeks ago, where you feel like Friday it starts to come together.
"Hopefully we have a pretty good idea about what works and what doesn't work, what they do well (and) what they don't do well. That's part of putting a game plan together and going out and seeing how it looks in practice."
SERIES HISTORY: 106th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead series, 63-41-1 and are going for their 22nd sweep of the season series this weekend. In Foxboro, the Patriots are 33-19 all-time against the Bills, including 10-0 at Gillette Stadium, and have won 11 consecutive home games against Buffalo.