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Patriots vs Bills: Three keys to the game

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The Patriots head north for a divisional clash with the 3-0 Bills.

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Alright, time for some real football (we hope, at least). The New England Patriots head to Orchard Park to face off against the undefeated Buffalo Bills, which projects to be both teams’ toughest test of the season so far. The Patriots’ and Bills’ combined opponents are 1-14, after all, with the lone win coming from the New York Giants last week, who won off a missed game-winning field goal.

New England comes into Sunday’s contest outscoring its opponents 106-17 and not yet having allowed an offensive touchdown. Meanwhile, the Bills defense currently ranks fifth and has allowed just 37 points and 899 yards. This will be the Patriots’ most difficult contest yet, especially heading into a tough environment, so here are the keys to the game to ensure a New England win:

A healthy mix of Michel, White and Burkhead

With sophomore running back Sony Michel in a bit of rut to start the 2019 campaign, averaging just 2.4 yards per carry and not breaking off any lengthy runs, the Patriots aren’t moving the ball as effectively on the ground as they would like to. Michel seems to be healthy but can’t seem to run through the tackles this year and is struggling to get things going mostly due to a brand new offensive line with David Andrews out for the year and Trent Brown, Dwayne Allen and Rob Gronkowski not here anymore.

Buffalo comes into the game with the eighth best run defense, allowing just 88 yards per game to opposing running backs. With James White back in the mix after missing last week, a good mix of run and pass between Michel and White should be a recipe for success considering the Bills have allowed opposing running backs to rack up 98 receiving yards and two scores through three games.

Rex Burkhead, who’s been off to a great start this season as the primary hybrid back, allows for the Patriots to keep opposing defenses on their heels due to his ability to catch and run the ball — if he will play, that is, after being listed as “questionable” on Friday’s injury report.

Win in the trenches

The mix of quarterback Josh Allen and veteran running back Frank Gore have teamed up to lead the fifth best rushing attack in the league. New England comes in with the NFL’s best run defense, though, allowing an average of just 37 yards per game — a unit that completely shut down the Pittsburgh SteelersJames Conner in Week 1 and the New York JetsLe’Veon Bell last week.

The Jamie Collins-led front seven is critical to Sunday’s game, especially if they want to force Josh Allen to throw, which leads me to my next point:

Force Josh Allen to beat you with his arm

The Bills’ second-year quarterback is finding ways to win football games and he’s been doing it by extending plays with his legs and keeping opposing defenses guessing. Offseason pickups John Brown and Cole Beasley have helped raise Allen’s game and offer a good matchup with Jonathan Jones on Beasley and likely Stephon Gilmore on Brown.

However, Allen’s 64.1% completion rate with three interceptions and a passer rating of 83.4 is not going to beat this Patriots defense. The former first-round quarterback may have a huge arm but he lacks accuracy, so if the Patriots can keep him in the pocket they should have no problem rolling on. I would expect to see someone like Jamie Collins run a bit of quarterback spy at some points throughout the game just to make sure Allen is not breaking off any long runs.