On Sunday, the New England Patriots will play their second rematch of the season when they host the Buffalo Bills at Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium. The Patriots have controlled the two teams’ first encounter in week eight, winning with a final score of 25-6. However, a lot has happened since then: New England is struggling with consistency and has lost three of its last five games. Buffalo, meanwhile, is playing arguably its best football of the season right now.
Let’s take a closer look at how the two squads have changed over the past two months.
Josh Allen is back at quarterback
The biggest change when compared to week eight is, obviously, the return of the seventh overall selection of this year’s draft: Josh Allen will start at quarterback for the Bills and pose a different threat than Derek Anderson did two months ago. While he is still struggling as a passer — Allen is completing only 52.2% of his pass attempts and has a 6:9 touchdown-interception-ration —, the rookie is a threat on scrambles and actually leads his team in every major rushing category. New England needs to be a disciplined game in case Allen goes off script and starts to scramble.
The wide receivers on both sides will look different...
The Patriots’ top two wide receivers in late October were Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon, who combined to catch 14 passes for 121 yards against Buffalo. While Edelman will play on Sunday, Gordon will not as he has been indefinitely suspended by the NFL yesterday. In Buffalo, meanwhile, the starting duo does no longer consist of Zay Jones and Kelvin Benjamin: Benjamin is now with the Kansas City Chiefs and has been replaced by Robert Foster, a serious deep threat that averages 24.6 yards per reception.
...as will the offensive lines
When the Patriots first played the Bills this season, Marcus Cannon was out due to a concussion. LaAdrian Waddle started at right tackle in his place and had an inconsistent game — he surrendered a sack, a quarterback hit, and three hurries — but has since returned to his usual role as a backup. The offensive line turnover in Buffalo is even more significant, though: right guard Vladimir Ducasse has been relegated to a backup role, while center Russell Bodine is on injured reserve. The two have been replaced by rookie Wyatt Teller and Ryan Groy, respectively.
Two undrafted rookie defensive backs might play big roles
Patriots rookie cornerback J.C. Jackson played 19 of a possible 64 snaps in week eight, while the Bills’ Levi Wallace was still on the team’s practice squad. Since then, however, both rookies have seen considerable playing time and are now starters on their respective teams: Jackson is serving as one of New England’s top three alongside Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty, while Wallace has been elevated to the role after Buffalo released Phillip Gaines in early November.
New England has a deeper running back group
One week before the Patriots traveled to Buffalo to play the Bills, Sony Michel hurt his knee. With the first-round rookie unavailable, the Patriots turned to wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to serve as the primary early-down back, and gave him 10 carries for 38 yards. Michel is now back in the lineup, with Rex Burkhead — who was on injured reserve in week eight — also joining him and receiving back James White in the offensive backfield.
Both linebacker groups are trending in opposite directions
In week eight, Patriots linebacker and defensive on-field signal caller Dont’a Hightower was out with a short-term knee injury. While the veteran will be back on the field on Sunday and resume his starting role in New England’s front seven, the Bills will miss one of their best linebackers: Matt Milano has been placed on injured reserve since his team’s first meeting with the Patriots.