This week’s Monday night matchup between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills will be a critical moment in the race for the AFC East division title. A win for the 8-4 Patriots would put them in the driver seat for the division crown, however, a win for the 7-4 Bills would do the same. Bottom line: the importance of a head-to-head victory can’t be emphasized enough.
Monday’s game will be played in front of a raucous Bills Mafia in Orchard Park. Considering the primetime road environment and the Bills being neck and neck with New England in the AFC East standings, this will be one of the Patriots’ biggest games of the 2021 season.
With Monday night approaching fast, here are my five predictions for the clash between the Patriots and Bills.
Predictions for Patriots vs. Bills
Bill Belichick unveils a defensive gameplan that slows down Josh Allen
NOTE: Kyle Dugger may miss Monday’s game, as he’s currently on the COVID-19 reserve list.
Josh Allen has had some ups and downs this season, but for the majority of the season, he’s played like a top ten NFL quarterback. Allen has a big arm, he’s mobile, and he’s improved his throwing mechanics tremendously. All that said, I forsee Bill Belichick putting together a defensive game plan that gives Allen trouble.
New England has a couple of things working in their favor when it comes to game-planning for Allen. Number one, Allen is susceptible to being confused by different coverage looks. About once a game, Allen seems to make an unexplainable throw into double coverage. Those typically happen as a result of a disguised coverage and/or Allen getting greedy and going for big plays when he shouldn’t.
New England disguising coverages and fooling Allen pre-snap will be a big piece in slowing down the Bills passing attack.
The second thing the Patriots have in their favor is the Bills’ lack of a running game. I’ll dive deeper into the Buffalo running game later, but the bottom line is that it’s hard to outplay a Belichick-coached defense when you’re one-dimensional on offense. Theoretically, New England should be able to devote a ton of resources to stopping the pass without having to worry too much about the running game.
The New England pass rush should also be able to do some damage. While Buffalo hasn’t given up a ton of sacks, they do give up a decent amount of pressures. Matt Judon and Christian Barmore are more than capable of making plays against the Buffalo offensive line.
The lack of a dynamic running game will hurt the Bills
The Bills’ biggest weakness on offense is undoubtedly their rushing attack. Buffalo ranks 19th in rush offense DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average).
The run blocking for Buffalo has been subpar and Devin Singletary and Zack Moss just haven’t got the job done. Quarterback Josh Allen, is by far their most efficient runner. For obvious reason though, he doesn’t get a huge number of carries per game. However, seeing how important Monday’s matchup is, it will be interesting to see if Allen gets an uptick in carries.
Beating a Belichick defense while being one-dimensional is extremely difficult, but beyond that, it’s also extremely difficult to rely heavily on the passing game in windy and wet conditions, like those that are forecast for Monday night. Buffalo needs to have at least some success running the ball if they want to win.
One thing that’s worth mentioning, is that the Patriots’ defense was very porous against the run last week against Tennessee. Could that happen again in Buffalo? Sure, anything can happen. But I predict last week was more of an outlier than a sign of things to come.
Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley have been key in stopping the run all year, and after a down week against the Titans, I suspect they both get back to playing high-level run defense.
Each defense will force some turnovers
According to DVOA, the Bills and Patriots have the top two defenses in the NFL, with the Bills being at number one and the Patriots at number two.
A big reason for their respective rankings is the playmaking ability each group possesses. Both defenses are tied for second-most takeaways in the NFL with 25. Combine each group’s playmaking ability with a weather forecast of possible snow and heavy wind and you have a receipt for multiple turnovers on Monday night.
On the Patriots side of things, J.C. Jackson leads the way with seven interceptions. Jackson picking of Allen would be no surprise to anyone. In fact, Jackson has often got the better of Allen over the course of their careers. Jackson has four career interceptions against the Bills quarterback.
As for the Bills, they have a pair of high-level safeties in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Mac Jones, while putting up good numbers last week, was a bit shaky throwing the football at times. If he makes some of those same mistakes this week both Hyde and Poyer will make him pay.
I primarily focused on interceptions, but fumbles will be something to watch too. The ingredients are all there for a sloppy offensive game from both sides. Whichever team makes the fewest critical mistakes will come away with the win.
The Patriots running game and the quick/short passing game will be the driving force on offense
Mac Jones has had a spectacular rookie season, but this is a game New England will want to protect him a little bit. The rookie is going into a hostile environment, in primetime, against a very good defense in poor weather conditions.
I expect New England to run the ball and rely on quick short efficient passes. Pushing the ball down the field could result in some unnecessary risks. Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers have consistently proven they can win in the short and intermediate ranges of the field.
Running the ball against Buffalo won’t be easy, as they rank fourth in run defense DVOA, but the Patriots have the offensive line, led by Trent Brown, and the running backs necessary to succeed. Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson are turning into one of the better young duos in the league.
Patriots win 24-21
I have New England winning, but it won’t be pretty. Both teams will have trouble moving the football on a cold windy night in Buffalo. Ultimately though, the Patriots’ ability to run the ball at a high level will be the X-factor. A turnover late by Josh Allen will help seal the win for New England and the Patriots will have a stranglehold on the AFC East.