Does anyone know who the AFC East leader is? How about the weather for this Monday Night? Has Mac Jones filed any interesting trademarks lately? The most talked about Buffalo Bills game of the season will top off the most interesting week of the season to date. Let’s break down the huge primetime matchup.
The Last Five
Bills 38 Patriots 9
Bills 24 Patriots 21
Patriots 24 Bills 17
Patriots 16 Bills 10
Patriots 24 Bills 12
Last year was one of the most enjoyable, and downright fun, seasons that Bills fans have ever enjoyed. Topping it all off was a sweep of the New England Patriots, including a Monday Night embarrassment of the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. A cathartic moment for 20 years of frustration and anger. Before last season we knew the story, the Bills could not beat Tom Brady; although Sean McDermott’s squad was closing on them just as Brady skipped town. The Bills will look for their first three-game winning streak against the Patriots since the 1999 and 2000 seasons.
What To Watch For: Buffalo Bills
Put Up or Shut Up
The Bills have been inconsistent en route to their 7-4 record through 11 games. They dominated JV squads such as the Jets, Texans, and Dolphins. But then, were put in their place by playoff contenders such as the Steelers, Colts and the Titans. Outside of a convincing win at Arrowhead, there has been nothing convincing about the Bills season at all. Preseason predictions of a 15-2 season and easily taking the #1 seed in the AFC apparently were too generous.
Outside of their losses, Sean McDermott’s squad has appeared arrogant and almost uninterested at times, as well. The Buffalo Bills as underdogs with a chip on their shoulder certainly play better than when they are media darlings. The time is now for the Bills. The Bills didn’t spend 5 years of ‘processing’ to turn the division right back to the Patriots after one season. There has been an insane amount of talk this week about Mac Jones and the Patriots. The Bills have it in their control to shut it all down. A win and the Bills are right back into the conversation for the #1 seed in the AFC.
Mr. $256 Million Man
If the Buffalo Bills are to win on Monday night, it will not be without their franchise quarterback (and hopeful NFL MVP candidate) having one of the best games of the year. Brandon Beane doesn’t give Josh Allen a record setting $150 million guaranteed to lose to a rookie quarterback at home. If the Bills do not win this game, Josh Allen should be eliminated from MVP consideration immediately. There is cause for concern as the Bills head into a game against a defense that lives off turnovers. Allen has been less accurate and more mistake-prone than he was last year. Over his last four games, Josh Allen has thrown seven interceptions and fumbled twice. Allen threw two more interceptions in last week’s beatdown of a terrible Saints team.
This week, the Bills tried to deflect, saying that not every interception was on Allen (receivers running the wrong route, tipped ball, etc.). However, that should not erase the fact that he has been too careless with the ball this year. Allen is telegraphing his throws much more than he did last year, and it is coming at a cost. If the Bills are to make a Super Bowl run, the 2020 Josh Allen needs to return… starting on Monday night.
The Thanksgiving Day win down in New Orleans proved costly for the Bills. All-Pro cornerback, and Louisiana native, Tre’Davious White suffered a season-ending ACL tear. The Buffalo Bills have dealt with injuries since Sean McDermott arrived in Buffalo but none as large as this one. The Bills making a deep playoff run without one of the best cornerbacks in the league seems unlikely. But nothing is impossible.
The hopes of a deep run now shift to Levi Wallace and Dane Jackson. Both will have to step up their games in a big way for what is still one of the best defenses in the NFL. How this defense performs without White as an outside anchor remains to be seen. White was the first player that Sean McDermott drafted to construct his perennial top-of-the-league defense. Losing such a vital part will test the Bills’ depth, as well as the creativity of the coaching staff, for the remainder of the season.
What To Watch For: New England Patriots
NFL All-Star rookie, who can play in every element known to man, future 10-time Super Bowl winner, Hall of Famer, and G.O.A.T. Mac Jones will play his first game in Orchard Park this Monday night. All kidding aside, Jones has been efficient this year, and impressive for a rookie quarterback. Like the Bills, the Patriots haven’t faced the stiffest competition during their 8-4 season, and during their league best six-game win streak. On Monday, Jones will be tasked to do what he has been doing all year: not look like a rookie. If Jones can continue to play efficient, mistake free football, then the Patriots have a legitimate shot of winning this game and returning to the top of the AFC.
The Bills defense under Sean McDermott have been content giving quarterbacks room to work underneath and limit the big plays over the top. Jones has been making a name so far this year on the underneath stuff. The vast majority of Jones’ completions have come within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. New England will likely follow a similar script, as the Bills will look to make Jones beat them with more than just the dink-and-dunk he has been used to. Mac Jones against one of the best defenses in the league will tell fans plenty about his development.
The Patriots are second in the league with a turnover differential of +10. Last week, in their 36-13 drubbing of the Titans, New England forced four turnovers but only turned them into six points. A lopsided game could have been much worse if the Patriots hadn’t gone cold in the red zone multiple times. Over the past three games, New England is averaging a +2.7 turnover margin, compared to the Bills’ -0.7 margin. An average difference of three in the turnover differential is why the Patriots are streaking and the Bills are treading water. Ball security seems to be much more of a talking point this year, one of the crazier seasons for upsets. Turnovers are the greatest equalizer in football and give the Patriots credit for turning them directly into wins.
Bill Belichick would not be the first coach the Bills would like to go up against in their first game without Tre’Davious White. Any wishes that Dane Jackson and Levi Wallace had of easing into a larger role on the defense were quickly squashed when they saw one of the greatest coaches of all time was next on the schedule. Belichick, like any great coach, is known for identifying and exploiting mismatches in opponents lineups and schemes. The Patriots vs. a White-less Bills defense is the matchup that scares me the most in this game. Belichick makes all of your shortcomings look worse. With the Bills’ ball security issues, lack of consistency in the red zone, and their shortcomings with physicality across the line of scrimmage, the future hall of fame head coach has spent the week licking his chops.
Prediction: Patriots 31 Bills 27
I have to stick with my gut. This prediction is not a declaration that the Patriots are back as rulers in the AFC East. More so my lack of confidence in this Buffalo Bills team. I went into this season thinking the Bills were clearly the best team in the AFC and were going to the Super Bowl. Frankly, what I have seen from them this year, in their wins and their losses, has convinced me that this team just doesn’t have the it factor needed to run the table. Or at the very least, they haven’t shown it yet.
Are the Bills waiting to play their best ball in December and January? They might. In that case, it is all a matter of who gets hot at the right time and getting the best matchups in the playoffs. The Bills have yet to put forth a good showing against a physical team this year. That, combined with Allen’s accuracy issues creeping up and the injury to White, is enough to convince me the Bills are going to fall short in this one. I hope that I am wrong. If so, I will gladly enjoy a nice breakfast of crow on Tuesday morning.