It’s not often that a game between a 5-2 team and a 2-4 team is billed as the game of the year (so far) for both teams. But yet, here we are. It seems that with each passing day this week, the anticipation for this game increases, and the importance is intensified. On paper, you’d think the Bills have a favorable matchup, but given the history between these two teams, let’s dive a little deeper than the paper.
The Last Five
Patriots 24 Bills 17 (2019)
Patriots 16 Bills 10 (2019)
Patriots 24 Bills 12 (2018)
Patriots 25 Bills 6 (2018)
Patriots 37 Bills 16 (2017)
Unless you have been living under a rock since 2001, you know that Bills/Patriots games have not been kind to Buffalo. In these last five, it is interesting to see how much the offense has struggled, as they have never scored more than 17 points against the Patriots under Sean McDermott. The Bills will have to end that streak this week if they plan on ending an even bigger streak, 7 straight losses to New England.
What To Watch For: Bills
Offensive Line – While reviewing what went wrong for the Bills last week, the offensive line was frequently to blame. More specifically, guard Ike Boettger had a really rough outing. An underrated move for the Bills this week is Guard Jon Feliciano coming off IR and back into the starting lineup for the first time this year. Let’s hope that he returns to the impressive 2019 version of himself in a hurry, as the Bills need help along the offensive line and in the running game. Especially with the forecast calling for significant wind, the Bills will want to rely on the run game in this one.
Injury Bug – How is this for a list? Cody Ford, Jerry Hughes, Micah Hyde, Isiah McKenzie, Matt Milano. Unfortunately, this is not a list of Pro Bowl players for the Bills but instead just a handful of players who were either limited or did not practice for the Bills on Thursday. Despite a relatively healthy offseason, the games have not been kind to the Bills from an injury standpoint. Each week, the injury list seems to grow with players that they cannot afford to lose. The Bills bye week is still three weeks away, but they need it now in the worst way. Injuries played a key role in the Titans’ loss. All we can do is hope they don’t hold the Bills back in this one, too.
Changing of the Guard – The Patriots have been the king of the AFC East for the last 20 years. Their streak of 11 straight division titles is in serious jeopardy, and a Bills win this weekend would essentially end all hopes of extending that to 12 years. You can feel the excitement in the air around Buffalo this week. Of course, the excitement is not what it would be if Brady was still here. This is a game where fans not being in the stadium really stings, as well. Bills fans are ready for a changing of the guard in the division, and frankly, I think the players are too.
What To Watch For: Patriots
Must Win Mentality – The Patriots are viewing this week as a must-win game; that’s what Cam Newton referred to the game as on Thursday. Similar to what we saw last week from the Jets who came out firing, I think we will see the same from New England this week. The Pats are desperate, and they probably see the Bills as a vulnerable team who were lucky to come out with a win last week against the worst team in the league. I know it is only Week 8, but this really is their last-ditch effort to claw their way back into the division. If the Bills can withstand the initial surge from the Pats without too much damage, then they should be in the driver’s seat as the game progresses.
Cam Newton – Many media members and fans were quick to annoint the Bills pre-season favorites to win the AFC East after Tom Brady announced he was leaving the Patriots. When the Patriots signed Cam Newton in July, many of those same media and fans changed their predictions, seemingly forgetting that all 32 teams passed on Newton every day of the entire offseason for months on end. Recently, Newton is showing us why he lasted until July on the Free Agent market with some really awful performances against the Broncos and 49ers. However, I would not count out a surprise game from a former NFL MVP, especially one who will want to put on a show for his former bosses, Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane.
Stephon Gilmore – Expect to see a lot of the previous Bills player this weekend, as he will be shadowing Stefon Diggs. Last year, John Brown completely undressed Gilmore, and I look forward to seeing what Diggs can do on Sunday. What is more than an undressing? Getting the player traded? Diggs might do that, as rumors are swirling about Gilmore and his future with the Patriots organization. What else could potential suitors ask for this week? They will be able to see Gilmore going up against one of the best receivers in the game. How he performs will either drive the price up or down for him. The chess match between those two players will be one of the best parts of the game this weekend.
Bills 27 Patriots 16 After falling for Rex’s spell back in 2015 and picking the Bills to beat New England before ultimately getting embarrassed and exposing Rex as a fraud in Week 2, I swore to never pick the Bills to beat the Patriots until Tom Brady was gone. It is no secret that the Bills have had their focus on New England since McDermott came to town, as the “top dogs” in the division. This is the Bills chance they have been waiting for. Too bad they can’t overtake the Patriots with Brady; that would have been much sweeter than the Newton-led version. I believe that Josh Allen will put together an impressive showing on offense. McDermott knows Newton’s weaknesses first hand, and I expect him to use those to negatively impact him on Sunday.