Three weeks after their first meeting of the season, the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills are set to meet again. The Patriots will host their AFC East rivals at Gillette Stadium on Sunday in a game that could very well decide the division, and will have huge playoff implications on both squads.
For the Patriots to repeat the Week 13 result — they won the first matchup with a final score of 14-10 — they will need some strong performances across their roster. Whoever is the lineup needs to play some quality football for New England to defeat a very talented Bills team, but the following five players in particular are worth keeping a close eye on.
WR N’Keal Harry
The Patriots’ wide receiver situation continues to look dire with as many as two starters possibly unavailable for the game against Buffalo’s top-five defense: Nelson Agholor remains in concussion protocol after suffering a head injury last Saturday, while Kendrick Bourne is still on the Covid-19 reserve list.
With Agholor already ruled out against Buffalo and Bourne’s status uncertain as well, WR4 N’Keal Harry will likely see a considerably bigger role as a receiving option. Primarily used as a blocker despite his status as a former first-round draft pick, Harry is in the middle of another disappointing season.
However, New England will have to count on him as a starter-level player against one of the best secondaries in the game.
RB Damien Harris
Damien Harris had a strong outing against the Bills in Week 13, rushing for 111 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. However, his game was cut short due to a hamstring injury that forced him to exit the contest twice and eventually end it on the sidelines. The issue forced the third-year running back to sit out the game against the Indianapolis Colts last week.
Now, Harris is back and it will be interesting to see whether or not he can find similar success. His workload will also be worth keeping a close eye on: he was listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week due to his hamstring, but could very well see plenty of action given that RB2 Rhamondre Stevenson has been sent to the Covid-19 reserve list.
DT Davon Godchaux
Davon Godchaux had an impressive outing against the Bills in Week 13. The first-year Patriot notched 10 tackles and played a sizable role in holding Buffalo’s ground game to only 99 yards on the day.
Will Godchaux be able to duplicate his dominant performance? That remains to be seen, but the circumstances could work in his favor again.
The Bills, after all, might miss some of their starting offensive linemen: left tackle Dion Dawkins, left guard Jon Feliciano and right guard Cody Ford are all currently on the Coronavirus reserve list. The three would be sizable losses for the team’s offense, which in turn might open the door for Godchaux to wreak havoc again.
S Kyle Dugger
Kyle Dugger missed the first matchup between the Patriots and Bills on the Coronavirus reserve list, but he is good to go again for Week 16. He also might play an important role in the New England secondary: with wide receivers Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis both out on Sunday, Buffalo QB Josh Allen might rely more on his tight end position to get the job done.
Buffalo has two of them worth talking about: Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeny. Knox in particular is a serious weapon, and as such will regularly be matched up against Dugger and fellow safety Adrian Phillips. New England successfully slowing him down would go a ling way towards stopping the Bills’ potent offense as a whole.
OT Isaiah Wynn
The Patriots’ starting left tackle played some high-quality football during the team’s seven-game winning streak, but he took a step back against the Colts on Saturday. Wynn struggled as both a run blocker and a pass protector, contributing to the New England offense failing to build or sustain momentum for much of the day.
This week, Wynn will face another serious challenge. The Bills, after all, have a talented group of edge rushers led by veterans Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison as well as first-round rookie Gregory Rousseau. Wynn needs to have a short memory to stand his ground against Buffalo’s impressive front-line personnel.