The Patriots Need to Step Up Against Josh Allen and the Bills
It wasn’t what you would call an ideal weekend for the New England Patriots. And that’s not even factoring in their loss last Thursday evening. Wins from the New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals, and Los Angeles Chargers have pushed the Patriots out of a playoff spot with six games to go. Not only that, four of the Patriots' remaining six games are against teams currently in the AFC playoffs, with two of those being against the Buffalo Bills.
Since coming out of a Week 6 bye, the reigning AFC East Champions are playing just above .500 football, with losses to the Jets and Vikings. The Bills are also facing some team sickness issues currently, on top of some key injuries, including one to Von Miller, as well as Micah Hyde who has been done for the year since September with a neck injury. Even Josh Allen has been dealing with a UCL issue in his throwing elbow for several weeks now.
Despite this, the Bills find themselves in a good spot, currently sitting at 8-3. Although those eight wins have by no means come easy most of the time, those three losses are by a combined eight points. With that said, something about the Bills has felt off to me this year, ever since their bye week, and perhaps a little before that really. Eight wins are eight wins though.
Safe to say, for the time being, the Patriots are not in control of their own destiny. Fumbling the proverbial bag in multiple winnable games will do just that to a football team. This tilt against the team that steamrolled them out of the postseason will tell us a lot about this team moving forward. Are they still a playoff contender? Or will New England end up in Football Purgatory (anywhere from 6-11 to 9-8 ish) for the second time in three years?
Date: Thursday, December 1st
Start Time: 8:20 EST
Location: Foxborough, Massachusetts
Stadium: Gillette Stadium
TV Info: Amazon Prime Video, Fox (Locally), Twitch (With Amazon Prime) (Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit on the call)
Uniform Info: Pat Patriot Throwbacks (Red Facemasks)
Although the Bills are a good defense both on paper and in practice, there are some concerns with this unit. Firstly, since Week 7, they have given up 23.6 points per game. One of the reasons for that is the lack of production in the secondary. Last year the Bills were the No. 1 pass defense in football, allowing an average of 163 yards per game. Now allowing over 220 yards a game, Buffalo sits just outside of the top half of the NFL. Save for the season-ending issue for Micah Hyde and the departure of Levi Wallace, this is roughly the same unit as last season.
There is some good news, however, Tre’Davious White, who missed the home stretch of last season, just returned last week in Detroit after a torn ACL last Thanksgiving. Hard to say where he is at after one game, but he was considered a consensus top-five, borderline top-three, cornerback in the game. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frasier must be over the moon to have him back in the fold. Especially since rookie corner, Christian Benford was just put on injured reserve days ago. Yeah, it’s been one of those seasons for the Bills if you couldn’t already tell. With that in mind, keep an eye out on No. 7 Terron Johnson on Thursday Night. Based on his team-high times targeted, completions allowed, yards per completion, and five allowed touchdowns, he could be someone to slip up in coverage.
Rushing yards, as expected, likely won’t be coming easy for the Patriots, or anyone else for that matter when playing Buffalo. The Bills have gotten better in run defense from last season but have had some bad outings. Namely against the Jets, Ravens, and Packers, who averaged 181 rushing yards against the Bills, with the Ravens 162 yards being the worst. Although they and the Packers ended up losing, the Jets were able to get the Bills in a rock fight and stick with the run for the full 60 minutes and ended up beating them in their barn. No guarantee that happens with the Patriots, but they have the personnel for it.
Von Miller is going to be on the shelf for at least this week, but the Bills may have dodged the mother of all bullets. That’s because Miller does have some lateral meniscus damage that he can play through. Granted, the former Super Bowl MVP will be inactive for the short term. In his absence, the Bills need to make up for about 33 percent of their sack production going away. Second-year edge rusher Gregory Rousseau will likely be the guy to step up in this case. Injuries have held him to just eight games this season, but Rousseau also has five sacks and nine quarterback hits. Ed Oliver, A.J. Epenesa, and Shaq Lawson, among others, also need to step up in Miller’s absence.
Let’s start with Josh Allen, shall we? Everywhere you looked before the season began the Bills were a Super Bowl favorite, largely due to Allen, who himself was an MVP favorite. At the beginning of 2022, he was up to the billing in every sense. Allen averaged 330 yards a game with a passer rating of 109.3, threw 17 touchdowns to just three picks, and had multiple four-touchdown games. Against the Packers and Jets, he had a much tougher go of things and then came that UCL injury in the second half against New York.
Even including those two full games, Allen’s numbers in his last five games are down across the board, well except for interceptions, seven to be exact in his last five games. Cutting to the chase, I think the elbow/UCL injury Allen has is worse than the Bills are letting on, but Allen is a warrior for playing through this. Another thing worth noting about Allen is that he’s been getting sacked more as of late, 14 times since the Packers game. Making things dicier is that left tackle Dion Dawkins is officially out for this game. The veteran out of Temple was held to just 32 snaps last Thursday due to an ankle issue.
A continued concern with the Bills' offense for the last several seasons is the lack of a running game, forcing Josh Allen to effectively be the Bills' bell cow in a sense. Devin Singletary has been solid, but nothing to write home about. Not helping things out either is that he has yet to get 20 or more carries in a game, nor has Singletary had over a 90-yard outing this season. Former Colts' hybrid back Nyheim Hynes was effectively swapped in for Zach Moss but has only made an impact in the return game to this point. The good news is that Singletary has found the endzone three times in the last three games, twice against the Browns. But Josh Allen has as many rushing touchdowns as the rest of the Bills' offense combined.
I don’t know what else to say about the Bills' main crop of pass catchers other than that they are really good. Stefon Diggs continues to be an absolute menace on the outside and is already passed the 1100 yards benchmark. Gabe Davis is averaging a mind-boggling 19.7 yards a catch with just 33 grabs on the year. Dawson Knox and Isaiah McKinzie are no slouches themselves, as the latter showed last year in Foxborough. Safe to say it’s going to be another tough day in the office for the Patriots.
Just as a quick note, I think Sean McDermott is comfortably one of the 10 best coaches in the NFL. With that said, I was not a fan of how he handled some key moments in the Bills-Vikings game several weeks ago. His first brutal call is what ultimately started the Vikings' comeback, which was going for it on 4th&2 on the Vikings' 6.5-yard line…up 10 points with 10 minutes left. Josh Allen ends up throwing a bad pick and then nearly gets hurt going for the tackle on Patrick Peterson. A 13-point lead wouldn’t have been completely safe, but not taking the chip shot field goal ended up becoming a 10-point swing. That field goal at the end of regulation would have been for the win instead of a tie as well.
The second issue I had, albeit not as egregious, was the call not to take an intentional safety inside the Bills one yard line. The flaw in that argument is that the Vikings would have had some time to potentially get into range for a game-winning field goal. However, with hindsight being 20/20, I think McDermott would have done that instead. You don’t ever plan on giving up a fumble inside your own one-yard line, but that’s a possibility you must be prepared for. Outside of that game, McDermott has been as good as advertised mostly, with just a couple of baffling calls on his end on this one occasion.
New England Patriots
Zero. That is the number of times the Patriots have forced the Bills to punt in the last 120 minutes. Coincidently, the only cornerback who played in that playoff game who is still active on the Patriots roster is Myles Bryant. Jalen Mills ended up inactive that weekend, and Jonathan Jones was out well in advance with a season-ending issue. Although the Bills will ultimately get their yards (because good teams find a way), this should be a significantly better look against the Bills passing attack than last year. With that said, the Patriots' secondary needs to be much better than they were last Thursday.
Speaking of Bryant, it becomes increasingly hard to justify him getting crucial playing time in the secondary in multiple spots when he continues to make critical errors. On top of the suspect play in coverage, his unnecessary roughness penalty was as ill-timed as any penalty against the Patriots this year. I know that he is somewhat of a locker room leader since Bill Belichick said as much during the week, but at this point, this is on Steve and Bill Belichick if he continues to not produce. In a perfect world, your main three guys are the three Jones, or Jalen Mills and Jack Jones out wide, and Jon Jones back in the slot.
The Bills also ran it well on the Patriots in their prior two matchups last season, but the priority should be containing Josh Allen in the pocket. Justin Fields killed them on the ground, as did Lamar Jackson several weeks prior. Allen has the potential to do that as well. But that’s going to be a tough gamble, because do you sacrifice someone in coverage to put a spy on him? Or do the Belichicks trust their coverage guys and hope the pass rush can keep Allen inside the hash marks?
A big disappointment from last Thursday was the pass rush, which was virtually nonexistent. Especially considering that Christian Darrisaw, by far the Vikings' best offensive lineman was shelved due to a concussion. That wasn’t the only reason the Patriots lost in Minnesota, but it was certainly one of the bigger ones. The hope is that Matt Judon’s quiet outing doesn’t turn into another quiet late-season stretch. He is the one guy this defense needs to be a consistent presence on a week in week-out basis. Even if he isn’t getting sacks, applying pressure and forcing throwaways is just as good if not better in some cases. Against a second-string left tackle for the second straight game, the Patriots desperately need to apply some real heat on Josh Allen.
If there was any positive takeaway from the Vikings game, is that Mac Jones was great. Not a particularly formidable pass defense, but just shy of 400 yards is about where you want to be. Additionally, no turnovers for the third straight game, which I’ll take any day of the week. Not a picture-perfect performance, but Jones looked as good as he’s had in a good bit.
Without Damien Harris for this weekend at the minimum, Rhamondre Stevenson is going to be more important than he even has been recently this week. He only ran the ball seven times against Minnesota which was odd, but he’s proven to be a capable receiver at this juncture. In these last four games alone he is averaging nearly 55 yards through the air. Now, as for who is going to likely step into Harris’ spot, for the time being, that will almost certainly end up being J.J. Taylor. Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong have seen minimal carries this year, and I have a suspicion that the latter is in Bill Belichick’s doghouse for his special team’s gaffe.
Some good news on the receivers’ front is that Jakobi Meyers should be good to go this week after missing some time in the Vikings game. Only three catches, but Meyers picked up 62 yards on the evening. DeVante Parker also was right at 20 yards per catch himself. His good games have been sporadic, but it feels like this is what the Patriots envisioned for N’Keal Harry. If Parker can find himself getting targeted more often, that should help on the outside. Especially as this season has gone on, he has been a complete bully on 50/50 balls.
As for the offensive line, David Andrews has been practicing this week, so I wouldn’t be stunned if he attempts to give it a go this Thursday. If he does, I hope he gets a good hand from Gillette Stadium, because that injury looked bad as he was getting helped off the field a few weeks ago. Isaiah Wynn meanwhile is still not practicing with his foot injury. That would line up Yodney Cajuste to start again at right tackle. He definitely got some help, but I thought he did a good job given the circumstances and opponent.
If McDermott gets his own section for criticism, then I have no issue doing the same for Matt Patricia. Outside of finally allowing Mac Jones to attack vertically, it’s the same thing every single week without fail with him. The Vikings were a bottom-two red zone defense in the entire league last week and Patricia's play called his way into an 0-3 night inside the 20. Even if that Hunter Henry touchdown counted that’s still only a 33 percent clip, their average for the year going in. For how much I was beyond frustrated with Josh McDaniels at the very end, he at least was good at dialing up plays in the red zone. His inability to either draw up creative plays or call them, cost the Patriots 12 points on those drives, which would have been more than enough to win.
Points Spread: NE +4 (-110) | BUF -4 (-110)
Moneyline: NE (+166) | BUF (-198)
Over/Under: O 43.5 (-110) | U 43.5 (-110)
There were a few betting notes about the Bills that I learned a few days ago that jumped out to me. First of which is that the under is 8-3 for them this year so far, not quite what you would guess given their offense. Secondly, they are 5-5-1 ATS but 1-4 in their last five games. That number goes down to 2-3-1 on the road, being favored in every game they’ve played so far, a trend that may last the entire season. For the Patriots, this will only be the seventh time post-Tom Brady that they are an underdog in their backyard (3-3). Their loss in Minneapolis also broke a three-game winning streak both ATS and outright. Furthermore, the Patriots are just 7-7 at Gillette Stadium since the beginning of last season. I’d go Bills ATS, outright, and the under without a second thought.
Keeping things short and sweet, I think the Patriots put up a decent fight this week but ultimately fall back to .500 by the time it becomes Friday. I simply don’t trust Matt Patricia to finish drives with seven points to keep pace with the Bills at this point which doesn’t help. Also, while I think the defense does good given the opposition, Josh Allen and co. are going to outpace Mac Jones and Friends sooner or later.
Final Score: Buffalo Bills 27, New England Patriots 14