Game Preview: Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots
The time is here. The Buffalo Bills’ three week AFC East gauntlet has arrived. All three teams will having winning records when the Bills play them, all are in the playoff hunt, and all have the division title on their minds. Will Buffalo separate themselves from the rest of the division en route to their third straight AFC East title? Or will they continue to stumble against their divisional rivals and leave the door open for the Dolphins, Jets, and Patriots? Let’s dive in.
The Last Five
Bills 47 Patriots 17 (2022 – Playoffs)
Bills 33 Patriots 21 (2021)
Patriots 14 Bills 10 (2021)
Bills 38 Patriots 9 (2020)
Bills 24 Patriots 21 (2020)
The New England Patriots were 35-3 against the Bills from 2000-2019. (Despite sitting through every one of those games, I still can’t believe that is a real stat.) Since the new decade began, the Bills are 4-1 against the Patriots. The last time these two played was probably one of the best nights of every Bills fans lives… The perfect offensive game, the first full-capacity home playoff game in thirty years, and the complete evisceration of Bill Belichick and the franchise that terrorized the Bills for 20 years. For me, the best part was spending all day Sunday listening to the fan meltdowns on New England sports radio. It was amazing, a memory we will all have forever.
What To Watch For: Buffalo Bills
Miller-less D – We all know Von Miller was brought here to be a closer. With the opportunity to put the clamps on the division over the next three weeks, Miller would’ve been a key part of that. With his knee injury in Detroit last weekend, and as he decides how to proceed, the Buffalo Bills are in a difficult position. They must find a way to generate front four pressure without the help of the future Hall-of-Famer.
Greg Rousseau has taken a big leap forward this year, but many have attributed that to having Miller on the opposite side. Without Miller, Rousseau’s path to the quarterback might be a little more difficult. AJ Epenesa, Shaq Lawson, and Boogie Basham will have to step up to fill the void created by Miller’s absence. Meanwhile, the interior defensive line has played very well at times this year and Ed Oliver is coming off of his best game of the year. Oliver, Settle, Phillps, and Jones will all play a huge part of the success of this defense minus Von Miller.
Encore of Perfect Game – I mentioned it earlier; the last time these two teams played the Buffalo Bills literally were perfect. They scored a touchdown every time they had the ball and did not face a 3rd down the entire game. What do the Bills have in store for an encore performance? The only way they could top it would be to score on every possession and never face a 2nd down! Given how things have been going on offense lately that seems… unlikely.
While it is impossible to replicate their previous game, I am interested to see how the Bills look this week. Josh Allen said on Monday that the team understands the Wild Card game result has no bearing on this game whatsoever. I hope fans realize this too. The Wild Card game was a once in a lifetime game, and to hold the Bills to that standard every time they play Belichick would be silly, as awesome as that would be.
Feed Diggs – For the better part of the Thanksgiving game, Stefon Diggs was not part of the Bills offense. And, because of that, there were times when they struggled to move the football and put points on the board. With the game on the line, Allen decided to force-feed Diggs. The result was not surprising, as the Allen-Diggs connection helped the Bills take and regain the lead late. By now we all have seen the epic throw and catch which kicked off the game-winning drive for the Bills.
I would guess that if Stefon Diggs enters the 4th quarter with 3 catches for 12 yards, like he did last week, the Buffalo Bills will not leave Foxboro with a win. Diggs was relieved to get involved in the game and contribute to the last-second win. Let’s hope that the late game heroics and connection is a sign of things to come as the Bills hit this important stretch of their schedule.
What To Watch For: New England Patriots
Belichick vs. Allen – After Josh Allen schooled the Patriots three weeks after the hurricane game last year, I fully expected Belichick to have an answer for Allen in the AFC Wild Card game. Boy was I wrong. For the past eight quarters, the coach whom many consider the greatest of all-time has had no answers for Josh Allen. Allen has picked apart Belichick’s defense with ease. Even if you take away the hurricane game and go back to the 38-9 throttling at Foxboro at the end of the 2020 season, Allen has been unstoppable against the Patriots.
Once again, I am curious to see how BB attempts to slow down Allen this time. Belichick is catching Allen at a great time. He continues to struggle to regain his early-season MVP form. The defensive mastermind has great respect for Allen. However, you know he has seen Allen’s recent film and will to scheme up some challenges for the struggling quarterback. How Allen handles those challenges could determine the outcome of the game.
Matt Judon – The three-time Pro Bowl linebacker is on his way to an All-Pro season for the New England Patriots. Judon leads the league with 13 sacks in 11 games. He has also added 43 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 1 forced fumble. Judon has at least one sack in all but three games this year. Minnesota held him without a sack on Thursday, so the LB will look to get back on the stat sheet against the Bills. Buffalo is banged up along their offensive line, which presents a problem going into a matchup against Judon. While it looks like the Bills will get starting center Mitch Morse back, it seems like a longshot for LT Dion Dawkins to play this week, creating a weakness on the left side of the line for Judon and the Patriots to exploit all night long.
Injuries – While New England’s injury report isn’t as long as Buffalo’s, it is also noteworthy given the number of role players that are on it. Running back Damien Harris will not play this week, which will give impressive second-year back Rhamondre Stevenson an increased role. Wide Receivers Jakobi Myers and DeVante Parker were both limited participants on Monday; Myers was limited again on Tuesday and Parker was able to practice. Myers and Parker have accounted for nearly 40% of the Patriots’ receiving yards this year. Not having those players at full health could hinder Mac Jones and New England’s already modest offensive threat. The Patriots also have two offensive linemen and two defensive backs, including Jalen Mills, who have been limited this week. While all may play, they are not at 100% and in-game injuries and depth challenges the injuries present will be something to watch for the banged-up Patriots.
Patriots 27 Bills 24 It doesn’t happen often, but I am not picking the Buffalo Bills to win. This is just a gut feeling I have had since the first Jets game. The Bills seem to be in a rut right now and I am not sure they have the pieces on the roster to turn this season into the Super Bowl season that so many were expecting. While anything can happen in the playoffs, the Bills need to get there first. And, while I think they will, I also think they are catching the wrong opponent at the wrong time. The Bills barely got by on limited practice against the Browns and the Lions.
I think the snowstorm, lack of practice, constant travel, injuries, Allen’s turnovers, and facing a Bill Belichick defense is the perfect recipe for a Bills defeat. The Bills have played with fire for the past four games, and twice they succumbed to their mistakes. I hope I am wrong, but I see the Bills coming up just short and falling to 0-3 in the division, which will open up a whole bunch of questions about this team that we might not be ready to face.
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