One team is third in the AFC East, the other is first in the AFC. One team is scheduled to have its season end at Gillette Stadium this Sunday, the other is scheduled to have a first-round bye and home-field advantage for the Sundays after.
Week 17 may hold little significance for the 8-7 Buffalo Bills and the 12-3 New England Patriots, but the connections between the two sides are significant.
Here is look into 10 of the ties.
Marcel Dareus, Defensive Tackle: Before Dareus was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 draft, the 6-foot-3, 331-pound defensive lineman was a teammate of Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower at Alabama. The two played four games together along the Crimson Tide front in 2009, then 11 games in 2010. Hightower joined Dareus in the NFL as a first-round pick in 2012. And in 2014, both have lived up to the billing. Dareus has logged 48 tackles, 10 sacks and a forced fumble, while Hightower has logged 89 tackles, six sacks and one forced fumble. Roll Tide.
Corey Graham, Cornerback: Graham has never played for the Patriots, but the nearby University of New Hampshire product and Buffalo, N.Y., native has played for the Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens and Bills on both special teams and at nickelback. Sunday will mark the five time he faces the team located two hours south of where he went to college.
Jerry Hughes, Defensive End: Before Hughes was an Indianapolis Colts first-rounder in the 2010 draft, he was a Texas Christian Horned Frog and a teammate of current Patriots offensive tackle Marcus Cannon. Hughes left TCU one year before Cannon, but the two were familiar with one another. The 6-foot-6, 335-pound Cannon went against the two-time All-American defensive end in practice each day. Since then, Hughes has amassed 51 tackles, 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles this season, after joining the Bills and amassing 46 tackles, 10 sacks and two forced fumbles last season. And Cannon has played in all 15 games for the Patriots this season, starting three.
Kyle Orton, Quarterback: Buffalo’s starter behind center once threw a touchdown pass to New England defensive end Rob Ninkovich during their time with the Purdue Boilermakers in 2004. It was then that Orton was a senior quarterback and a soon-to-be Chicago Bears fourth-round pick; Ninkovich was a junior transfer, a reserve defensive end, a goal-line tight end, and one season away from becoming a New Orleans Saints fifth-round pick. Two yards were the end result of the lone statistic ever recorded between the two. The 32-year-old Orton has since recorded 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a member of the Bills this season, while the 30-year-old Ninkovich has recorded eight sacks as a member of the Patriots for the third consecutive season.
Lee Smith, Tight End: The 6-foot-6, 265-pound blocking tight end by way of Marshall entered the NFL as a Patriots fifth-round draft pick in 2011. Smith was waived by New England five months later in September. He was awarded off waivers to Buffalo the day after, and the 27-year-old has played in 55 games, catching 19 passes for 126 yards and three touchdowns since. Smith has caught six passes for 24 yards and a score this season.
Brandon Spikes, Linebacker: The 62nd overall selection in the 2010 draft, Spikes made his way to Foxborough where he spent four seasons with the Patriots. Spikes played 51 games for the team that drafted him, collecting 286 tackles, one sack, 12 pass breakups, two interceptions and five forced fumbles. His final game with New England arrived at Ralph Wilson Stadium last December, as the 6-foot-2, 255-pound inside linebacker was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury less than a week later. Spikes signed a one-year, $3.25 million deal with the Bills as free agency opened in March, following former Patriots linebacker coach Pepper Johnson. Since then, Spikes has wrapped up 54 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and three pass deflections for the Bills this season.
Marcus Thigpen, Wide Receiver: The well-traveled Thigpen has made his rounds across the AFC East this season. The former Miami Dolphins running back, who caught a game-winning 14-yard touchdown with 1:15 left versus New England on Dec. 15, 2013, joined New England’s practice squad in September before re-joining the Miami later in the month. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Indiana Hooser has since been a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and became a Bill in November. Thigpen returned a punt 75 yards in his Buffalo debut. He has netted 133 yards on nine punt returns and 92 yards on four kick returns over his four games with the team.
Danny Aiken, Long Snapper: Aiken signed with the Bills as an undrafted free agent via the University of Virginia in July of 2011. The long snapper was released by Buffalo before the start of the regular season that September and was claimed off waivers by the Patriots. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound specialist has played in 62 regular-season contests for New England since then.
Alan Branch, Defensive Tackle: A 2007 second-round draft choice out of Michigan, Branch went on to play four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and two with the Seattle Seahawks before signing with the Bills in 2013. The 6-foot-6, 335-pound defensive lineman played in all 16 games for Buffalo last season, starting 13, and totaling 39 tackles. Branch returned to training camp with the Bills this past summer before being released in late August. The 29-year-old officially signed with the Patriots on Oct. 29 and has since played in seven games, started one, and notched 10 tackles as well as a pass deflection.
Rob Gronkowski, Tight End: The three-time Pro Bowl tight end grew up 20 minutes east of Buffalo in Williamsville, N.Y. He attended Williamsville North High School for three years, where was named an All-Western New York first-team and All-State second-team player before moving to Pennsylvania as a senior. And from there, Gronkowski went on to become an Arizona Wildcat and later a Patriots second-round draft pick in 2010.