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Patriots vs Bills keys to the game: Damien Harris should be a big factor for New England

Related: Patriots vs Bills preview: How New England’s offense will find success against Buffalo

San Francisco 49ers Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

If 2020 hasn’t been weird enough, imagine saying that the New England Patriots season was on the line in Week 8 versus the division leading Buffalo Bills. With the trade deadline just days away, the outcome of this pivotal match-up could determine whether or not the Patriots are sellers or buyers at Tuesday’s 4pm deadline.

With the Bills sitting pretty at 5-2 in the division and a struggling 2-4 Patriots team that has dropped three straight coming into town, this game has huge implications for both teams. With a Bills win, the will start to run away with their first divisional title since 1995. As for the Patriots, on the other hand, it would put them a game out of the loss column and get them right back into the thick of things inside the division.

The Bills started off 4-0 while quarterback Josh Allen looked like a shoe-in for the MVP award. They have certainly cooled off a bit after a 42-16 loss in Tennessee and a 26-17 loss at home versus Kansas City, however, and won last week in the Meadowlands but failed to score a touchdown. As for New England, things couldn’t be worse as the team has dropped three in a row and has scored just one touchdown in those contests.

It’s crazy that we’re even saying this right now, but the Patriots’ season might very well be on the line in Orchard Park.

Get an early lead

One of the reasons the Patriots have struggled to play their type of football has been their inability to take early leads in games. They have often found themselves trailing for a better part of the first half and have let teams get control of the game. The Patriots want to run the football and bully teams up front. Facing a squad like Buffalo’s that hasn’t had much experience in games like these, it will be important to get them on their heels early and dictate the game from the coin toss.

Damien Harris breakout game

There’s no question, the Patriots have struggled to move the ball through the air for the better part of their season. If the Patriots can find success on the ground in early down situations with Harris as their lead back, however, it will help take the load off Cam Newton and allow him to settle in. The Bills rank 22nd against the run, average 4.6 yards per carry against and have allowed over 100 yards on the ground in their last three games. Factor in the Patriots’ depleted group at wide receiver and poor weather conditions, and Damien Harris should be in for a big afternoon.

Force Josh Allen to go through his progressions

Bill Belichick noted this week that the biggest improvement he’s seen from Allen has been his ability to stand in the pocket, survey the field and find his outlets for positive yards. With no Stephon Gilmore on Sunday, J.C. Jackson will likely have his hands full being in charge of locking down Stefon Diggs. Allen has certainly taken a huge jump from last year and it is the main reason the Bills are in the position that they are. However, he has also struggled against the Patriots: in his three starts versus New England, he is 0-3 with 578 passing yards and a 3-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. There’s no question Belichick knows how to slow him down, throwing different looks and keeping Allen uncomfortable will be imperative and the way the Patriots can stay in this game on Sunday.

Prediction: Bills 27 - Patriots 21

Did you know?

  • With a loss on Sunday, the Patriots would fall to 2-5 and would be off to their worst start since Belichick’s first season in New England when they started 2-8.
  • The Bills haven’t beaten the Patriots at home since 2011 and have only done it twice in the last 20 years.
  • Cam Newton has five touchdowns on the ground this year and is currently on pace for 13. If he were to succeed that mark, Newton would break the Patriots’ single-season record held by Steve Grogan (12).
  • Every active Patriots wide receiver on Sunday with the exception of receiver-in-name-only Matthew Slater went undrafted.