The New England Patriots have the inside track for the AFC East title, and can lock it up for an 11th year in a row on Saturday: the Buffalo Bills, ranked second behind New England, will visit Gillette Stadium and try to keep their hopes for a division title alive. Needless to say that the matchup between the two teams projects to be a highly contested affair with a lot on the line for both teams.
Record: 10-4 (2nd place AFC East)
Points scored: 22nd (20.8 points/game)
Points against: 2nd (15.9 points/game)
Head coach: Sean McDermott
Coordinators: Brian Daboll (OC), Leslie Frazier (DC)
Games so far
Week 1 at New York Jets: W 17-16
Week 2 at New York Giants: W 28-14
Week 3 vs Cincinnati Bengals: W 21-17
Week 4 vs New England Patriots: L 16-10
Week 5 at Tennessee Titans: W 14-7
Week 6: Bye
Week 7 vs Miami Dolphins: W 31-21
Week 8 vs Philadelphia Eagles: L 31-13
Week 9 vs Washington Redskins: W 24-9
Week 10 at Cleveland Browns: L 19-16
Week 11 at Miami Dolphins: W 37-20
Week 12 vs Denver Broncos: W 20-3
Week 13 at Dallas Cowboys: W 26-15
Week 14 vs Baltimore Ravens: L 24-17
Week 15 at Pittsburgh Steelers: W 17-10
The Bills started their season with a come-from-behind victory in New York that sparked a three-game winning streak — one that came to an end in Week 4, when the Patriots visited Buffalo: New England won the defensive battle 16-10 and pushed its division rival to 3-1 on the year. However, the team responded well by beating the Titans the next week before heading into a comparatively early bye.
While Buffalo went just 2-2 coming out of its week off, the team again won three in a row between Weeks 11 and 13. And after losing a close game against Baltimore, the Bills were able to lock up a playoff spot thanks to a 17-10 victory in Pittsburgh on Sunday Night Football — just the second time since 1999 that the team has reached the postseason.
Three storylines that describe the 2019 season
The first 10-win season this century: Coming off a 6-10 campaign that saw them miss the playoffs, the Bills rebounded well in their third year under head coach Sean McDermott and were able to make their way to the postseason again. And they did so by having their most successful campaign since the turn of the century: for the first time since 1999, the Bills won at least 10 games in a season.
The defensive performances: As mediocre as the Bills’ offense is, their defense has been impressive so far in 2019 — and the numbers speak for themselves: Buffalo ranks second in the NFL in points allowed (14.2), third in yards per game (291.9) and fourth in DVOA (-13.3%). The unit of coordinator Leslie Frazier furthermore ranks in the top-10 in plays per drive (5.5; 5th), sacks (42; 7th) and turnovers (21; 10th). At it all up, and you get one outstanding defense.
The growth of Josh Allen: While he had his moments during his 2018 rookie season, first-round draft pick Josh Allen was still among the most inconsistent quarterbacks in football. Even though he still has his ups-and-downs, as a whole Allen is a much better player in his second year in the league: his completion percentage (52.8 to 59.3), touchdown-to-interception numbers (10:12 to 18:9), and passer rating (67.9 to 84.6) all have improved and helped the Bills’ offense complement its defense much more effectively.
Three players to know
RB Devin Singletary: While veteran Frank Gore has seen most of the carries so far this season, Devin Singletary is the Bills’ top weapon out of the backfield: the third-round rookie, whose workload increased significantly over the last few weeks, has gained 729 yards on 136 rushing attempts through 11 games and found the end zone twice. Furthermore, he has caught 28 passes for 192 yards and two more scores. Singletary is a dangerous player, and keeping him and Buffalo’s ground game in check is the key to stopping the offense.
DE Jerry Hughes: The Bills have impressive depth up front — something Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels pointed out earlier this week — and the most productive player of the bunch is veteran pass rusher Jerry Hughes: the 31-year-old leads the team with 46 quarterback pressures and also has 4.0 sacks on his résumé. Rushing primarily from the defensive right side, Hughes will go up against Patriots left tackle Isaiah Wynn on a regular season. The first-year starter better be ready for one of his toughest tests of the season.
CB Tre’Davious White: Stephon Gilmore is the best cornerback in football, but Tre’Davious White is not all too far behind him: the fellow Pro Bowl selection is tied with Gilmore for the league lead in interceptions (six), and has allowed only 44 of 81 passes thrown his way to be completed for a combined 532 yards and no touchdowns. White is a true shutdown cornerback, and one Patriots quarterback Tom Brady should try to avoid this week.
What to watch this week
Will the Patriots win the AFC East this week? It’s simple: if New England beats Buffalo on Saturday, the division belongs to the reigning world champions. But even if they fail to do that, they still have the inside track for the title considering that their common-opponents-record is better than the Bills’. Locking the division up one week early would still be big for the Patriots, though, considering that a win would keep them ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs in the race for a first-round postseason bye.