FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (WKBW) — With a win, the Bills can take the lead in the AFC East. With a loss, the Patriots will clinch and Buffalo can bid farewell to the thought of a home wild card game. Can the Bills get it done on Sunday?
This is the classic case of going with your brain or going with your gut. My brain and gut have told me different things about this match up all week as the Bills prepare for their biggest regular season game in years.
With a win, the Bills will control their own destiny and are two wins away from back-to-back AFC East titles. If they lose, Buffalo could very well be on the outside of the player picture with two games left.
On our weekly show, Leading the Charge, I predicted that the Bills would win. That was before they lost wide receiver Gabriel Davis and offensive linemen Cody Ford to the COVID-19 list. Ford’s absence isn’t a massive issue for the Bills because it appears Dion Dawkins will be good to go on the line. But losing Davis is a big problem for the Bills.
As an offense, the Bills are much more efficient when Davis is on the field. Without him and fellow wideout Cole Beasley [also on the COVID-19 list], the Bills will need to rely on Emmanuel Sanders to return from injury and play a big role. Isaiah McKenzie will likely slot in where Cole Beasley would line up, but heading into a must-win game without two of your top four options is anything but ideal.
Defensively, the Bills will need to deal with a Patriots offense that can do a little bit of everything. Their bread and butter, as displayed three weeks ago, is running the football. The Pats will be without Rhamondre Stevenson, who had 24 rushes for 78 yards the last time these two teams met. But it looks like they’ll have Damien Harris, who hasn’t played since the Patriots win against the Bills on December 6. In that game, Harris torched the Bills for 111 yards on 10 carries.
To make matters worse for the Bills, they’ll be without Star Lotulelei, who didn’t make the trip for personal reasons. They’ll lean on Harrison Phillips to play a big role in the middle of the line.
If, and that’s a big if, the Bills can stop the run and jump out to a lead against the Patriots they can win this game. In fact, my brain tells me they have the better roster with the better quarterback. But my gut tells me they’ll come up short in a close game, just like they’ve done several times this year.
Patriots 26, Bills 23
Season Record: 9-5
Everyone knows what's on the line this weekend. It is truly the BIGGEST game of the year for the Buffalo Bills up to this point and with so much riding on this weekend's game, it truly is going to be a dog fight, like Josh Allen said in his press conference earlier this week.
Last game was truly difficult to evaluate because it wasn't an accurate depiction of how these two teams match up on an even playing field. This Sunday, while a December game, should give us a better idea as to whose strengths and weaknesses really help and hurt them.
We know the Bills defense needs to stop the run after giving up more than 200 yards on the ground in the first meeting. The Bills defense hasn't been horrible against the run when you look at the big picture, but those long gains (some for touchdowns) have definitely hurt them. Closing those gaps, controlling the line of scrimmage, and tackling is key. I'm not sure how much Mac Jones is going to throw in this game since the Patriots had so much success on the ground weeks ago. If they can force that to happen, I think it'd heavily favor the Bills secondary, especially with a depleted Patriots wide receiver room.
When it comes to the offense, Josh Allen and the pass game should just let loose. They got into the red zone FIVE times the last go-around, they just couldn't capitalize when it mattered most. They did that in brutal weather conditions.. so this weekend's game should favor their passing attack as long as everyone is healthy.
This one will be a close one because you are going to get your best from BOTH teams. That being said, who would've thought I'd be taking the Patriots to win in Orchard Park and the Bills to win in Foxborough?
Bills: 24, Patriots: 18
Season record: 10-4
For all the talk of forcing an opponent to become one-dimensional at One Bills Drive, the elements did that FOR them the last time Buffalo played the Patriots. It was one of the windiest days in recent memory, and New England QB Mac Jones only threw the ball three times.
We all remember how that one went.
Jordan Poyer called that 14-10 loss Buffalo’s worst tackling performance of the season. The run defense has been far from perfect since (see: Leonard Fournette), but keeping Chuba Hubbard and Cam Newton in check, especially in a game where the Panthers’ game script indicated that the run was coming, was a promising sign.
On the other side, Buffalo still went to the air, but not the way that they have over the last two season. Josh Allen’s 30 attempts a few weeks ago is tied for third fewest in 2021, and his 50% completion rate was the lowest since 2019. This year’s Josh Allen is NOT 2019 Josh Allen. And I expect him to prove it.
He’s going to miss one of his security blankets on Sunday— Cole Beasley’s presence on the COVID-19 list is going to hurt Buffalo’s rhythm passing game. But the quantity the Bills should go for through the air on offense should overload the Patriots’ defense.
Allen said all he wanted was to execute for Christmas. That’s not going to be waiting under the tree; he has to go out and get it. And I think he will.
Bills: 23, Patriots: 17
Season Record: 9-5