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Patriots vs. Bills preview: 3 matchups that could decide Sunday’s game

Related: Patriots vs. Bills preview: News, analysis, injuries, previews, and more

NFL: DEC 18 Patriots at Colts Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I’m fairly certain I don’t need to tell you all how important this matchup between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills is.

The winner of this game will officially put themselves in the drivers seat for the division, making it so they need control their own destiny throughout the next two weeks. A Buffalo win would give them the same record as New England in the standings, but produce a slight edge as they would then hold any tie breaker needed to push themselves over the top. A New England win would give them a two game lead over Buffalo with two games to go as well as that all important tie breaker, meaning they would need to win just one more game over the next two weeks to wrap things up.

After facing each other just three weeks ago, these two squads will face off with the AFC East crown hanging in the balance. Like it always does, this game will come down to the matchups, so let’s take a look at the ones that I will have my eye on, shall we?

N’Keal Harry vs. Himself

As the world’s number one N’Keal Harry supporter, I say this in jest. I do however think it’s a talk that we all need to have.

We’ll start with the obvious. The clock has officially run out on N’Keal Harry becoming worthy of his first round selection in 2019. Even the staunchest supporters of Harry should be able to admit that, myself included. I just can’t seem to shake the belief that he has more to offer New England than being a blocker. N’Keal Harry can be a difference maker.

So how exactly can Harry start to contribute on a regular basis? It starts by cutting back on the mistakes. I’d love to tell you that injuries and the development of players around him are what has dropped Harry to being the Patriots fourth receiver, but that is simply not the case. Following up on flashy performances with mistake riddled ones is what he does.

On Sunday, Harry will get an opportunity to capitalize on a strong performance the week prior and carve out a greater role for himself than that of a big bodied blocker. Can he finally do it? He’d better hope so, because it might be his last.

Myles Bryant vs. Isaiah McKenzie

With Cole Beasley headed to the COVID list and unavailable to play due to his unvaccinated status, the Buffalo Bills will find themselves relying on Isaiah McKenzie to play the role of Josh Allen’s security blanket on Sunday.

McKenzie, 26, has been nothing if not solid during his time in Buffalo. Throughout the many instances of Cole Beasley missing games, McKenzie has always stepped up and delivered for Buffalo when they needed him. His five touchdown receptions were good for third most on the team in 2020 and despite some interesting comments from his head coach, he’s been a solid returner as well.

A new face relative to Beasley, it can be expected that New England looks to play the matching game with McKenzie on Sunday. The man best for the job could be Myles Bryant, who was a workhorse in New England’s previous matchup in Buffalo. Bryant took over the role of slot corner throughout the ball game as a way to erase the underneath passing game in Buffalo, without the winds and in better conditions for throwing the football, New England could deploy him in the same role this week to force Allen into making worse decisions.

Hunter Henry vs. Jordan Poyer

The Patriots aren't going to throw the ball three times again. Sorry to break it to you old school football fans.

While Buffalo loads up on stopping the run and forcing Mac Jones to beat them through the air, New England is surely happy with the idea of getting Hunter Henry more involved in the ball game. Henry followed up his 15 snap performance against Buffalo with a 55 snap, six reception, two touchdown performance against the Indianapolis Colts. If New England is going to throw the ball, Henry will most certainly have a heavy role in doing so.

The downside of Henry having a big role on offense for New England, is having to contend with Jordan Poyer. One of the NFL’s stingiest safeties, Poyer has five interceptions this season. His impact was neutralized in week 13 as New England forced him to play a box role that he is not adept at playing in. With both players expected to make bigger impacts this weekend, the only question remains: who’s will be the biggest?