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Patriots vs. Bills preview: AFC East supremacy is on the line in Week 13

Related: NFL playoff picture: Patriots move into 2nd place in the AFC

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

After two decades of being dominated by the New England Patriots, the AFC East saw a new king emerge in 2020: the Buffalo Bills took the division crown in convincing fashion, beating the Patriots twice and advancing all the way to the conference title game after going 13-3 during the regular season.

This season, the 7-4 Bills have already lost more games than they did a year ago. Furthermore, they have to compete against a resurgent Patriots team that currently leads the division with an 8-4 record. The upcoming Monday night game between the two long-time rivals is therefore a high-stakes affair with AFC East supremacy on the line.

The game, which will be played on Buffalo’s home turf, is projected to be a close affair: according to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Bills are currently listed as 3-point favorites. With home-field advantage usually worth three points, it is obvious the oddsmakers project a close one.

With all that being said, let’s take a deeper dive into the Patriots’ upcoming opponent. Welcome to Week 13.

Offense

Points scored: 29.6/game (2nd)

Yards gained: 389.3/game (5th)

Passing offense: 279-for-418, 2,981 yards, 25 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 0.194 EPA (3rd), 18.4% DVOA (16th)

Rushing offense: 285 carries, 1,301 yards, 12 touchdowns, -0.075 EPA (17th), -8.3% DVOA (19th)

Even though they are currently a wild card team in the AFC, the Bills are arguably the best team the Patriots have faced so far this season. Their offense is a big reason for that. Ranking second in the league in scoring per game, the group is a potent and well-balanced one even though its strengths lie primarily in the passing game. Still, it will pose a serious challenge to New England’s top-ranked scoring defense.

Defense

Points against: 16.5/game (2nd)

Yards given up: 275.2/game (1st)

Passing defense: 212-for-368, 1,964 yards, 9 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, -0.111 EPA (2nd), -24.9% DVOA (1st)

Rushing defense: 272 carries, 1,063 yards, 11 touchdowns, -0.188 EPA (1st), -19.2% DVOA (4th)

For as impressive as Buffalo’s offense has played, the defense has been no less outstanding. In fact, the unit has a strong case as the best in the NFL right now. Ranking in the top five in almost every major category — including takeaways (25; 2nd) — the unit has made life hard on most of the opponents it has faced so far this season. The question will be, however, how it will fare without its number one cornerback: Tre’Davious White tore his ACL last week and is out for the year.

Week 1 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: L 23-16

Week 2 at Miami Dolphins: W 35-0

Week 3 vs. Washington Football Team: W 43-21

Week 4 vs. Houston Texans: W 40-0

Week 5 at Kansas City Chiefs: W 38-20

Week 6 at Tennessee Titans: L 34-31

Week 7: Bye

Week 8 vs. Miami Dolphins: W 26-11

Week 9 at Jacksonville Jaguars: L 9-6

Week 10 at New York Jets: W 45-17

Week 11 vs. Indianapolis Colts: L 41-15

Week 12 at New Orleans Saints: W 31-6

The Bills started their season with a disappointing home loss against the Steelers before rebounding with a four-game winning streak — one that featured an impressive 38-20 road win over the Chiefs in a rematch of the 2020 AFC Championship Game. At 4-1, however, Buffalo started to show some weaknesses.

The team lost in Tennessee before a win over the Dolphins that was closer than the final score indicated. In Week 9, the Bills suffered a tough defeat at the hands of the one-win Jaguars. They did bounce back with a beatdown of the Jets, but were blown out at home the following week to lose the AFC East lead. Their Thanksgiving win over the Saints, however, saw them rebound in style.

Offense

QB Josh Allen; RB Devin Singletary; WR Stefon Diggs, WR Emmanuel Sanders, WR Cole Beasley; TE Dawson Knox; LT Dion Dawkins, LG Ike Boettger, C Mitch Morse, RG Cody Ford, RT Daryl Williams

The Bills’ high-flying offense features considerable talent across the board. The biggest question for the team heading into this week therefore is the status of left guard Jon Feliciano. The nominal starter on the left side will be back at practice this week, opening his 21-day return window. If he is good to go for the Monday night matchup against New England’s talented front seven, he should be expected to take Ike Boettger’s place in the lineup.

Defense

DE Jerry Hughes, DT Ed Oliver, DT Harrison Phillips, DE Gregory Rousseau*; LB Tremaine Edmunds, LB Matt Milano; CB Levi Wallace, CB Taron Johnson, CB Dane Jackson; S Jordan Poyer, S Micah Hyde

*rookie

Even with Tre’Davious White on injured reserve, the Bills field an impressive collection of talent on the defensive side of the ball. The front features four former first-round draft picks — Hughes, Oliver, Rousseau, Edmunds — with a strong secondary behind it. That group is led by one of the league’s best safety pairings, and is ranked second in interceptions with 16. Buffalo’s talent extends beyond the starting lineup, though: players such as Mario Addison or Star Lotulelei offer high-quality rotational depth.

Specialists

K Tyler Bass, P Matt Haack, LS Reid Ferguson; KR/PR Isaiah McKenzie

The Bills have a solid special teams group, with return man Isaiah McKenzie standing out in particular. The fifth-year man is one of the most dynamic punt and kickoff returners in football, averaging 8.7 and 24.9 yards per runback in the respective categories.

QB Josh Allen: While not playing on as high a level as he did a year ago, Allen is still among the NFL’s best quarterbacks. An impressive athlete who can beat defenses with his right arm and his legs, the fourth-year man has completed 66.8 percent of his passes so far this season for 3,071 yards and 25 touchdowns. Turnovers have been a minor concern — he already tied last year’s interception total with 10 and has lost two of his six fumbles — but he is certainly living up to his massive offseason contract extension so far.

WR Stefon Diggs: Ever since Diggs was acquired via trade from the Minnesota Vikings he has been the Bills’ most consistent and productive wide receiver, and one of the best pass catchers in the entire NFL. This season, he is the team’s leader in receptions (67), yards (847) and touchdowns (7), and will present a difficult challenge for New England’s secondary — one that will likely pair him up with J.C. Jackson yet again. In two games last year, Jackson surrendered nine catches on 13 targets for 171 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

DE Jerry Hughes: Buffalo’s defense is ranked first in the NFL in pressure rate (30.2%), and the play of standout edge defender Jerry Hughes is one of the reasons why. Hughes is the team’s most disruptive pass rusher despite only registering 1.5 sacks so far this season. He also has added three quarterback hits and 26 additional hurries, however, showing that he is impacting plays even when not registering takedowns himself.

CB Dane Jackson: With Tre’Davious White out for the remainder of the season, the Bills will likely turn to Dane Jackson to replace him — something they did during last week’s game versus the Saints. A seventh-round draft pick a year ago, Jackson has seen limited action this year: he was only targeted five times before the game against New Orleans. That day, he saw three passes come his way and allowed one 17-yard reception. The Patriots will likely test him early on to see how he can hold up in White’s place.

Head coach: Sean McDermott

Coordinators: Brian Daboll (offense), Leslie Frazier (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 the last two seasons. McDermott’s coaching staff plays a big role in this, with former Patriots assistant Brian Daboll helping Josh Allen become one of the best quarterbacks in football, and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazer leading one of the league’s most impressive units.

The Patriots and Bills have met 122 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: 45 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 41 meetings — including 56-10 thumping during the 2007 regular season, and a thrilling come-from-behind victory in the 2009 season opener.

Recently, however, the games have been more competitive again. Last season, for example, the Bills swept the Patriots: they came away with a 24-21 victory in early November before a 38-9 blowout the following month. Obviously, though, the 2020 Patriots were markedly different from this year’s version.