By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — This doesn’t seem like your standard trip to Buffalo.

Yes, this is the same Ralph Wilson Stadium where the Patriots are 12-2 since 2001, outscoring the Bills by a ridiculous margin of 407-174 — or 29-12 per game. And yes, it is the same Bills franchise against which Tom Brady owns a 23-3 record as a starting quarterback (and one of those losses was last year’s Week 17 matchup, which for the Patriots served as light cardio work before embarking on a playoff run).

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Yet there is newfound optimism out in Western New York, thanks in large part to Rex Ryan’s arrival. The defensive whiz inherited an already dangerous defense and infused a level of swagger and confidence that has the rest of the AFC on notice. While serious question marks remain about Buffalo’s capabilities on offense, the defense is guaranteed to cause problems — and win some games — this season.

So the job becomes a bit more difficult for Bill Belichick and his charges as they head to Buffalo this weekend. Here’s what to watch for.

The Gronk Plan
The Pittsburgh Steelers did such a poor job of covering Rob Gronkowski that Rex Ryan couldn’t help but take a shot at Mike Tomlin this week.

“Obviously you don’t just put one guy on [Gronkowski]. That has been proven,” Ryan said before delivering his jab. “I will say this though: it is better to put one guy on him than nobody on him. This just in. So we will try to put … we will try to have somebody on him at least.”

It sounds good in theory, but the issue for Rex — and most NFL coaches — is that nobody on his roster can really handle No. 87. Gronkowski is simply too tall and fast for linebackers, and he’s too strong for safeties. (Feel free to ask Ryan Mundy or Sergio Brown about that.)

Gronkowski has found some success vs. Ryan’s defenses with the Jets, with the tight end catching 39 passes for 461 yards and five touchdowns in eight games. That included an 8-113-2 performance in 2011, a 6-78-2 showing in 2012 and a 114-yard showing in 2013.

Gronkowski has also proven very capable of putting on a spectacular show when playing in his hometown, where he averages six catches for 90 yards and more than a touchdown per contest in his four games in Buffalo.

Atop the list of priorities for that fierce Buffalo defense has to be No. 87.

Brady Protection
Of course, what Rob Gronkowski does won’t matter much if Tom Brady spends the afternoon on his back. And that’s surely what the Buffalo front seven intends to accomplish.

In last season’s meeting in Buffalo, the ferocious Bills pass rush only sacked Brady twice — once by Jerry Hughes, once by Mario Williams — and both took place in the first half. After some halftime adjustments, Brady torched Buffalo, going 15-for-17 for 274 yards and three touchdowns in the second half.

The Bills did record six QB hits on the day, with Dan Connolly leaving early due to a concussion. But Brady adjusted and looked like his Hall of Fame self after a slow start.

This time around, getting after Brady with more success will be the key for Buffalo. Once again, Brady will stand behind a shaky offensive line. Bryan Stork is out, and Ryan Wendell’s unexpected absence for the second straight week (illness) forces a combination of rookies David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson to guard the interior, along with third-year lineman Josh Kline.

Brady made it work in Week 1, utilizing some quick passes to his advantage in going 25-for-32 for 288 yards and four touchdowns against Pittsburgh. Buffalo’s best bet to limit a repeat performance would be to play the receivers aggressively at the line of scrimmage, disrupting the timing of plays, ideally to give the pass rush a few extra ticks to get after the quarterback.

It sounds easy enough in theory, but it’s always a whole lot tougher to execute on Sundays.

What Is Tyrod Taylor?
Sometimes, sports analysis can be difficult. Other times, it’s quite easy.

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And so, it’s been no surprise over the past month or so to see just about every single breakdown of the Buffalo Bills to include some line which essentially said, ” … but Tyrod Taylor is their quarterback, so we’ll see just how good they can be.”

What was surprising was Taylor’s impressive showing last week vs. Indy. He took advantage of a brutal Colts rush defense by picking up 41 yards on the ground, including a 31-yard scamper before halftime that helped set up a Buffalo touchdown. And he was mightily efficient in going 14-for-19 for 195 yards and a touchdown. That included a nicely thrown deep ball to Percy Harvin for a 51-yard touchdown.

Of course, it was just one game, and it came against a defense that will probably finish in the bottom-third of the league this season. Yet Taylor showed enough in that game to at least raise some antennae around New England that the defense has to be ready for anything.

Considering how jacked up that home crowd will be, the key to slowing the momentum will be to limit the big play. And whether that’s with the sneak attack deep ball or the above-average escapability, Taylor is at least capable of providing one.

Will Things Get Nasty?
Rex Ryan’s impact on the Bills franchise can’t be properly measured just yet, but if anything’s clear right now it is the fact that the head coach is encouraging his players to flap their gums however much they’d like.

Despite having no real reason to feel incredibly confident going against the Patriots (no, a Week 17 win over a Gronkowski-less, Edelman-less Patriots team with just one half of football from Brady does not count), the Bills seem awfully sure of themselves heading into Sunday.

Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, coming off his one-game suspension, stated things quite definitively this week when he said, “Don’t nobody likes the Patriots. Let’s just be honest about it now.”

That’s quite honest, Marcell.

Safety Aaron Williams, who may be tasked with trying to limit Gronkowski, expanded upon Dareus’ point.

“I don’t like New England, so yeah it’s definitely personal for me. That’s just the way I feel,” Williams said. “Just the way they carry themselves on the field and stuff. All the stuff that has happened to me in the past with some of the players has definitely gone through the roof for me. That’s a reason it’s personal for me and they’re our rival. It’s the history. So it’s not just personal. It’s the Buffalo Bills’ history.”

(The Bills are 2-6 vs. New England since Williams entered the league.)

The trash talking has even extended outside of the locker room and onto Twitter, where some emboldened social media manager lobbed some heat toward the Patriots after hearing Belichick say the Buffalo fans will be “as loud as we allow them to be.”

In the shocker of all shockers, you didn’t really hear much chatter going back in the other direction. Instead, you got this from Chandler Jones: “That’s how you’re a professional. Professionals should carry themselves that way. Let your pads do the talking, not your mouth. Personally, that’s how I was raised — being quiet through it all, just let people see you and not hear you for the most part.”

So while the Patriots may not be participating in the verbal battles, they’re certainly hearing what the Bills have had to say.

Will any of that translate into some rough stuff after the whistles on Sunday? If it gives his players some sort of edge, something tells me Rex would be willing to take a few penalties.

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Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here. You can email him or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.