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5 Most Important Players for Buffalo Bills in Week 17

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The 5 Most Important Buffalo Bills For Week 17

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Can you believe we’re already in Week 17 of the NFL season? Doesn’t it feel like the season began just yesterday?

For the Buffalo Bills, there’s not a lot left to play for. They’re 6-9, on their way to yet another losing record which is something that has become the way of life over the last 14 seasons. They’re battling injuries to key players and wondering what lies ahead in what will be a hugely important offseason for the future of the franchise.

But on Sunday when the team heads to Foxboro to take on the AFC East Champion New England Patriots, there is something to play for. Like last week when they put a serious kink in the cog of the Miami Dolphins by shutting them out in the friendly confines of Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Bills can play spoiler. The Patriots are in a dogfight for playoff positioning, and a win Sunday could mean home-field advantage for them. In the playoffs, that can mean all the difference in the world for some teams, and for the Patriots who are struggling with important injuries of late, a raucous home crowd could be the difference between one-and-done and making another Super Bowl run.

What will it take for the Bills to pull the upset against their hated rival on Sunday? What do the Bills have to do to finally beat the mighty Patriots, a team that has owned them for the last decade?

Here are the five most important players for the Bills on Sunday if they hope to walk out of Foxboro victorious.

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5. The Defensive Line

Kyle Williams
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sport

You might not be able to shut down Tom Brady completely, but you can definitely limit him. We all saw earlier this season when Brady struggled without his weapons like Rob Gronkowski. Get in his head, rush his throws, and make him develop that same dynamic chemistry with someone else.

For the uninitiated, the Bills have been very good at getting into the heads of opposing quarterbacks. They lead the NFL with 56 sacks, a new franchise record. Getting a career-best 10 sacks out of a guy like Jerry Hughes certainly helps, but it’s the defensive line that makes things go. Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams have combined for an incredible 31 sacks so far. The Williams Brothers From Different Mothers have experienced renaissance seasons and will make Brady’s day very difficult.

When facing a guy like Brady there’s only so much you can do, but when facing a dangerous pass rush like the Bills possess the potential to frustrate is definitely there.

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4. Kiko Alonso

Kiko Alonso
Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

For all of the credit that goes to Brady, he doesn’t do it alone. With Gronkowski out, he still has his share of weapons in both the passing and running game. The latter has especially come alive over the last few weeks, giving the team a much-needed balance.

For Kiko Alonso and the Bills' defense, stopping the surging running game of the Patriots will be the key to victory. They have a three-pronged attack, featuring a bowling ball of a runner (LeGarrette Blount), a finesse runner (Stevan Ridley) and a versatile back (Shane Vereen) who can run and catch passes out of the backfield. If the Bills are going to avoid being gashed by that trio, Alonso is going to have to have one of his best performances.

Alonso, perhaps the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year, will need to fly all over the field to limit the damage done, especially by Vereen out of the backfield. Will he be up to the task? We’ll have a pretty good idea before long.

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3. Leodis McKelvin

Leodis McKelvin
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

When discussing the Bills' secondary, usually it’s Stephon Gilmore, Jairus Byrd or even Aaron Williams getting the most attention. And kind of rightfully so: A first round pick, a multi-time Pro Bowler and a guy who held the secondary together when injuries were tearing it apart certainly deserve their fair share of attention.

But the most important person in the secondary on Sunday will be slot man Leodis McKelvin. A former first round pick himself, Leodis has alternated between massive disappointment and stellar play for the bulk of his career. His task on Sunday? Oh, nothing. Just covering 96-catch Julian Edelman. For all the talk about Danny Amendola heading into the start of the season, Edelman has become the new Wes Welker (lite) for the Pats.

If the Bills don’t want to get picked apart by Brady and Edelman, they’ll need Leodis (my man) to be the first round success, not the first round bust.

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2. Fred Jackson & C.J. Spiller

Fred Jackson
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Is this a surprise to anyone, really? The Bills offense is decidedly one-dimensional, but that the one dimension they have is pretty good. They have the second-ranked rushing attack in the league because Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are actually a pretty good tandem despite the fact that the world hates Spiller for not rushing for 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns this season.

Jackson has been typical Freddy this year by grinding out his yards, getting double-digit touchdowns, and being reliable out of the backfield. It’s hard to ask for much more out of a running back on the wrong side of 30. Spiller, meanwhile, likely is what he is at this point: a guy who is capable of the occasional home run play but is more than likely going to hit the wrong hole and end up with three yards. It just kind of is what it is.

For the Bills to walk out with the win on Sunday, they’ll need both Spiller and Jackson to be at their best. If they get shut down it will be a long, long day for whoever is manning the helm at quarterback.

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1. EJ Manuel/Thad Lewis

EJ Manuel/Thad Lewis
Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of that quarterback, we still don’t know who it will be under center on Sunday. E.J. Manuel is still battling a knee issue and looks to be a game-time decision. He was there in Week 1 when the Bills had the Patriots on the ropes, falling on a last-second field goal. Surely, he’d like to be on the field Sunday to help throw a kink in the Foxboro machine.

If he can’t go, it will be Thad Lewis for the second straight week. He’s battling a banged up shoulder, but he’s been practicing so he’s available. As opposed to Manuel, who has a bit of boom or bust potential, you know what you’re getting with Lewis: 150-200 yards, maybe a touchdown, an interception and a relatively invisible day.

Whoever gets the nod, they’ll need to be smart with the ball and give the Bills a little something in the passing game to take pressure off of Spiller and Jackson.