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What to Expect From Buffalo Bills for Stretch run

They should be healthier and sharper, but will it be enough?

A 7-4 record against what has been the easiest schedule in the league through the first 12 weeks of the season is not where the Buffalo Bills want to be.

On the other hand, they remain in complete control of their chances to repeat as AFC East champs with two games against the New England Patriots and one against the New York Jets remaining. They also have made it through a rough injury/COVID stretch with minimal damage, albeit the loss of cornerback Tre'Davious White to a torn ACL.

After winning at New Orleans on Thursday night, they will have three extra days to prepare for their first meeting with the Patriots, who can remain a half-game ahead of the Bills if they beat Tennessee this Sunday.

Since the Patriots are their only competition for the division crown, a win would mean everything and perhaps shift the momentum back the Bills' way for good.

By the time the Bills next take the field on Dec. 6, they should be in better shape along both lines with Star Lotulelei and Spencer Brown off the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Right guard Jon Feliciano also could be off the injured reserve list by then.

Dane Jackson will have had extra time to prepare for his third career start and first of this season as he steps into White's giant shoes.

The Bills also will be going against a rookie quarterback in Mac Jones and have to like their chances even with Jones the odds leader in Las Vegas to be named NFL Rookie of the Year.

But make no mistake: These next four games — home vs. New England, at Tampa Bay (Dec. 12), home vs. Carolina (Dec. 19) and at New England (Dec. 26) — will determine their fate. And without at least a split against the Patriots, they almost certainly won't win a division that has gone to New England in 17 of the previous 20 seasons.

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The Bills are most definitely at a crossroads. They haven't lost in consecutive weeks this season, but they also haven't won in consecutive weeks since Oct. 10, which was the only time this season they beat a team (Kansas City) with a winning record. They're 1-3 against teams with winning records, with three of their next four against winners.

"It's a resilient group," McDermott said. "And I think they respond to a challenge and will be challenged this week, you know, as we look ahead to the Patriots."

McDermott was particularly pleased that his team dramatically cut down on penalties from seven for 56 yards in a loss to Indianapolis to four for 35 yards four days later.

"You've got to make it a conscious effort to play with good technique and good fundamentals and move your feet and get your hands inside," McDermott said. "And that's, you know, that's all three sides of the ball."

Added defensive end Mario Addison: "We know the way we played the last game, it wasn't us. So getting off to a fast start [against the Saints], It just gave us more momentum and we feed off each other. You know, the offense feeds off the defense, the defense feeds off the offense, special teams feeds off both groups, we feed off special teams. So when guys make big plays. Everybody just jumps up and it's fine. It's fine when you jump [out] fast, vs. when you've got to come from behind.

"And we've got a good team, we've got a damn good team. But sometimes we don't play like it. So the thing we've got to do is play more consistent ball, just got to continue, you know, to find a way to play consistent ball."

The Bills have time on their side to get ready for their next game and the definitive stretch of their season.

It's up to them to make the most of it.

Nick Fierro is the publisher of Bills Central. Check out the latest Bills news at www.si.com/nfl/bills and follow Fierro on Twitter at @NickFierro. Email to Nicky300@aol.com.