NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS UPDATE 

lBRADY'S STRUGGLES HAVE BEEN A LIMITING FACTOR

The Patriots clinched their 11th straight playoff berth with Sunday’s win over the Bengals and they are closing in on their 11th straight AFC East title as well.

Putting that run together with the larger goals the Patriots have for the season might lead some to shrug their shoulders at the smaller accomplishments. Quarterback Tom Brady isn’t one for that reaction.

During an appearance on WEEI Monday, Brady made it clear that he doesn’t take any of these steps for granted.

“Heck no,” Brady said. “Man, this is so hard to do and I know, I think if anything it is you appreciate it more because it’s so hard. This is level playing field. It’s not like we ever get top-five picks, we play the easiest schedules. The whole league is meant to bring everyone back to 8-8 on the year. The fact we’ve qualified for the playoffs 11 straight years, these things are hard to do.”

The Patriots can sew up the division by beating the Bills today and then they’ll move their full attention to achieving their postseason goals.

Brady has acknowledged this has been a challenging season for the offense, which is reflected in him not being voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2008 (he missed that year with a torn ACL). In fact, the Patriots (11-3) didn't have any offensive players selected to the initial Pro Bowl roster, which is the first time that has happened since 2003.

But on three occasions this season, Brady has gone without a touchdown pass. Surprisingly enough, the Patriots are 3-0 in those games (including a Week 4 16-10 win over the Bills). Add in the fact that Brady has just three total touchdown passes in his past five games against the Bills and an average of 216 passing yards per game, today's game won't be easy.

Also factor in these numbers:

He has completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes in five straight games, tying for the longest single-season streak of his 20-year career.

He has five straight games with a total QBR below 40, which is the longest active streak in the NFL. Brady ranks 27th out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks since Week 11 in total QBR at 34.8.

He has consecutive games with fewer than 5 yards per attempt for the first time since 2006. He's never had a streak of three straight games.

He's thrown 21 TD passes and seven interceptions this season.

While Brady's stats have dipped, the Bills aren't expecting anything but his best, considering he is 31-3 against them. When Buffalo coach Sean McDermott was asked Wednesday about what challenges he sees in facing the Patriots' offense, he said, "Where do you want to start? Tom Brady."

And as for those stats ...

"The most important thing for me has always been to help my team achieve the goal of winning the game -- however that played out, whether it be hand the ball off 50 times or throw it 50 times," Brady said on Westwood One. "That's what I've always tried to focus on. You want to be productive every week. You want to go out and throw touchdowns, because that means points. You want to throw for yards, because that means production and the opportunity to score points.

"But at the same time, the object of the game is to win. However you do it, that's why we're playing. ... I feel like there's more statistics now than there's ever been. The data analytics part of the game has exploded. But in the end, the one for me that matters the most is winning."

Fantasy owners can respect that even if we'd like more production. ...

Meanwhile, Julian Edelman disappointed with two catches for 9 yards on five targets against the Bengals last Sunday.

Edelman entered the game questionable with an injury and was rested in the fourth quarter of the blowout win, playing only three snaps. As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Edelman entered the game with at least 10 targets in each of his previous eight games and was averaging 10.6 per outing.

Edelman is officially listed as questionable with ongoing shoulder and knee issues, but the latest reporting suggests he looks less banged up this weekend. I'll have confirmation of his official game status in the 90 minutes leading up to today's late-afternoon kickoff.

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