The AFC East will not be decided on Monday night, but the primetime showdown between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills sure will help put one of them in an advantageous position moving forward. Needless to say that the matchup between the 8-4 Patriots and 7-4 Bills can be classified as “high-stakes.”
In order for the Patriots to come away victoriously, they will need to play some solid football in all three phases. That obviously includes the starters, but also the rotational options behind them as well. With that said, here are our five players worth keeping an eye on this week.
CB Myles Bryant
While Patriots CB1 J.C. Jackson going against Bills WR1 Stefon Diggs will be an intriguing competition to watch, the other matchups between New England’s defensive backs and Buffalo’s pass catchers are equally important. That includes slot cornerback Myles Bryant going up against veteran wideout Cole Beasley.
Beasley is the Bills’ WR3 in terms of playing time, but he is a very important member of their offensive operation: he is ranked second on the team with 62 catches, and third with with 530 receiving yards. Slowing him down will be key for the Patriots, and they will likely turn to second-year defender Myles Bryant to do it.
Bryant was pushed into the lineup after Jonathan Jones suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in October, and he has generally performed well. Beasley might be his toughest test of the season yet, though.
S Adrian Phillips
With Kyle Dugger on the Covid-19 reserve list and his status for the game in Buffalo uncertain, the Patriots will likely turn to Adrian Phillips as their main tight end stopper — a role he already played last year as well. The Bills’ Dawson Knox is therefore not unfamiliar to him: the two squared off last December as well, with Phillips allowing no catches against Knox.
In total, the Patriots’ versatile defensive back gave up only one reception versus Bills’ tight ends, an 11-yard versus Tyler Kroft in Week 8. Similar production out of Phillips could go a long way towards New England slowing down Buffalo’s potent passing game.
WR Kendrick Bourne
Bourne has developed into a key member of the Patriots’ offense, due to his ability to get open quickly and serve a variety of roles within the offense. Going against an impressive Bills defense, he therefore is expected to see considerable action yet again.
Buffalo, after all, will likely focus on taking away Jakobi Meyers as Mac Jones’ favorite target. Furthermore, the team will make sure to take away the deep ball to Nelson Agholor with safeties Micah Hyde and/or Jordan Poyer hovering over the top. As a result, Bourne could receive some favorable looks. If he does, he better take advantage.
TE Jonnu Smith
While the Bills defense has performed well against opposing wide receivers, the unit has been less impressive against tight ends. According to Football Outsiders’ the team is only the 12th most productive in the league versus the position group. New England is well-equipped to capitalize on this.
While Hunter Henry should see his fare share of action, especially as a big-bodied red zone target, Jonnu Smith might be asked to help move the ball in the open field. A shifty player capable of picking up yards after the catch, the free agency acquisition has developed well recently and taken on a bigger role in the New England offense.
Smith continuing his growth against Buffalo would be big for the Patriots.
LB Kyle Van Noy
Josh Allen is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and his ability to make plays on the move or out of structure is a big reason why. The Patriots have to be ready to defend this part of his game, and to keep him confined in the pocket — not allowing him to extend plays once they start to break down.
A player such as linebacker Kyle Van Noy will be key to this. Regularly moving between the end of the line and an off-the-ball alignment, he could function as a spy against the Bills’ mobile QB and also help set a stout edge should he try to scramble from the pocket.
If the Patriots can keep Allen from hurting them with his feet — either as a runner or a passer buying more time — they should be in decent shape. Obviously, it will take more than just Van Noy and the rest of the linebackers containing him, but it would be a promising first step.