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Patriots vs. Bills preview: 53 thoughts on New England’s wild card playoff opponent

New England will face its division rivals for a third time this season on Saturday.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

They may “only” be the third seed in the AFC playoff race, but make no mistake: the Buffalo Bills are one of the most complete teams in the entire league. Entering the postseason with a 11-6 record and ranked among the NFL-leaders on both offense and defense, their league-best +194 scoring differential and a +8 turnover margin speak for themselves.

Needless to say that the New England Patriots will have their hands full going up against that talented an opponent in the wild card round on Saturday — an opponent that has as good a starting lineup in all three phases as any team in football, but significant depth behind it as well. In order to get a better picture of that Bills team, let’s dig into their roster a bit.

Going through all 53 active players on Buffalo’s payroll at the moment, we are here to find out who the key players are and who might be of special interest for New England this week.

(Note: The 53-man roster is up-to-date as of Thursday 7 a.m. ET)

Quarterbacks

Josh Allen: Now in his fourth year with the Bills, the former first-round draft pick has established himself as one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. Despite not getting voted to the Pro Bowl he certainly played at an appropriate level during the regular season. Allen completed 63.3 percent of his pass attempts for 4,407 yards and 36 touchdowns. While turnovers have been a concern — he gave the ball away 18 times in 17 games, throwing 15 interceptions and losing three fumbles — Allen continues to show why Buffalo gave him a massive contract extension during the offseason.

Mitchell Trubisky: The second overall pick of the 2017 draft arrived in Buffalo during the offseason via a one-year contract. Trubisky is the number two quarterback behind Allen, and as such only taking the field in clean-up duty. He has appeared in six games so far.

Offensive backfield

Matt Breida: A versatile member of the Bills’ running back group, Breida ended the regular season with 33 touches for 197 yards and three touchdowns. The former rookie free agent has seen only marginal duty as of late, however, after playing one-third of offensive snaps in Weeks 14 and 15.

Reggie Gilliam: Gilliam is not just serving as the Bills’ fullback, he also is a core special teamer: a member of all four coverage and return teams, he is ranked second on the team in kicking game snaps with a playing time share of 72.6 percent. For comparison, he has played only 12.9 percent of offensive snaps so far.

Taiwan Jones: Jones is a running back in name only. The 33-year-old has played just one offensive snap this season, and a mere 10 in four seasons as a Bill. Like Reggie Gilliam, his value comes in the kicking game: Jones is ranked third on the team in special teams snaps (70.5%) and also has registered a fumble recovery.

Zack Moss: A third-round draft selection by the Bills last year, Moss is serving as the team’s RB2 behind Devin Singletary. In that role, the versatile youngster has touched the ball 119 times this season for 542 yards as well as five touchdowns. In two games against the Patriots, however, he has been rather quiet, combining to touch the ball 14 times for 58 yards.

Devin Singletary: The Bills’ leader in both rushing attempts (188), yards (870) and touchdowns (7), Singletary is the undisputed top option in the team’s backfield. Playing roughly half of the team’s offensive snaps on a week-to-week basis, he is a versatile playmaker: besides serving as a ball carrier, Singletary has also caught 40 passes for 228 yards and a score. His 1,098 yards from scrimmage are ranked second on the team behind only wideout Stefon Diggs.

Wide receivers

Cole Beasley: Having missed the last Patriots-Bills game due to Covid-19 protocols, Beasley is back in his usual role as a reliable slot option for Josh Allen. The 32-year-old is Buffalo’s WR3 in terms of playing time — being on the field for 57.7 percent of snaps — and has caught 82 passes for 693 yards and a touchdown in his 16 games this season.

Gabriel Davis: Following a comparatively slow start to the season, Davis still has put up some solid numbers as the Bills’ fourth wide receiver lately. The 6-foot-2 pass catcher therefore ended the regular season with 35 receptions for 549 yards and six scores — one of them against New England in Week 13. His 15.7 yards per catch are tops on the team.

Stefon Diggs: Ever since arriving via trade from the Minnesota Vikings last year, Diggs has been the best wide receiver on Buffalo’s roster and Josh Allen’s go-to guy. This season is no exception for the 28-year-old: the Pro Bowl selection is leading his team in receptions (103), yards (1,225) and touchdowns (10). In two games against the Patriots, he caught 11 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown.

Jake Kumerow: A short-time member of the Patriots’ practice squad, Kumerow has seen only marginal action on offense this season. He has, however, been on the field for 60.8 percent of Buffalo’s special teams snaps thus far.

Isaiah McKenzie: Earlier in the year, McKenzie’s primary impact did not come at his listed position of wide receiver but rather in the return game. In Week 16 against the Patriots, however, the former rookie free agent took advantage of his opportunity with both Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis out: he caught 11 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown — easily the best receiving performance of his career.

Emmanuel Sanders: The veteran wideout arrived in Buffalo as a free agent during the offseason, and has carved out a role as the team’s number two behind Stefon Diggs. Playing 62.5 percent of offensive snaps during the regular season, Sanders caught 42 passes for 626 yards and four touchdowns.

Marquez Stevenson: The sixth-round rookie made his NFL debut in Week 12 against New Orleans, but has since carved out a role as a return man. Overall, Stevenson has run back a combined 21 punts and kickoffs. He is averaging 9.4 yards per punt return, and 23.6 yards on kickoffs.

Tight ends

Dawson Knox: The third-year man caught only four passes for 25 yards and a touchdown in two games versus the Patriots this year, but he has still stablished himself as one of the better tight ends in football this season. An able blocker and solid receiver, Knox is on the field for three-fourths of the team’s offensive snaps, aligning both in-line and split out wide. He caught 49 passes for 587 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season.

Tommy Sweeney: Serving as the TE2 behind Knox, Sweeny played 22.3 percent of offensive snaps during the regular season. Serving primarily as an in-line option, he has caught nine passes for 44 yards and one touchdown. However, his last reception came in Week 9.

Offensive tackles

Spencer Brown: A third-round draft pick in 2021, Brown started 10 games during the regular season. While he did see some action at left tackle as well, he primarily played on the right side of the line. Heading into the playoffs, he will continue to serve as Buffalo’s starting right tackle.

Dion Dawkins: Buffalo’s starting left tackle continues to be one of the most reliable players on the team’s roster. A Pro Bowl selection who is solid as both a run blocker and a pass protector, Dawkins has been on the field for 90.9 percent of offensive snaps thus far. Covid-19 protocols limited his preparation leading up to the Week 16 game in New England, but he is expected to be full-go this week.

Tommy Doyle: The fifth-round rookie has appeared in 11 games so far this season, but he has only seen spot duty. Doyle has played only 65 offensive snaps, primarily as as blocking tight end.

Bobby Hart: A journeyman on his third stint with the Bills, Hart has played in only one game for the team this season: Hart was on the field for a single offensive snap against New England in Week 16, as well as five more on special teams.

Interior offensive line

Ryan Bates: Until the Week 16 game in New England, Bates only saw the field a handful of snaps each week and was primarily serving as a versatile backup along the interior and as an extra in-line blocker if needed. Since that game versus the Patriots, however, he has taken over the team’s starting left guard role. Bates started each of the Bills’ last three games.

Jon Feliciano: The Bills’ starting left guard earlier during the season, Feliciano has played only 12 snaps since his return from injured reserve a month ago. With Ryan Bates now the top option at the position, he has been relegated to backup duty.

Cody Ford: A former second-round draft pick who has played exclusively at right guard this year, Ford started seven games during the regular season. Under normal circumstances, however, he will not see much if any playing time this week.

Mitch Morse: Buffalo’s starting center has rarely left the field this year, playing 97.4 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Morse is a well-rounded lineman with considerable experience, but he also has had some issues as a run blocker against bigger interior defensive linemen.

Daryl Williams: Williams started every game during the regular season and is heading into the playoffs as the team’s leader in offensive snaps (1,172; 97.8%). After moving between right tackle and right guard earlier during the year, he has settled in on the interior over the last three weeks. No matter where he lines up, though, the 29-year-old is a solid contributor.

Interior defensive line

Vernon Butler: Now in his second season since joining the Bills, the former first-round draft pick has had a relatively quiet season so far. Butler has played in 10 games as a rotational option along the interior defensive line, showing some ups and downs as both a run defender and pass rusher.

Star Lotulelei: A big-bodied nose tackle, who returned from his Covid-19 opt-out this season, Lotulelei appeared in 11 games during the regular season. While playing roughly half of Buffalo’s defensive snaps earlier during the season — including the Week 13 loss to the Patriots — the 32-year old has seen his role decrease recently.

Ed Oliver: Buffalo’s first-round draft pick in 2019 leads all of the team’s defensive linemen with a playing time share of 57.8 percent this year. Playing in all 17 games this season, Oliver has performed well as both a pass rusher and a run defender — being an every-down presence up front for one of the NFL’s best units.

Harrison Phillips: After missing some time earlier this year, Phillips started each of the Bills’ last five games. He offers plenty of experience and playmaking ability from the interior of the Buffalo D-line. Phillips picked up 51 tackles during the regular season, with 47 of them coming against the run. He also registered a sack and a fumble recovery.

Defensive edge

Mario Addison: One of several former Carolina Panthers to join the Bills recently, Addison arrived on a three-year contract during the offseason. Since then, the 34-year-old has been serving as a rotational edge option: playing 44.7 percent of defensive snaps, he has notched a team-high seven sacks and also forced a pair of fumbles.

Carlos Basham Jr: While the Bills’ second-round rookie saw only limited action over the first half of the regular season, he has come on strong recently. He saw action in six of the last nine games and has now appeared in eight total contests so far. Basham Jr. picked up 2.5 sacks along the way.

A.J. Epenesa: A second-round pick by the Bills a year ago, Epenesa continues to run hot and cold. He has had some ups and downs as a run defender, but has had solid performances in the pass rush department. In terms of playing time, he is the fourth option on the edge behind Jerry Hughes, Gregory Rousseau and Mario Addison.

Jerry Hughes: Buffalo’s number one edge defender and most disruptive player, Hughes has picked up only two sacks but a team-leading 35 total quarterback disruptions. Aligning both on the left and the right side of the formation, the 33-year-old is still a player worth prioritizing from an offensive perspective.

Efe Obada: Obada has played 22 percent of Buffalo’s defensive snaps so far, registering 3.5 sacks along the way. Another former Panther, he has aligned all over the formation — moving between the edge and even the nose.

Gregory Rousseau: The Bills invested the 30th selection in this year’s draft in the Miami product, and he has come as advertised. Rousseau played 49.3 percent of defensive snaps and as the number two edge option behind Jerry Hughes picked up four sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. Rousseau aligns primarily on the left side of the formation, going up against the opposing right tackle.

Off-the-ball linebackers

Tyrel Dodson: Dodson has played only a handful of snaps as an off-the-ball linebacker this year, most prominently against New England in Week 13. The majority of his action, meanwhile, has come in the kicking game: he is ranked fifth on the team with a playing time share of 63.8 percent and has picked up a combined five tackles.

Tremaine Edmunds: Another former first-round draft pick on the Buffalo defense, Edmunds is the leader of the unit. Wearing the communication device in his helmet, he is responsible for relaying the defensive calls and properly setting the lineup. In this role, the 23-year-old rarely leaves the field and has established himself as a productive tone-setter for the entire unit — one who has looked good as a downhill defender but has had some inconsistencies in coverage.

A.J. Klein: A backup linebacker and special teamer, Klein has started four of his 15 games during the regular season and registered 35 tackles as well as a fumble recovery and an interception. If Buffalo has all hands on deck in its off-the-ball department, however, Klein will only see limited action.

Tyler Matakevich: Matakevich has seen some snaps on defense this year and even registered the first interception of his career in a blowout win over the Houston Texans, but he is a special teamer through and through. The 29-year-old ended the regular season first on the team in both kicking game snaps (80%) and tackles (13).

Matt Milano: The second half of Buffalo’s impressive off-the-ball linebacker duo alongside Tremaine Edmunds, Milano started 16 of 17 games during the regular season and rarely left the field. A solid all-around linebacker who is particularly productive when attacking downhill, the 27-year-old has three sacks as well as two fumble recoveries on his 2021 résumé so far.

Andre Smith: While listed as a linebacker, Smith has played zero snaps so far on defense this season. Instead, he is a core special teamer for the Bills. Seeing action on all four coverage and return units, he picked up 10 tackles and a fumble recovery during the regular season.

Cornerbacks

Dane Jackson: When the Bills were forced to send Tre’Davious White to injured reserve due to a torn ACL suffered in Week 12, Jackson took over as the starting perimeter cornerback opposite Levi Wallace. While he had big shoes to fill, he generally performed well: he allowed 15 receptions on 29 targets since White’s injury and has yet to give up a touchdown this season.

Taron Johnson: The Bills’ number one slot cornerback, Johnson started 15 games during the regular season. Along the way, he registered an interception, three sacks, and a forced fumble — all while allowing only 54.4 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed. The fourth-year man is a valuable member of the Buffalo defense, and one the Patriots were able to neutralize in Week 13 due to their run-heavy game plan.

Cam Lewis: Now in his third year with the Bills, Lewis is a depth option at cornerback who has seen most of his action in the kicking game. In total, he appeared in seven games during the regular season — including six straight after Tre’Davious White was lost for the year.

Siran Neal: Neal has seen only irregular defensive playing time this season, but he is a core member of Buffalo’s kicking game operation. Thus far, the 27-year-old has registered a combined 12 special teams tackles as well as one forced fumble and one recovery. Neal is seeing regular action on all four kick coverage and return teams.

Levi Wallace: Buffalo’s number one cornerback following the loss of Tre’Davious White, Wallace is coming off a strong regular season. Not only did he register a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery, he also was allowing a completion rate of only 58 percent when targeted. Like the rest of the Bills’ cornerbacks, he too is traveling all over the formation depending on the call.

Safeties

Damar Hamlin: While only serving as a part-time defender, the sixth-round rookie has seen action in 14 games so far this year. Primarily used on special teams, he has registered a tackle while being on the field for 28.8 percent of kicking game snaps.

Micah Hyde: Hyde is a do-it-all member of the Bills’ secondary and one of the best safeties in football. Moving between the box, the slot and safety alignments, he is the team’s leader in defensive playing time (95%) and has proven himself a playmaker against the pass and the run. Hyde ended the regular season tied for the team-lead with five interceptions — including one that was returned for a touchdown — while also recovering two fumbles and forcing another. He also notched a sack.

Jaquan Johnson: The Bills’ third safety in terms of playing time, Johnson has seen most of his action so far this season on special teams. That said, he still has been able to grab an interception in his comparatively limited opportunities as a free safety.

Jordan Poyer: Micah Hyde’s congenial partner in the Buffalo secondary and one of the league’s top safeties in his own right, Poyer is the team’s co-leader in interceptions with five and has also registered three sacks. Another versatile player capable of aligning deep, in the slot and closer to the line of scrimmage, the 30-year-old is massively important to the Bills’ defensive operation not just as a playmaker but a key communicator as well.

Specialists

Tyler Bass: Now in his second season as Buffalo’s place kicker, Bass has shown improvement across the board: his field goal success rate improved from 82.4 to 87.5 percent, while he has not missed any of his 51 extra point attempts all year. Bass also handles kickoff duties, registering a touchback rate of 57.1 percent.

Matt Haack: Whereas the Bills’ punt returners are averaging 8.5 yards per runback, opponents’ only have been able to gain 5.6 per attempt. The coverage plays a big part in this, but so does Haack’s punting. One of his 53 attempts was blocked.

Reid Ferguson: The Bills’ long snapper is as reliable as they come. He has picked up one special teams tackle this year.

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