The New England Patriots know they will play the Buffalo Bills this week. What they do not know is which Buffalo Bills they will play.
While there is always an element of uncertainty in preparing for an NFL game, the Coronavirus pandemic — especially now with the recent advent of the Omicron variant — has made getting ready for a specific opponent even more of a challenge. You never know where Covid-19 will strike next, and which players might miss a game because of it.
The Patriots and Bills are both in a similar situation in that regard. New England currently has five players on the league’s Coronavirus reserve list, including starter-level wide receiver Kendrick Bourne.
Buffalo, meanwhile, has been hit a bit harder recently. A total of eight players are on its Covid-19 list, with starting offensive linemen Dion Dawkins and Jon Feliciano as well as wide receiver Cole Beasley among them. Beasley will definitively be out due to his status as an unvaccinated player, but both Dawkins and Feliciano might return.
The key word here is “might” because there is no guarantee for anything these days. Accordingly, teams will have to adapt their preparation as well. On Wednesday, linebacker Matthew Judon explained how the Patriots are dealing with that uncertainty.
“Fortunately for us, we have film on all of them. On a couple of their starters we have a lot more film on, but there’s film on everybody on that line,” Judon said in relation to Dawkins and Feliciano in particular.
The recent Pro Bowl selection added that the Patriots would not be preparing for specific players. Instead, they are approaching the next team, in this case the Bills, by looking at the bigger picture.
As Judon pointed out, New England’s focus is on fundamentals and schemes rather than players.
“It’s kind of hard with this Covid and what we’re going through right now. Just not knowing who is going to play, or when they’re coming back, or how they’re going to play. It’s kind of hard, so you just prepare for anybody and everybody,” he said.
“But, in the same token, we don’t have that much time. We just have to prepare and rely on our fundamentals — our fundamentals to take care of whoever is out there. And then we just prepare for their offense, for what they want to do. Not players, because it’s hard to do that.”
The Patriots’ game against the Bills is set to be kicked off at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday. It remains to be seen whether or not any additional personnel changes will take place until then — both in relation to traditional injuries or, more likely these days, Covid-19.