The New England Patriots (9-5) will play the Buffalo Bills (8-6) at 1:00 EST on Sunday, December 26th in Gillette Stadium. The game will be broadcast on CBS.
After a sloppy loss to the Indianapolis Colts last week, the New England Patriots will look to bounce back on Sunday afternoon against the division rival Buffalo Bills.
The Week 16 matchup holds great importance for both teams. Whichever team wins will control their own destiny in the race for the AFC East crown. As far as regular-season games go, they don’t get much bigger than this.
While the Patriots and Bills faced off in Week 13, their upcoming matchup will most likely look a lot different. The wind in the aforementioned meeting greatly affected each team’s game plan. That said, just like in Week 13, it’s fair to expect the upcoming showdown between the Patriots and Bills to be closely contested.
Without further ado, here are the Patriots’ five keys to victory against the Bills.
Patriots Keys to Victory
Get pressure on Josh Allen and keep him in the pocket using a disciplined pass rush
Want to slow down a good Bills offense? Pressure Josh Allen and keep him in the pocket. Easier said than done, but that should be the goal of the Patriots defense on Sunday.
Allen, while being a very very good quarterback, can get a bit panicky in the pocket when the pressure is turned up. In the Week 13 game against the Patriots, Allen rushed multiple throws due to pressure. Not only was his accuracy affected by pressure, but he also failed to see some wide-open receivers because the pressure seemed to affect the way he saw the field.
Making him uncomfortable will be key in slowing down the passing attack. Matthew Judon and Christian Barmore will have huge roles in this game. Plus, I expect to see Bill Belichick try and confuse Allen with some interesting pressure packages.
In the Patriots’ first matchup with the Bills, the defensive line dominated in the trenches. Allen was pressured 16 times according to Pro Football Focus. A similar pressure rate would be of great help to the Patriots’ secondary.
All that said, when you’re facing a quarterback that’s dangerous on the ground, it’s’ important to have a disciplined pass rush. Flying up the field and opening up huge running lanes will be costly against a guy like Allen.
Remember, while the Bills lack a formidable traditional run game, the quarterback scrambling has been very effective. It’s critical the Patriots contain Allen in the pocket and get pressure because it will limit his big-play ability.
Score touchdowns in the red-zone
One of the areas the Patriots have struggled is red zone offense. New England ranks 20th in red-zone offense DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). Meanwhile, Buffalo ranks 8th in red-zone defense DVOA. If those trends continue into Sunday it doesn’t bode well for New England’s chances to win.
When in the red zone, the Patriots need to score touchdowns. Hunter Henry, as he’s been all season, could play a big role in that. Henry has nine touchdowns this season and has developed excellent chemistry with rookie Mac Jones.
Leaving points on the field in these types of games typically comes back to bite you, espically when the Buffalo offense has the potential to put up points in a hurry. This could be a game we see Josh McDaniels pull out a couple of trick plays in the red zone.
Exploit the Bills run defense
The last time the Patriots met the Bills, New England ran the ball 46 times for 222 yards. While the Patriots will assuredly mix more passes in the game plan for Sunday, it would be wise to continue to test the Bills’ run defense.
The New England offensive line had an impressive showing in Week 13 against a defense that knew they were going to run the ball on every snap. That’s the definition of bully ball.
It’s unclear whether or not Rhamondre Stevenson will play Sunday (he’s currently listed as having an illness), but after missing the Colts game Damien Harris will make his return against Buffalo. Harris had 111 rushing yards against the Bills in their first matchup. Combining Harris with an offensive line that’s already had success against the Bills front seven feels like an advantage for New England.
One dynamic that the Patriots didnt have at their disposal in Week 13 is the play-action pass. Theoretically, the Patriots running the ball well will help open up the play-action pass against a secondary that’s missing Tre’Davious White.
At the same time, it’s worth mentioning that the Patriots could be short-handed at wideout. Kendrick Bourne is currently on the COVID/Reserve list and Nelson Agholor is in concussion protocol. If those two can’t go this weekend, it only enhances the need for New England to dominate on the ground.
Limit self-inflicted mistakes
Plain and simple, the Patriots beat themselves last week. Penalties, turnovers, and special team mistakes were abundant.
You’re not going to beat a team like the Colts or the Bills by playing sloppy football. New England had multiple penalties at critical times last week, including an offsides penalty on a Colts field goal attempt. Indianapolis missed the field goal but got to retry due to the penalty and then converted. Mistakes like that just can’t happen.
Meanwhile, rookie Jones had two big interceptions, one of which was in the red zone. Jones bounced back in the second half and played a pretty solid football game, but the early mistakes were costly. Playing a turnover-free game is important. New England is 7-0 this season when winning the turnover battle.
As for the special teams, Nick Folk remains consistent, but the punt group has struggled. New England allowed a blocked punt last Saturday that was returned for a touchdown. All of these errors need to be cleaned up by Sunday.
Jump out to an early lead
The Patriots are built to play from ahead. Playing from behind limits one of the things they do best; run the football.
Best case scenario for the Patriots would be jumping out to an early lead, getting the crowd fired up, and controlling the game. Sure, that’s an ideal start for every team in the NFL, but for New England being able to utilize the running game along with the passing game is when they’re at their best. While some teams around the NFL have grown more one-dimensional (relying on the passing game), the Patriots have not.
An early lead would also build pressure on Buffalo. The Bills know the significance of this game and they may try and force things if things don’t go their way early.
Matchups to Watch
J.C. Jackson vs. Stefon Diggs
J.C. Jackson has had both good and bad moments against Stefon Diggs. The last time they matched up, in Week 13, Jackson more than held his own. I expect Jackson to once again match up with Diggs on Sunday. It will be a heavyweight fight between the two.
The Patriots pass rush vs. the Bills offensive line
The Buffalo offensive line is one of the weak points on their offense. New England exposed that the last time they met in Orchard Park, but that’s in the past now. They need to control the trenches again.
Judon against tackles Spencer Brown and Daryl Williams will be a fun individual battle to watch.
The Patriots offensive line vs. the Bills front seven
We talked about the Patriots’ offensive line and their past success against the Bills in the run game, but how they fair in pass protection is going to be something to watch. Ed Oliver, Jerry Hughes, and Gregory Rousseau is a solid group of pass rushers.
New England’s weapons and Mac Jones vs. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer
Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are excellent coverage safeties. They can quickly change a game with a key turnover. Jones and the Patriots’ weapons will need to be aware of wherever Hyde and Poyer are at on the field every single time they line up for a snap.
Patriots win 24-21
After a sloppy game last week, I believe the Patriots play much cleaner football against the Bills. It’s still going to be a battle, but the running game will lead the way and Jones will make some important throws to help close the Bills out. New England led by a master game plan by Belichick will do just enough to limit Allen and a late turnover will seal the deal.