FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — So just what do the New England Patriots have for motivation against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday?

The Patriots (12-3) already have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs even if they lose Sunday. Will quarterback Tom Brady and other starters spend most or all of the game on the bench? Coach Bill Belichick isn’t giving any hints – only providing his standard non-answer.

“We’re going to do what’s best for the New England Patriots,” he said.

Brady probably will start behind the regular offensive line, hoping to go into the first-round bye with a better performance than last Sunday’s in a 17-16 win over the New York Jets.

“Nothing in the past has mattered. Nothing weeks from now is going to matter,” Brady said. “I just think everybody’s got to focus on what we need to do this week to try to make ourselves a better football team.”

He’ll face a strong defense – first in sacks, fourth in yards allowed, fifth in points allowed – that welcomes the challenge.

“I want them to start their starters,” Bills safety Aaron Williams said. “I need Tom Brady to step in my house. That would be great.”

Buffalo might be motivated, but is still out of the playoffs, ruining the chance for its first playoff berth in 15 years with a 26-24 loss last week to one of the league’s worst teams – Oakland. Now the Bills can salvage a consolation prize by beating one of the best.

Good luck with that.

Against the Bills, they Patriots are 12-0 at Gillette Stadium and 26-3 since Coach Bill Belichick arrived in 2000, the same year Buffalo began the longest current postseason drought. The Patriots have also won 35 straight home games against AFC teams, the longest streak in either conference since the 1970 merger.

So what would it mean to upset the Patriots on Sunday one week after being upset by Oakland?

“It’ll prove we don’t have any quit,” Bills center Eric Wood said, “because it would be real easy to fold up your tent and really focus on next year, but (this is) a big opportunity against a really good team who’s had our number for years.”

The Bills (8-7) already are guaranteed their best record since they went 9-7 in 2004.

“We’ve got a chance to play one more game coming off of a very disappointing loss,” Coach Doug Marrone said. “We want to get that taste out of our mouth.”

And if the Bills want to pull off an upset, they might need a big lead early in the game. The Patriots defense is stepping up late in games, allowing four field goals and no touchdowns in the second half of their past five games. With about five minutes left last Sunday, Vince Wilfork tipped a 52-yard field goal attempt by Nick Folk that would have given the Jets a one-point lead. Wilfork also had nine tackles, his most since making 10 on Dec. 4, 2011.

“We’re not taking anything for granted, especially this time of year,” Wilfork said. “You want to be able to win in December.”

NOTES: This season the Patriots have a franchise-record 115 penalties for 1,020 yards.

Both statistics rank in the top five in the NFL this season. The team record for penalties accrued (114) stood since 1985, while the mark for most yards (1,051) has survived since 1992.

When the Patriots last made it to the Super Bowl, they were practically penalty-free. In the team’s final 10 games of the 2011 season, including the playoffs, the Patriots committed more than three penalties just five times. In the AFC Championship Game, they were flagged once for 5 yards.

Running back Jonas Gray missed practice and was ruled out of Sunday’s game due to the ankle injury that he suffered against the Jets. Gray has received a heavy amount of treatment for the injury this week.

Though Gray was believed to have made some progress after a couple of practices, the Patriots are apparently using extra caution with him, according to a source. Gray had six carries for 5 yards and a touchdown with the hobbled ankle last week.

NEW ENGLAND linebacker Rob Ninkovich knows Bills quarterback Kyle Orton better than anyone in the Patriots’ locker room, as the pair were teammates at Purdue in 2004.

Ninkovich fondly remembered a game against Notre Dame in which he had a pair of sacks and also caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Orton.

“He’s a good quarterback,” Ninkovich said. “We go back a long ways. … I’m sure I’ll enjoy getting after him a little bit.”

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