Monday Night Football Preview: Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots
The AFC East champions will be playing in primetime in Foxboro in Week 16. But for the first time in 11 years, that team is not the New England Patriots. Three weeks ago, the Bills were still a team that was flying under the radar, a team that hadn’t gotten a lot of national attention and respect. Three dominant wins on national television later and the Bills are now considered Super Bowl contenders. Their fourth primetime game in a row is an important one, as the Bills will look to keep pace with the Steelers in the AFC and move closer to clinching the second seed in the conference. Let’s take a look at some of the important matchups as the Bills head to Foxboro for Monday Night Football.
The Last Five
Bills 24 Patriots 21 (2020)
Patriots 24 Bills 17 (2019)
Patriots 16 Bills 10 (2019)
Patriots 24 Bills 12 (2018)
Patriots 25 Bills 6 (2018)
Back in Week 8, and for the first time under Sean McDermott, the Bills found themselves on the winning end of a matchup with the longtime AFC East kings. Ever since Justin Zimmer punched the ball out of Cam Newton’s hands on the final drive of their Week 8 game, the two franchises have been heading in opposite directions, with the Bills winning the AFC East and the Patriots now eliminated from playoff contention and facing a quarterback crisis. The Bills will look to sweep New England for the first time since 1999.
What To Watch For: Bills
Records Breakers – This year has been one for the record books for two Bills Pro Bowlers. Both Stefon Diggs and Josh Allen have a chance to etch their names further into the team record books tonight. Stefon Diggs has already caught more passes than any other player in Bills history with 111 through 14 games. He is currently 54 yards behind Eric Moulds’ record for receiving yards in a single season, as well. Last week, Josh Allen did something that Jim Keely never did for Buffalo: eclipse 4,000 passing yards in a season. He now has his sights set on Drew Bledsoe’s franchise record of 4,359 passing yards. Allen is 359 yards away and has two games to take his place as number one in the record books. Allen is also three touchdown passes away from tying Kelly for most touchdown passes in the single season: 33.
The Belichick Effect – Josh Allen has played some of his worst games in his three-year career against Bill Belichick, including his personal worst–Week 4 last year where Allen finished with a 24.0 quarterback rating. This year, Belichick is also responsible for the worst game of Allen’s 2020 campaign, as Allen finished with just 154 yards passing, an interception, and a 65.5 rating. In four career games against the Patriots, Allen has a 1-3 record, a 50% completion percentage, averages 183 passing yards, 3 TDs, and 6 INTs. Here’s a bright spot: he does have two rushing touchdowns in those four games. While the Bills toppled the Patriots to claim the AFC East this year, the Bills will want to figure out how to get their star quarterback rolling against the Patriots, as they will be a factor again in the division before too long.
2019 Defense Returns – Similar to wanting to ride a hot goalie heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, football teams hope to ride a hot defense as they gear up for the NFL Playoffs. In recent weeks, the Bills defense has returned to what fans were expecting, the dominant unit that McDermott crafted during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. The Bills defense is getting hot at just the right time, and coinciding with the Bills offense that has been unstoppable over the last month, the Bills are thinking much more than one or two playoff wins this year. Look for the Bills defense to capitalize on a putrid Patriots offense that has not scored a touchdown in two games.
What To Watch For: Patriots
Quarterback Crisis – When the Patriots signed Cam Newton in the offseason, many fans and analysts wondered if the former MVP would return to his old self under the leadership of future Hall of Famer Bill Belichick. Needless to say, the Cam Newton experiment did not work out for the Patriots. Cam has an underwhelming stat line of 2,381 passing yards, five touchdowns, and 10 interceptions in 13 games. There was talk during the week that the Patriots would turn to Jarrett Stidham for their final two games, but reports over the weekend indicated that New England will stick with Newton under center. After these final two weeks, the Patriots will once again be in quarterback purgatory for the second straight offseason.
Stefon Diggs vs. J.C. Jackson – Covering the league-leading wide receiver and Pro Bowler, Stefon Diggs, has caused fits for every opponent for the Bills this year. That task was made considerably harder last week when Stephon Gilmore went down with a partially torn quad. J.C. Jackson has had a strong year, being tested often starting opposite Gilmore. He was snubbed of a Pro Bowl spot this week and has spent the year making a strong case to be the Patriots’ #1 corner next year if the Patriots chose to move on from Gilmore. Josh Allen will be testing Jackson often in this game but will want to proceed with caution. Jackson leads the Patriots with eight interceptions this year. One of those came against Allen.
One Trick Pony – Due to the aforementioned struggles at the quarterback position, the Patriots have relied on the run game to carry their once-dominant offense. The Patriots are ranked fifth in the league in rushing yards, averaging 145 rushing yards per game on the ground. It is quite a different story in the air, averaging just 185 yards passing per game, which is good for 30th overall in the league. At this point in the season, teams have pretty much established who they are, and the Patriots are a run-first team all the way through. That will be the Patriots’ path to victory in this game. Unfortunately for them, the Bills’ run defense is much better than they were in the Week 8 game between these two clubs.
Bills 32 Patriots 17 This game has me more worried this week than I expected after three straight dominant wins by the Bills. However, I am going to chalk up my nervousness to nearly two decades of Patriots PTSD and predict the Bills to win this one fairly easily. Until a team proves that they can stop the magical trio of Brian Daboll, Josh Allen, and Stefon Diggs, the Bills will be favored to win a lot of football games. I suspect the Bills to come out of Foxboro back in the driver’s seat for the two-seed and plant their division title flag in the stadium that has given them fits over the past 20 years.