Three things on my mind as the Bills hit the road yet again. This time, to take on the Patriots…
Willie Nelson’s Favorite Team
The Bills will become the first team in NFL history to play three road games in 12 days on Thursday night. They managed the two road trips to Detroit in five days just fine, but I have to think all this travel is still wearing on them.
One of the concerns this week (maybe oddly for late November) is hydration. Ryan Bates pointed out that this is going to be a lot of football in a short period of time. Guys are practicing on a regular basis. Sweating on a regular basis. Retaining water is a focus this week. It’s just one example of why this stretch is causing an unusual strain on the Bills. Another is the bug that’s been going through the team. Sunday was another practice where Buffalo didn’t have the requisite players for full work.
I don’t care who the opponents are or what their records are. If the Bills can get through this stretch with three consecutive wins, that’s going to be a heck of an accomplishment.
Josh Look Out
The Bills got to face a couple of soft defenses during their two games in Detroit. This game in Foxboro will be entirely the opposite.
New England has one of the league’s best D’s and their strength is getting to the quarterback. The Patriots lead the NFL in hurry percentage (number of times a quarterback is hurried per drop back). They are also second in sacks and second in pressure percentage.
Defensive end Matthew Judon leads the way with an NFL-best 13 sack so far this season. The Bills tackles have struggled with elite pass rushers all year and Buffalo will be missing their best tackle in Dion Dawkins. With only Spencer Brown and David Quessenberry left at tackle, Judon has a chance to be a one-man wrecking crew.
The Bills will likely need to use tight ends and running backs a ton to help chip block on the edge. The most likely way the Patriots win this game is by making Josh Allen’s night miserable.
Josh Looks Good
I know it didn’t seem that way from the way Thanksgiving went in Detroit, but I thought Allen played one of his better start to finish games this year. He made some difficult throws, not only with placement down the field, but also hanging in the pocket when pressure was coming. There were lots of good decisions both with where to throw and when to tuck and run.
I think it’s also encouraging that Allen was a full participant in practice all week. It’s the first time since he injured his elbow against the Jets that he’s been able to throw in practice and–at least according to injury reports–have a normal week of preparation.
I don’t think the Patriots are going to let the Bills run all that much in this game. I know Devin Singletary and James Cook did well in Detroit, but those were against much lesser defenses. This is a game where the Bills are going to have to rely on their quarterback. I’m not sure if Allen will succeed, but I do think he’s in as good a position as he’s been to succeed for a few weeks.
Went 2-1 last week improving to 16-17 for the year. I’m now up one full unit.
- Devin Singletary under 53.5 yards. On top of all their pass defense success, New England is 8th in the NFL against the run and second best in allowing rushing touchdowns. I don’t think this is a game where Singletary or Cook find a whole lot of daylight.
- Tremaine Edmunds over 7.5 tackles. The Patriots like to run the ball, but aren’t all that good at it. Against the Jets (who have a fairly similar defense to Buffalo), New England also tended to target their running backs and tight ends underneath. Getting Edmunds healthy for this game could be huge because I think he’s going to get plenty of chances to make stops.
- Rhomandre Stevenson 50+ receiving yards. The Patriots top back topped this number in four of his last five games. Damien Harris won’t play for New England. That should give Stevenson a few more opportunities. I’m also getting this number at +176. It’s a nice bet for something that’s happened way more often than not recently.
- Also like: Allen over 42.5 rushing yards. Tough game, tough defense usually means lots of Allen runs. Stefon Diggs anytime touchdown. Diggs has scored in seven of 11 games this year and both his previous trips to Foxboro with the Bills.
This might be an opportunity for the Bills defense to have a statement style game. The Patriots offense is very not good. Mac Jones will execute the basic stuff, but does little that wows anyone. The vaunted New England run game actually is only 27th in the NFL in yards per carry.
The Bills are getting healthy on defense with Edmunds and Greg Rousseau coming back to the starting lineup. Tre White should play more than the 15 snaps he had last week against Detroit. It would not surprise me to see the Bills defense really put the clamps on the Patriots Thursday night.
On the flip side, the Patriots talked quite a bit about having their tail handed to him in the last two games against Buffalo last year. Two games without forcing even a punt. The last game being the rare perfect offensive game in the NFL. I have to believe New England is going to be loaded for bear Thursday night.
Bill Belichick needs a comeback of his own in this game. In the regular season contest against the Bills at Foxboro last year, Belichick didn’t rush Allen all that much. It seemed his game plan was prioritizing containment and preventing scramble plays. So, Allen just sat back in the pocket and diced the Patriots for 300 yards and 33 points. I figured Belichick would try something different for the playoff game in Buffalo since that strategy worked so poorly the first time. He did not. And things, somehow, went worse.
I’m very curious to see what Belichick does this time. One would think a new game plan is warranted, but blitzing and attacking the quarterback forces the Patriots into more man and limited numbers in coverage. New England couldn’t handle the Bills speed in those situations. There aren’t a ton of options. Belichick is still a Hall of Fame coach and one of the best. I think it would be crazy to expect his game plan would fail so miserably a third consecutive time.
This is going to be really tough spot for the Bills. Facing a motivated team, on the road, at the back end of the most difficult travel stretch in league history. At some point, all that flying back and forth is going to take a toll on this team. Maybe that game was Thanksgiving win against the Lions and maybe the Bills have already survived it. Or maybe that impact is still yet to come.
I don’t like the Bills won’t have Dawkins in the game where they arguably need their best tackle the most. I also don’t like that the Bills will be without Von Miller. Ed Oliver is off a great game and Rousseau has been improved, but this pass rush wasn’t all that intimidating without Miller last year. Jones is hardly a threatening quarterback, but he will find open receivers if allowed to loiter in the pocket.
I think Allen, Diggs and Oliver can carry the Bills to a win in this game. But I’m not going to predict it. Before Bills fans get all that worried about a pick against them in this space (And I doubt they will), I think it’s fair to point out that I picked against Buffalo in each of the last two games against New England last year. Not only did the Bills not lose either, they did not even punt in either.
Hopefully for BillsMafia’s sake, my anti-magic works again this week. For the record, I’m taking the Patriots 20-17.