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Patriots-Bills matchup of the day: Friday

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Recent posts by Kevin Fishbain

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Posted Dec. 30, 2011 @ 2:03 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

Here's a key matchup to watch in the season finale between the Patriots and Bills:

Patriots pass rush vs. Bills offensive line

Ryan Fitzpatrick picked apart the Patriots' secondary in the Week Three upset. He completed 27-of-40 passes for 369 yards and two touchdowns and was not sacked once.

The Bills' passing game has fallen off since their 5-2 start to the season, but the pass protection has remained strong. The Bills are tied with the Titans for giving up the least amount of sacks this season — 21.

The Patriots' defense is not known for its pass rush, but is a respectable 13th in the league with 38 sacks. Ten of those came from DE Andre Carter, who is now on injured reserve. But in the Patriots' first game without Carter, the front seven was very successful in the pass rush. The Pats recorded five sacks and eight QB hits in last Saturday's win over the Dolphins.

One key to that was LB Jerod Mayo, who is not known for his pass-rushing abilities but that doesn't mean he can't get after the quarterback. Mayo had two sacks vs. Miami and if the Pats decided to bring him off the edge or up the gut, he could have more success on Sunday against a banged-up Bills O-line.

Part of the reason Buffalo's offense took a step back was injuries on the offensive line. C Eric Wood has been on I.R. and the team also will be without his replacement, Kraig Urbik, and OLT Demetrius Bell for Sunday's season finale. Rookie Chris Hairston likely will start at left tackle.

The Patriots' pass rush is crucial to success considering the weaknesses that exist in a secondary that has allowed the most passing yards in the NFL. It was a good sign to see Mayo involved in the pass rush last week and DE Shaun Ellis recorded his first sack of the season. In addition to keeping Fitzpatrick and the Bills' passing game under wraps by getting pressure on him, the Patriots could use the confidence boost heading into the postseason of putting an opposing quarterback on his back.

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