While the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills are no strangers to each other, things can change quickly in the NFL — and the two clubs are no different. When looking at them heading into this week’s contest, for example, one can find some serious turnover on both sides since their last meeting in late September. The Patriots won with a final score of 16-10 back then, but will field a team that has seen turnover at some key positions.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the main differences between New England and Buffalo in Week 16 compared to Week 4.
New England’s pass catchers look noticeably different
Back in Week 4, the Patriots’ top skill-position players in terms of playing time were Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Ryan Izzo and Phillip Dorsett. While Edelman is still around and expected to see considerable action yet again — provided the knee and shoulder issues that have him listed as questionable on the injury report don’t bother him too much — the other three players will look different when New England’s offense takes the field on Saturday.
Gordon, of course, was been placed on injured reserve in late October and later released from the list (he is currently suspended after a short stint with the Seattle Seahawks). Izzo, on the other hand, is still around but little more than an emergency depth option at this point in time with Matt LaCosse and Benjamin Watson taking over as the top-two tight end options. Phillip Dorsett has also seen his playing time decrease the last few weeks.
Meanwhile, the Patriots brought Mohamed Sanu on board via trade from the Atlanta Falcons and started to incorporate N’Keal Harry more after the first-round rookie opened the season on injured reserve. The passing offense has not exactly looked smooth over the last few weeks, but both Sanu and Harry are high-upside options that could have a positive impact — maybe as early as this week, although the Bills’ pass defense certainly will make life hard on them.
The emergence of Devin Singletary
Only two players carried the football for Buffalo in Week 4: veteran running back Frank Gore saw the bulk of the action and finished the game with 17 rushing attempts for 109 yards; quarterback Josh Allen put up an additional 26 yards and a touchdown on five scrambles. Over the last three months, however, another backfield weapon has emerged alongside the two in the form of third-round draft selection Devin Singletary.
Singletary, who missed the first meeting between the division rivals because of a hamstring injury, has registered a combined 116 rushing attempts for 557 yards and a touchdown over the last seven games while also adding 19 receptions for 134 yards and another score. The rookie has proven himself a reliable playmaker over the last few weeks — and one the Patriots need to be able to contain on Saturday.
The Patriots’ blocking personnel has changed...
After losing starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn to a toe injury in Week 2, New England had to insert free agency acquisition Marshall Newhouse into the starting role — one he also played during the first game against Buffalo. While his tenure as a starter ended with a string of disappointing performances, Newhouse actually looked solid early on as a stand-in for Wynn. That being said, the former first-round draft pick, who returned to the lineup four weeks ago, is a clear upgrade and a more reliable option against Buffalo’s talented pass rush.
Left tackle is not the only blocking position that has changed over the last few weeks. The Patriots also had to place fullback Jakob Johnson, who played 18 of 63 offensive snaps in Week 4, on season-ending injured reserve and had to get creative to fill the role previously held by him and James Develin: linebacker Elandon Roberts has emerged as the top lead-blocker, and actually looked good as of late.
...and so have two defensive roles
Two Patriots defenders not available on Saturday played comparatively big roles against the Bills three months ago: slot cornerback Jonathan Jones was on the field for 45 of 79 snaps; defensive end Michael Bennett for 24. While Jones is still on the active roster but will miss this week’s game due to a groin injury suffered against the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday, Bennett has been traded to the Dallas Cowboys after seeing only inconsistent action.
While Bennett’s role as a three-technique end has primarily been taken over by Deatrich Wise Jr. and the team’s defensive tackles, Jones’ spot will be a difficult one to fill — especially considering that his replacement will go up against talented Bills receiver Cole Beasley. Jason McCourty is the favorite to take over, but the veteran is also questionable to play due to a groin issue.
The Jones-Kroft exchange
Josh Allen attempted 28 passes against New England’s secondary in Week 4, but he only found limited success when going to his number three wide receiver that day: only two of the throws intended for Zay Jones were completed for a grand total of four yards. Meanwhile, Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson intercepted two more attempts — helping set up a field goal in the third quarter that put his team up 16-10 in the process.
Two weeks later, Jones was traded to the Oakland Raiders. Since then, the Bills altered their receiving corps a bit: Isaiah McKenzie was elevated into the third wide receiver role, while tight end Tyler Kroft — he missed the first Patriots game due to an ankle injury — returned and eventually became a bigger part of the offensive attack alongside fellow tight ends Devin Knox and Lee Smith.