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Patriots-Bills matchup of the day: Saturday

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Recent posts by Kevin Fishbain

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Posted Dec. 31, 2011 @ 12:14 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

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

Patriots' kickoff-return team vs. Bills' kickoff-coverage team

This matchup is an interesting one to note because it is the Bills' biggest strength against the Patriots' biggest weakness, and it's the type of area the Bills need to take advantage of to pull off an upset.

The Pats average 21.6 yards on kickoff returns, good for 29th in the league. Danny Woodhead has taken over as the return man and he did bust out a 37-yard return last week, tied for the longest by a Patriot this season with Julian Edelman. Only the Chiefs and Eagles have a "long" kickoff return for less than 37 yards. Last season, Brandon Tate took two kickoffs back for touchdowns.

The Bills are holding opponents to 20.5 yards per kickoff return. They have let to allow a touchdown and have given up a long of 59 yards.

With two teams that rely heavily on their offenses, this isn't likely to be a game full of field-position battles, but Buffalo will do its best to pin the Patriots back and give Tom Brady as long a field as possible. On the other hand, that may just give Brady more yards to work with to pad his stats as he sets up to pass Dan Marino, and maybe Drew Brees, in passing yards in a season.

The Bills' special-teams coverage unit, led by FB Corey McIntyre and LB Danny Batten, has kept opposing returners from breaking off big returns, and they should have success on Sunday. The Bills are looking for any advantage they can get, and this is an area they can exploit, as New England has been very inefficient on kickoff returns.

For the Patriots, it would benefit them to get that kickoff-return game improved, especially if they are to face some of the top defenses in the AFC en route to the Super Bowl, like the Texans, Ravens or Steelers. The Bills' coverage teams will provide a good test for Woodhead and the Pats' special-teamers.

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