ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WKBW) — Monday night's game in Orchard Park between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots is a big one.
The Patriots hold a half game lead in the AFC East and with just five weeks left of the regular season, a win on Monday night would go a long way for both teams as the AFC playoff picture is even more chaotic after this weekend's games.
What do we think will happen? Below are the team's final predictions ahead of kickoff:
This isn’t just another game and the players inside the Bills locker room know that
"Prior to this season we all set our goals and said that obviously, we want to make the playoffs, win the AFC East, we want to win the Super Bowl," wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "In order to do that we have to be able to beat this team. Right now, they're at the top of the AFC East and we understand that, we understand that this is a championship-caliber game in terms of the division. We've got to go out there and perform. A+ players need to play A+ football and everyone understands that."
So much is on the line Monday night. With a win, Buffalo will leap frog the Patriots and take over the top spot in the AFC East with five games to go. If the Bills lose, they’ll fall 1.5 games behind New England and have only a 28-percent chance at winning the division [according to the NY Times].
So what’s the X factor in this game? Besides the weather, it’s how well the Bills can contain the Patriots rushing attack. Both Damian Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson are having solid seasons and the Bills run defense has been incredibly inconsistent. If Bills DT Star Lotulelei plays that will be a boost for the home team, but he’s coming off the COVID list, so there’s no way of knowing how effective he’ll be if active.
And then there’s Michael McCorkle “Mac” Jones. The Patriots rookie quarterback has been exceptional this season. Do I think he’s the next Tom Brady? No I don’t. But I think he’s shown great composure early in his career and is a perfect fit for what the Patriots do on offense. Bills head coach Sean McDermott is 5-2 against rookie QBs in his career. That’ll improve to 6-2 *if* the Bills can force Jones into mistakes he really hasn’t made up to this point in the season.
On the Bills side of things, the home team cannot afford to turn the ball over. If the Bills lose the turnover battle against New England they’ll lose. In their last four games, Josh Allen has thrown seven interceptions. That’s a troubling trend that the Bills know needs to be cleaned up.
New England feasts on turnovers and no player is better at taking the ball away than cornerback J.C. Jackson. Chances are he’ll be going up against Stefon Diggs for most of the night. I think Diggs is an advantage in every matchup he’s in but he and Allen will need to be on the same page all night or else Jackson will pounce.
And just like the Patriots, the Bills will need to be effective when they run the ball, which may be more than we’re used to based on the forecast. I wouldn’t be shocked if Devin Singletary, Matt Breida, and Zack Moss are all active for this game. Moss had success against the Patriots last year and despite his struggles this season, I think the Bills trust him protecting the ball. The Bills backs should also get a boost from the offensive line, with Spencer Brown and Jon Feliciano both likely back in the lineup.So who’s going to win?
I haven’t picked against the Bills yet this season and that won’t be changing Monday night. It’s going to be an absolute battle but the tie goes to the team playing at home.
Bills: 20, Patriots: 19
Season record: 7-4
A massive game on Monday night in Buffalo is exactly what Bills fans have been hoping for, but I don't think anyone would've predicted the situation we're in now. At the start of the season, I thought this Monday night game *could* be a game where the Bills would all but secure their Division crown. Instead, it's for the team to stay alive in the Division race and more importantly, stay firmly in the playoff picture.
I've been going back and forth on this one because this will all come down to a few things: turnovers, stopping the Patriots run, and capitalizing on offense.
Unfortunately, I think things favor the Patriots more than the Bills in those categories. Turnovers have been an issue for Josh Allen as of late as Matt alluded to earlier in the article and we've also see the running backs have an issue holding onto the football. The Bills can't afford to make mistakes or this one could get ugly quick with a Patriots defense that's among the best in the league right now.
With the forecast for Monday night including high winds, we'll be seeing a lot of ground work and that heavily favors the Patriots. Yes, we've seen sparks from Devin Singletary and Matt Breida, but nothing compared to the work Damien Harris has put in this season. When he gets hot, he's hard to stop and the Bills defense NEEDS to keep him at bay or we'll be watching a repeat of week 6 and week 11.
The Bills offense has so been so inconsistent. When they get going, they're unstoppable. When they struggle, it's good news for the opposing defense. This is not going to be a shoot-out, rather which offense can capitalize in the red zone, which can move the ball the best, and which can take advantage of their matchups.
I want to pick the Bills, especially for my die-hard Bills fan father who had me on the phone for 15 minutes earlier today trying to break down what needs to happen. However given how both teams are currently playing, I'm going with the Patriots. If the Bills prove me wrong, I'm not picking against them for the remainder of the year... maybe.
Patriots: 24, Bills: 18
Season record: 7-4
Allow me to preface this with the fact that tonight would be a COMPLETELY different story with Tre'Davious White on the field.
Since Sean McDermott took over in Orchard Park, the Bills are 0-2 in the games that follow Thursday night contests. A full bye week is the complete opposite; Buffalo is 5-0 after their bye. But there's something about the so-called "mini-bye" that already favors the Bills.
The consistency of these two teams has also been night and day. The Bills haven't strung together back to back wins since Mid-October. The Patriots, on the other hand, haven't lost since mid-October. During their six game win streak, their average margin of victory is about 25 points per game.
If Buffalo's going to spoil the fun of New England's streak the same way Tennessee did for the Bills, a few things have to happen: Dane Jackson has to be the player he was in 2020. Buffalo needs the guy with a nose for the football and the guy who can hang in coverage.
On the other side of the ball, protecting Josh Allen is pivotal. With the elements being an X-Factor of their own, he might not even drop back very much to begin with. But in the Bills' four losses this season, Allen has been sacked 11 times. In their seven wins, Allen has only been sacked six times.
Without a win, Buffalo will start to lose control of its own postseason destiny. Throughout December and January, they could be looking around the rest of the league for some help.
Patriots: 22, Bills: 19
Season record: 6-5