This has been one of the wildest NFL seasons in recent memory. Every Sunday of the year, we’ve had upsets and massive jostling of playoff position. Three weeks ago, the Buffalo Bills went from having the one seed in their grasp, to losing the division lead, to losing the ability to control their own destiny. Now, they are back to controlling their own destiny and, possibly, hosting a first round playoff game at Highmark Stadium this January. A rematch against the New England Patriots stands in their way and the steaks could not be any higher. Win Sunday, and you have the Falcons and Jets left to win the division. Lose, and you surrender the division to Mac Jones and the Patriots.
The Last Five
Patriots 14 Bills 10 (2021)
Bills 38 Patriots 9 (2020)
Bills 24 Patriots 21 (2020)
Patriots 24 Bills 17 (2019)
Patriots 16 Bills 10 (2019)
The Bills will play the Patriots again just three weeks after the historically bad weather game on Monday Night Football. Typically, after playing a team twice, you have a pretty good idea what they are going to do. Thanks to the windstorm back on December 6th, this feels more like the first time these two teams are meeting this year. With normal weather in the forecast, it will give us a sense of who is truly the better football team.
What To Watch For: Buffalo Bills
Allen Must Be MVP Caliber
When Josh Allen signed his contract extension, which included the most guaranteed money in NFL history, he said, “they are paying me not for what I’ve done, but for what I am going to do”. Winning back-to-back AFC East titles would fall under that description. Two weeks ago, Josh Allen took over the game in the second half against the Buccaneers and was unstoppable. Offensive line issues didn’t allow Allen to have a similar day against the Panthers, but he still made some eye popping throws, showing that his foot is not hindering his production.
Josh Allen, the franchise quarterback with a record contract (who finished second in MVP voting last year), must outplay Mac Jones… and not by a small margin. For the Bills to convince themselves and their fans that they are contenders, Allen needs to be the main reason why the Bills win this game.
Force Pats to Be One Dimensional
When these two teams met three weeks ago, the Bills didn’t have to force the Patriots to be one dimensional on offense. Mother nature took care of that for them. After watching the Colts defeat the Patriots last Saturday night, many players noted the importance of getting up on the Patriots early, forcing them to be a passing team. Another way of saying that is: make Mac Jones beat them. The Buffalo Bills are banking that Mac Jones cannot get the better of the their defense enough to win the game.
I tend to agree with that, but it will require the offense to be on board as well. One way to make the Pats one dimensional is to stop the run and force them to pass the ball. Another way to make them one dimensional is for the Bills offense to score early and often. This will force Mac Jones to play catch up throughout the game and, hopefully, force him into some rookie mistakes.
COVID-19 continues to impact the NFL season with record number of players being placed on the COVID/reserve list daily. On Tuesday, wide receiver Cole Beasley was added to the list, forcing him to miss Sunday’s game. Fellow starters currently on the COVID list are Dion Dawkins, Jon Feliciano, Gabriel Davis, and A.J. Epenesa. It is unclear if Dawkins and Feliciano will be able to play on Sunday. Since both are vaccinated, they could play on Sunday if they test negative and are asymptomatic.
As the virus makes it way feverishly through the NFL, the Buffalo Bills are getting hit at the worst time. If you recall, just hours before the Monday night game against the Patriots, linebacker A.J. Klein tested positive. In a game in which the Bills could have used the help stopping the run, Klein’s absence was not ideal. Bills fans, management, and even the players, are holding their breath that more players don’t test positive in these final few weeks of the season and the postseason.
What To Watch For: New England Patriots
Much is unknown about the Patriots’ game plan going into this game. The Bills’ coaches have admitted the difficulty in that this week. It is safe to assume the New England Patriots will try to establish the run, given the success they had three weeks ago. It is also safe to assume that Mac Jones will throw the ball a tad bit more than three times. Aside from that, the Bills will be guessing what the Patriots will do with personnel and some of the smaller details with the scheme.
From the Patriots’ stand point, does it even make sense to change it up? They imposed their will on the Bills defense, racking up 222 rushing yards. And that was with the Bills knowing they were going to run. The Bills expect the Patriots to run the ball, so will Belichick surprise them with a pass-heavy game plan? Given the Patriots struggle to win games when relying on Mac Jones, a run-heavy game plan would make the most sense.
We can’t talk about how COVID is impacting the Bills without mentioning how it is impacting the New England Patriots, as well. The team’s leading receiver, Kendrick Bourne, was added to the list this week, but came off Saturday. (They will still be without Nelson Agholor and N’Keal Harry were both injured against the Colts last Saturday.) In addition, linebackers Harvey Langi, Cameron McGrone, and Ronnie Perkins were all added to the list. The linebackers added are all depth players, and won’t have the impact that missing Bourne would have.
The Future Is Now
Patriot fans and media won’t be honest with themselves. They will tell you they knew Mac Jones and the team could win the division this year and contend for a Super Bowl. The truth is, the New England Patriots’ rise this year was unexpected. It is a nice story for a team and city that is starved for a winner. After all, it has been three long years since the organization won their sixth Super Bowl in 18 seasons. A win on Sunday would accelerate the Patriots’ rebuild and firmly assert them as the best team in the AFC East once more.
For an organization looking to replace the greatest quarterback of all time, the fact that they are in a position to reclaim the division after one year is a dream scenario. For Mac Jones and the Patriots, the future is now. Can they pounce on the opportunity to win the AFC East, or will they watch their chances deflate away this Sunday?
Prediction: Bills 27 Patriots 16
The Buffalo Bills haven’t been impressive this year. They just don’t seem to have the it factor that they had last year. Despite that, I can’t give up hope that the Bills are going to take full advantage at this final attempt to win the AFC East despite some inexcusable and embarrassing losses this year. I don’t believe the Bills will let New England run on them like last time. When push comes to shove, I am going to bet on the Bills defense, which has been fantastic since McDermott arrived, to get the better of a rookie quarterback. While the Patriots know the Bills’ chances of victory lie in the hands of Josh Allen, they will struggle to limit his impact on the game. Go Bills and Merry Christmas!