FOXBORO, Mass. — Jimmy Garoppolo should be ready to see his first real NFL challenge Sunday.

The New England Patriots rookie quarterback is expected to play a considerable amount of snaps against the Buffalo Bills in what is technically a meaningless game. The Patriots have locked up the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, and it’s not worth risking injuries by keeping starters in throughout the game.

Garoppolo has played in five games this season in mop-up duty. His highest concentration of snaps came in Week 4, when he completed 6 of 7 passes for 92 yards with a touchdown pass. He was 3-of-3 passing against the Chicago Bears in Week 8 after the Patriots already were leading 51-23.

This is the fourth time the Bill Belichick-led Patriots have gone into Week 17 having already clinched a playoff seed, according to research by The Boston Globe. It also happened in 2004, 2007 and 2010. Starting QB Tom Brady started but didn’t finish his Week 17 matchups in 2004 and 2010.

That means that Garoppolo likely is set to see at least a quarter worth of action Sunday against the Bills and possibly more. He was solid as a rookie in the preseason, completing 58.2 percent of his passes for 618 yards and 7.8 yards per attempt with five touchdowns and just one interception. He started the Patriots’ final preseason game against the New York Giants and impressed enough that the Patriots traded fourth-year Patriots backup Ryan Mallett to the Houston Texans.

Of course, that was just the preseason, and he spent most of that game playing against the Giants’ backups. The Bills don’t have anything to play for, but it’s unlikely that they’ll rest starters purely on the basis of pride.

The Bills are a difficult challenge for the Patriots, and especially a rookie QB like Garoppolo. They rank fourth in total defense and third in passing defense, allowing just 209.9 yards through the air per game. They lead the NFL with 50 sacks, and their 19 interceptions rank fifth in the league. The Bills’ defense is allowing just a 74.9 passer rating.

Tom Brady tore the Bills apart earlier in the season, completing 27 of 37 passes for 361 yards and four touchdowns without a turnover. If Brady can have similar success to start off Sunday’s game, then we’ll likely see Garoppolo earlier and longer than Brian Hoyer in 2010 (one half) and Rohan Davey (one quarter) in 2004.

Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images