The Patriots return from a week off to face the Bills in Foxboro. Here are some numbers that interested me this week:
* – New England has won eight of their last nine games coming off their bye week. Their only loss was last year’s 25-17 defeat at Pittsburgh. The Patriots’ post-bye opponent was the Bills in four consecutive seasons during that stretch (2004-2007, with three of those played in Buffalo) and the Pats ‘ won all four by an average score of 34-12.
Note this: This will be the second consecutive week that the Bills have faced a team coming off a bye, as the Texans beat them last Sunday, 21-9. Since the start of the 2003 season, Buffalo is 2-11 when facing teams coming off byes, with their only two wins coming against Miami (2005, 2007).
* – Dating back to 2007, the Bills have lost 17 of their last 18 road games against teams who finished the season with winning records. That includes two losses this season to the 49ers  and Texans, both of whom will undoubtedly finish the year with winning marks. Their only win in that stretch was a 16-13 overtime win at the Jets in 2009. Buffalo has lost their last 11, and 15 of their last 17, at New England, with their only two wins coming in overtime in 1999 and 2000.
* – Rob Gronkowski  leads all NFL receivers with 232 yards in first quarters this season, just ahead of the Packers ‘ Jordy Nelson (230) and Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace  (221). They are the only three receivers with 200+ first quarter yards this season.
Thing is, those three are also the only receivers whose first quarter totals make up 40% or more of their total receiving yards for the season (min. 350 total receiving yards). For Gronkowski, that’s a complete turnaround from last season, when only 12.1% of his yards came in the first quarter. Only two receivers in 2011 (min. 800 total receiving yards) had a lower percentage of their yards in the opening stanza: Tennessee’s Nate Washington  (12.0%) and Pierre Garcon  (11.9%).
Is Gronk fading during games due to his nagging bumps and bruises? Probably. It would behoove the Patriots to get him healthy heading into the stretch.
* – Here is how the Patriots’ pass completions of 20 or more yards break down this year by quarter:
1st quarter – 11 (tied for NFL lead)
2nd quarter – 5 (only six teams have fewer)
3rd quarter – 4 (only five teams have fewer)
4th quarter/Overtime – 8 (tied for 11th)
Last year, the Patriots had 45 pass plays of 20+ yards in the second and third quarters combined, the most in the NFL. This year, they are on a pace for just 18.
* – In his two games at New England, Bills’ quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick  has completed a respectable 66% of his passes with four touchdowns and six interceptions. In the 10 games at Foxboro from 2000 through 2009, eight Bills’ signal callers combined for eight touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
Note this: The 22 picks by the Patriots’ defense  against the Bills in Foxboro since 2000 are easily their most against any opponent there in that span, with the second most coming against the Colts (13). Want some context? The Dolphins have played 12 games in Foxboro in that span (the same number as the Bills), but the Pats have managed just seven picks against them.
Note this too: Since 1991, the Patriots have intercepted four or more passes in a home game eight times. Five of those games have come against Buffalo.
* – The Patriots have gained 10 or more yards on first down (i.e. “converted on first down”) 23% of the time this season, the second highest percentage in the league:
25.6% – Redskins
22.9% – Patriots
22.7% – 49ers
22.1% – Chargers
The Bills have converted on first down just 15% of the time, ranked 28th. Only the Jaguars (last at 12.7%), Jets, Packers (that’s not a misprint), and Dolphins have lower rates.
Note this: The Bills’ defense has allowed 10 or more yards on 22.5% of first down plays, third-worst in the league. Only the Saints and Buccaneers  have been worse.
* – The Patriots went three-and-out only seven times during the season’s first half, easily the fewest such possessions in the league as Denver has the second fewest with 12. In fact, it’s time to start discussing the possibility that the Patriots could set the all-time league mark for fewest three-and-out in a season. They’ve tracked the stat since 1995 and the fewest three-and-outs in those 17 seasons is 18:
18 – Jaguars, 2010
18 – Rams, 2001
19 – Colts, 2008
22 – Colts, 2006
23 – Bears, 1995
The fewest three-and-outs by a Patriots team in that span is 26 (2007) and 27 (2008).
Note this: The Bills have forced their opponents into just 14 three-and-outs this season. Only the Saints (13) have forced fewer.
* – While the Patriots are tied for the league lead (with the 49ers and Giants ) with four touchdowns on their first possession of the second half this season, the Bills have allowed four such touchdowns, tied with the Saints for the most allowed. Buffalo allowed only five such touchdowns during all of last season.
* – Buffalo’s offense has produced nine touchdowns of 20 or more yards this season (eight passes, one rush). That’s more than they had in nine of their last 12 full seasons. It’s important to note, however, that eight of those touchdowns came in September.
Note this: The Patriots have allowed 10 touchdowns of 20+ yards this season (all passing), the most in the league (the Bills, Giants, Raiders, and Buccaneers have allowed nine) already their most in any full season since 2000.
* – Opposing offenses have started 17 drives following Buffalo turnovers, the second most in the league (Kansas City, 23), and they’ve parlayed those into 68 points, an average of 4.0. Only the Packers’ defense (a whopping 5.5 average) has been worse following turnovers this season.
* – The Bills entered last Sunday leading the league in average kickoff returns, but are now ranked eighth after averaging just 13.0 yards on four returns against Houston last week. It was the 98th time in Texans history that their opponent has returned four or more kickoffs but the only time that they have averaged fewer than 14 yards per return.
* – Buffalo has nine pass completions for negative yardage this season, the most in the league. They “led” the league in that category last year, too, with 16. Want some context? The Patriots have 16 such pass completions… total… since the start of the 2010 season.
Note this: Seven of the Bills’ nine completions for negative yards this season have come in their last three games.
* – In the eight games involving the Bills this season, there have only been a total of 16 field goals kicked, fewer than 10 different teams have kicked by themselves. Of course, there have been a whopping 50 touchdowns scored in Bills games this season, so there really hasn’t been much need for the kicker, except for extra points.
Note this: 30 of those touchdowns have been allowed by the Bills, putting them on a pace to allow 60 for the season. Since 1981, only two teams have allowed 60+ touchdowns in a single season, last year’s Buccaneers (61) and the 2008 Lions (63). The NFL record for touchdowns allowed in a season is 68, by the 1981 Baltimore Colts, although it should be noted that the 1966 Giants allowed 66 back when the season lasted just 14 games.
Enjoy the game!