ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) – And now, back to our regularly scheduled NFL programming in which the Patriots, refreshed after a weekend off, resume their bid for a perfect season by running up the score on any team not named the Colts. Playing the role of this week’s patsy: the Buffalo Bills.

Bill Belichick, of course, won’t buy into that story line in preparing for Sunday night’s game at Buffalo. New England’s coach spent the week conducting his familiar “building-up-the-opponent” routine by insisting the Bills (5-4) could easily be 7-2 if not for a pair of last-second losses.

The Patriots (9-0), though, are better. They’ve already beaten AFC East rival Buffalo 38-7 this season and opened this week pegged as 151/2-point favorites – on the road, no less.

Belichick’s response to all that: “meaningless.”

“It’s a big challenge coming to Buffalo Sunday night with the way this team’s playing,” Belichick added. “Every game’s a big challenge. This is a big one.”

It’s important not to discount the Bills, a gutty team that’s overcome a rash of injuries and a 1-3 start to win four straight and five of six.

And yet they’re relegated to sideshow status because the perfect Patriots have top-billing in opening the final stretch of their magical history tour in a matchup the NFL and NBC deemed important enough to shift to prime time in the midst of sweeps month.

With a win, the Patriots would become only the 10th team since 1970 to open 10-0. A win would also inch New England within a victory of clinching a division title – and it’s not even close to December yet.

In the big picture, the Patriots own the spotlight because of their opportunity to run the table and join the 1972 Dolphins as the only modern-day NFL team to finish a season unbeaten.

They have Don Shula’s attention. The Hall of Fame coach recently suggested an asterisk should be placed next to New England’s record because the Patriots were caught in a spying scandal earlier this season.

None of that matters to the Patriots, who shrug off questions of “Spygate” or finishing 16-0.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with this game,” Belichick said.

Added linebacker Mike Vrabel: “It’s so ridiculous right now that it’s not even talked about.”

What’s ridiculous is how the Patriots have been head-and-shoulders better than the rest of the league, proving it further in their last outing at Indianapolis. New England rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to pull out a 24-20 win against the previously undefeated and defending Super Bowl champion Colts.

The four-point victory ended a run in which New England set an NFL record by winning its first eight games by 17 or more points.

The Tom Brady-led offense has been particularly unstoppable, with the Patriots leading the league in total yards (3,858), points (355), touchdowns (46), touchdowns passing (33) and first downs (234).

To put that into perspective, Buffalo produced 33 touchdowns, 300 points and 234 first downs all of last season.

“I would say it’s probably the most potent offense I’ve ever coached against,” Bills defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. “You probably have to get the Boston Celtics to score points with them.”

The Bills could use a Kevin Garnett or two on both sides of the ball.

Buffalo is down to four cornerbacks after Kiwaukee Thomas was placed on injured reserve this week. As strong as starters Terrence McGee and Jabari Greer have played of late, they’re undersized and have their hands full in attempting to contain a Patriots passing attack featuring Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte’ Stallworth.

The Bills’ offense needs even more help. The popgun attack that’s produced a mere 10 touchdowns this season will likely be without its most consistent threat after running back Marshawn Lynch sprained his left ankle in a 13-10 win at Miami last weekend.

With one touchdown passing, Lynch has had a hand in seven touchdowns, and ranks fifth in the NFL with 751 yards rushing.

“It’ll be tough,” receiver Lee Evans said. “Everybody in here knows what we’ve got and that’s all we need. So we’ll come out, we’ll play hard, we’ll play together and we’re going to come out swinging.”

History is also against the Bills. They’ve lost eight straight and 13 of their past 14 meetings against the Patriots. Buffalo has been particularly outmatched in the second game of its annual two-game series against New England, which has outscored the Bills by a combined 123-19 over the past four seasons.

The Bills have been discounted before this season, and responded by nearly upsetting Dallas on Oct. 8. The Cowboys rallied to win 25-24 by scoring nine points in the final 20 seconds.

“Nobody gives us a chance. Nobody ever gives us a chance around here,” safety Donte Whitner said. “We like that, though. We want to be the heavy underdog going into this football game so we can maybe shock some people.”

The Patriots aren’t biting, thanks in part to Belichick’s ever-focused approach.

“It’s a pleasure to play for him because you know you’re always going to be prepared,” Vrabel said of his coach. “I think he tries to hold us to a higher standard.”

The Patriots have set the bar very high this season to become the envy of the league.

“I’m sure every team wants to be 9-0. Hell, I’d want to be 9-0 if I was 0-9,” Brady said. “If people are envious that we’re winning games, then they can control that, too, and go out and play better.”

AP-ES-11-17-07 1253EST

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