The New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills are no strangers to each other. Having played one another twice a year ever since 1982, the teams have a rich and familiar history that spans generations of football. Of course that familiarity would breed some animosity, but the biggest factor entering this game is the fight for the AFC East.
After finishing 2020 at 7-9, the Patriots now hold sole possession of the AFC East over Buffalo, last years division champion. With a win on Sunday, New England could start to pull away with their 18th division crown since 2000.
Let’s look at the changes on each team’s 53-man roster since their matchup in Week 16 of last season.
The following 29 players from the last meeting with Buffalo are still with the team:
FB Jakob Johnson, TE Devin Asiasi, WR Jakobi Meyers, OT Justin Herron, C David Andrews, IOL Shaq Mason, IOL Michael Onwenu, CB J.C. Jackson, S Adrian Phillips, S Devin McCourty, QB Jarrett Stidham, K Nick Folk, P Jake Bailey, WR N’Keal Harry, WR Matthew Slater, DB Cody Davis, DB Justin Bethel, CB Joejuan Williams, DB Kyle Dugger, DB Myles Bryant, RB J.J. Taylor, LS Joe Cardona, DL Chase Winovich, WR Gunner Olszewski, DL Deatrich Wise Jr., QB Brian Hoyer, RB Damien Harris, LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, DL Lawrence Guy
Offense: The big change here is obviously at quarterback, as rookie Mac Jones has taken the reins from last season’s starter, Cam Newton. The rest of the offense underwent a major overhaul as well. Newton’s group of “weapons” from 2020 is now barely represented with Damiere Byrd in Chicago and Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene both becoming non contributors. They are replaced by big-money free agent signings in Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, Hunter Henry, and Jonnu Smith. The offensive line also saw a major departure in Joe Thuney while seeing the return of Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown. Sony Michel, who is now a member of the Los Angeles Rams, held down the running back room during Damien Harris’ absence towards the end of last season as well.
Defense: After being gashed by the Bills last season, the Patriots’ defense will look a lot different this time around. Davon Godchaux, Matt Judon, Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower will replace the likes of Akeem Spence, Tashawn Bower, Terez Hall and Anfernee Jennings to avenge last season’s ugly performance against the run. The secondary will mostly look the same, save for an absent Stephon Gilmore, who is now with the Carolina Panthers and relative newcomer Jalen Mills.
Special teams: The lone group that will resemble anything like their counterpart from last year is the special teams unit. Nick Folk, Jake Bailey, Matthew Slater, and Joe Cardona are all back with the team from last season.
Coaching staff: The coaching staff underwent a few changes this offseason. Co-offensive line coach Cole Popovich departed before the start of training camp, while quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch left immediately after last year’s Dolphins game to become the head coach at the University of Arizona. Additions include former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia returning as a special assistant to Bill Belichick, and Bo Hardegree being added as a quarterbacks coach. Troy Brown and Vinnie Sunseri made switches from running backs to wide receivers and defense to running backs, respectively.
The following 34 players from the last meeting are still with the team:
WR Gabriel Davis, LT Dion Dawkins, LG Ike Boettger, C Mitch Morse, RT Daryl Williams, QB Josh Allen, RB Devin Singletary, WR Isaiah McKenzie WR Stefon Diggs, DE Jerry Hughes, DT Vernon Butler, DT Ed Oliver, DE Mario Addison, LB Tremaine Edmunds, LB Matt Milano, LB A.J. Klein, CB Levi Wallace, S Jordan Poyer, S Micah Hyde, K Tyler Bass, WR Cole Beasley, RB Zack Moss, CB Taron Johnson, RB Taiwan Jones, S Siran Neal, LB Tyler Matakevich, S Jaquan Johnson, LB Tyrel Dodson, DE A.J. Epenesa, LS Reid Ferguson, OL Ryan Bates, TE Dawson Knox, DT Harrison Phillips
Offense, Defense, Special Teams: When you come within a game of the Super Bowl, there isn’t much need to change your roster, and the Buffalo Bills haven’t. They return nine of 11 starters on offense, 10 of 11 on defense, and two of their three special teamers from their last matchup with the Patriots. The lone contributors that have been added are rookies Boogie Basham and Gregory Rousseau on the defensive side of the ball, and veteran receiver Emmanual Sanders on offense. Matt Haack is now handling the punting duties for Corey Bojorquez as well.
Coaching staff: Much like they did with their roster, the Bills took an “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” approach to their coaching staff this offseason. Sean McDermott returns his offensive coordinator (former Patriots tight ends coach Brian Daboll), his defensive coordinator (former Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier), and his special teams coordinator Heath Farwell. They also employ Ryan Wendell and Leonard Johnson, who were teammates on the Patriots 2015 team.