Well, well, well, how the turntables.
After finishing 2020 at 7-9, and dropping the division title to the Buffalo Bills, the New England Patriots looked poised for another disappointing season. Things started off slow, as the Patriots with a 2-4 record, sporting an anemic offense and a defense that not only bended, but broke, quite often. Now, riding high on a six game winning streak, they hold sole possession of the AFC East over Buffalo. With a win on Sunday, they would put themselves in position to pull away with their 18th division crown since 2000.
Of course, they say familiarity breeds contempt. In this instance, it is expected that familiarity will breed a higher level of competition, and shine a light on the individual matchups that will make up this game. What are the most important ones you ask? Let’s take a look.
Jakobi Meyers vs. Taron Johnson
Though Kendrick Bourne has undoubtedly become the Patriots most dynamic wide receiver, the team lead in play time percentage and targets still belongs to Jakobi Meyers. That is because Meyers occupies one of the most important roles on the unit, as he has undoubtedly become New England’s slot receiver. Meyers’ ability to find soft spots in zone defenses has been crucial to the development of Mac Jones, who can always rely on #16 to serve as a safety blanket.
The man tasked with taking away Jones’ safety blanket will be Taron Johnson, who’s role has become even more important this week with superstar cornerback Tre’Davious White landing on injured reserve.
Johnson has matched up with the likes of Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill from his slot corner position this season. Those are about the exact opposite kind of slot receiver that Meyers is, which should make it interesting to see how Buffalo decides to attack Meyers early on Monday night.
Ted Karras/Michael Onwenu vs. Ed Oliver
Ted Karras makes his second straight appearance in the matchups series this week, not just because of his new starting status, but because it seems as if the job isn’t completely his. After struggling to get the ground game going early on last week, the Patriots replaced Karras with Michael Onwenu for a couple of series before halftime.
The man that Karras will be tasked with stopping on Monday is Ed Oliver, a former first round draft pick who has been just okay through three years.
The viewpoint on this one is simple. Can Karras carry out the game plan and help subdue Oliver, who has been usually quiet when playing against New England? Or, is a player like Michael Onwenu better suited for the job?
Steve Belichick vs. Brian Daboll
We’re talking scripts here folks!
Over the last four weeks, the offensive start of each game has directly related to the success of Buffalo’s team altogether. In their two wins, Brian Daboll’s unit put together scoring drives to kick off what ended up being 30+ point games. In the two losses, they went three and out on their way to six and 15 point performances.
Steve Belichick will be tasked with sniffing out the script that his former colleague Brian Daboll will put together. On a cold windy night in Buffalo, expect there to be a lot of RPO and quick game action put in place to help get Josh Allen into a rhythm. The way in which Belichick counters could help spell out the kind of night New England’s defense will have.
J.C. Jackson vs. Stefon Diggs
We’ve been waiting nearly a year for this rematch.
After being catapulted into the number one cornerback spot ahead of last seasons Week 16 matchup with the Bills, J.C. Jackson struggled mightily. His assignment —Stefon Diggs— took him to school, catching nine passes for 145 yards and three scores in a Buffalo rout. Since that game, many have questioned if Jackson could become a true number one corner, and whether he would be worth the money he is almost certain to make this offseason.
One way of answering those questions would be bouncing back against the same man who helped them arise in the first place. There is no place to hide for Jackson this week, as the Patriots secondary will surely have their hands full with Dawson Knox, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, and Emmanuel Sanders playing around Diggs. One on one, can Jackson come out on top? We’ll have to wait until Monday to find out.