The New England Patriots’ hopes of making the postseason in Year One after Tom Brady have been dashed with last week’s loss versus the Miami Dolphins, but that does not mean the team will just fold over the last two weeks of the season. The Patriots, after all, can still play spoilers. The first opportunity comes on Monday night, when they will host the Buffalo Bills — themselves winners of the AFC East for the first time since 1995, and still in contention for the second playoff seed in the conference.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at New England’s upcoming opponent.
Record: 11-3 (1st place AFC East)
Points scored: 5th (29.1/game)
Points against: 16th (24.3/game)
Head coach: Sean McDermott
Coordinators: Brian Daboll (offense), Leslie Frazer (defense), Heath Farwell (special teams)
Ever since Sean McDermott took over as the Bills’ head coach in 2017, the team has been a competitor in the AFC — never more so than in 2020, it seems. McDermott’s coaching staff plays a big role in this, with former Patriots assistant Brian Daboll helping quarterback Josh Allen take an enormous step in his third year, and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazer leading one of the league’s most talented units.
Season so far
Week 1 vs New York Jets: W 27-17
Week 2 at Miami Dolphins: W 31-28
Week 3 vs Los Angeles Rams: 35-32
Week 4 at Las Vegas Raiders: 30-23
Week 5 at Tennessee Titans: L 42-16
Week 6 vs Kansas City Chiefs: L 26-17
Week 7 at New York Jets: W 18-10
Week 8 vs New England Patriots: W 24-21
Week 9 vs Seattle Seahawks: W 44-34
Week 10 at Arizona Cardinals: L 32-20
Week 11: Bye
Week 12 vs Los Angeles Chargers: W 27-17
Week 13 at San Francisco 49ers: W 34-24
Week 14 vs Pittsburgh Steelers: W 26-15
Week 15 at Denver Broncos: W 48-19
The Bills started their 2020 campaign hot. Led by the aforementioned Josh Allen, who looked like a serious MVP candidate over the first month of the season, Buffalo won its first four games. From Week 5’s blowout loss against the Titans, however, the team has struggled a bit: it was defeated by Kansas City before beating the Jets without scoring a touchdown. However, the club bounced back in impressive fashion.
After beating the Patriots and Seahawks in back-to-back weeks and only losing in Arizona due to a Hail Mary pass, the team won four straight — including a statement win over the 11-1 Steelers in Week 14. One week later, Buffalo secured the division crown by blowing out the Broncos on the road in dominant fashion.
The Patriots and Bills have met 121 times so far, with one of the meetings coming in the AFL playoffs back in 1963:
- Patriots wins: 76 wins (1 playoff win)
- Bills wins: 44 wins
- Ties: 1
As founding members of the old AFL, the two organizations have been rivals since their inception in 1959. While the matchup was relatively even for its first four decades, the arrival of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady changed all of that: since Belichick took over the Patriots in 2000, New England has won 35 of 40 meetings — including 56-10 victory during the 2007 regular season.
Recently, however, the games have been more competitive again. Last season, for example, the Patriots had to play two hard-fought games in order to sweep the team: New England won 16-10 in Buffalo before a 24-17 victory at Gillette Stadium later during the year. The last meeting between the two was also won by the Bills, as they came away with a 24-21 victory following a game-ending fumble by new Patriots QB Cam Newton.
Projected starting lineups
QB Josh Allen; RB Devin Singletary; WR Stefon Diggs, WR Cole Beasley, WR Gabriel Davis*; TE Dawson Knox; LT Dion Dawkins, LG Ike Boettger, C Mitch Morse, RG Jon Feliciano, RT Darly Williams
Buffalo’s offense has played some impressive football this season, mainly because of quarterback Josh Allen’s growth and connection with his newest weapon: Pro Bowl receiver Stefon Diggs is leading the league with 111 receptions, which he took for 1,314 yards (3rd) and five touchdowns (34th). He is far from the only talented player on the offense, though, with the other starter-level receivers as well as the team’s running back group also contributing on a regular basis. Add a strong offensive line and you get as well-rounded an offense as any in football.
DE Jerry Hughes, DT Ed Oliver, DT Quinton Jefferson, DE Mario Addison; LB Tremaine Edmunds, LB A.J. Klein; CB Tre’Davious White, CB Taron Johnson, CB Levi Wallace; S Jordan Poyer, S Micah Hyde
Buffalo’s defense is ranked 17th in scoring (24.3 points/game), 14th in DVOA (-0.2%), 18th in EPA (0.051), and 28th in success rate (48.4%), but the unit still features some very talented players across the board. Led by the young trio of Ed Oliver, Tremaine Edmunds and Tre’Davious White, the Bills have big play ability on all three levels. They have yet to put it all together this season, but the unit is certainly capable of leading the Bills to victory as a complementary piece alongside an xplosive offense
K Tyler Bass*, P Corey Bojorquez, LS Reid Ferguson; KR/PR Andre Roberts
Buffalo has a strong special teams unit, with one name standing out from a Patriots perspective: Corey Bojorquez first arrived in the NFL as an undrafted rookie signing by New England, but failed to earn the job over Ryan Allen in 2018. Playing for the Bills since then, Bojorquez has developed into one of the league’s best punters and a player capable of flipping field position in an instant — something return specialist Andre Roberts has also proven he can do.
Three things to watch
1. Who will start at quarterback for the Patriots? With New England officially eliminated from the playoffs, in part because of disappointing offensive outings versus Los Angeles and Miami in back-to-back weeks, the quarterback position is in the spotlight again. Will Bill Belichick decide to stick with Cam Newton, or give Jarrett Stidham a shot? And if it is the former, how many series will he play?
2. Can the run defense bounce back? New England surrendered 250 rushing yards against the Dolphins in Week 15 after giving up 187 one week prior to the Rams. Needless to say that stopping the run has been a major issue for the Patriots the last few weeks — and one that also was on full display during the first game versus Buffalo: the Bills gained 193 yards on the ground that day. Needless to say that New England has to get better at stopping the run if it wants to compete on Monday night.
3. Will J.C. Jackson slow down Stefon Diggs? Diggs has been one of the NFL’s best wide receivers this season, and a big reason why the Bills offense has taken an enormous step forward this year. Slowing him down will be a major challenge for the Patriots’ projected CB1: former undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson will likely see plenty of snaps opposite the Pro Bowler in light of Stephon Gilmore’s season-ending quad injury.