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Patriots vs. Bills preview: Get to know New England’s Week 13 opponent

The two AFC East rivals are set to square off for the first time this season.

Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the first time since their blowout loss in last year’s wild card playoff round, the New England Patriots are set to take on the Buffalo Bills again. The two AFC East rivals will share the field on Thursday night for an 8:15 p.m. ET kickoff at Gillette Stadium.

Plenty has changed for both teams since last year — they both lost their offensive coordinators to head-coaching opportunities elsewhere, for example — but that did not stop them from again both being in the playoff conversation. The Bills are the current No. 5 seed in the AFC at 8-3, with the 6-5 Patriots just outside the postseason picture as the eighth-seeded team.

As far as Buffalo is concerned, the team was able to reach its record by playing some near-flawless football over the first six weeks of the season, going 5-1 with the lone loss happening in a steamy Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. Outside of that one loss, the team steamrolled its opponents — including three current division leaders in the AFC.

Since the Week 7 bye, however, the Bills train has lost a bit of steam; the team has gone only 3-2 over the last five weeks. Make no mistake, though, Buffalo is still among the very best team in the NFL — and a look at the season-long numbers illustrates this:

  • Record: 8-3 (2nd AFC East)
  • Offense: 28.1 points/game (2nd), 415.9 yards/game (2nd), 0.118 EPA/play (2nd)
  • Defense: 18.1 points/game (5th), 327.3 yards/game (12th), -0.021 EPA/play (10th)
  • Scoring differential: +110 (1st)
  • Turnover differential: +1 (t-13th)

As those numbers show, the Bills are as complete a team as any you can find in the NFL right now. There offense is among the best out there, while their defense is a top-10 unit in its own right. In fact, Buffalo is the only club currently ranking among the best five in scoring on both offense and defense — while their impressive +110 scoring differential is the highest such mark in the league.

If there has been one area of concern for the Bills it is turnovers. While the defensive has been good in this department, ranking second with 20 takeaways, the offense giving the ball away 19 times is the third-highest such mark in the NFL through 12 weeks. Buffalo is 2-3 when losing the turnover battle.

With that said, let’s now jump right to the Bills’ active roster to get to know each of the players currently with the Patriots’ Week 13 opponent.

(Note: The 53-man roster is up-to-date as of Wednesday 8 a.m. ET; *denotes projected starter)

Quarterbacks

  • Josh Allen* (17)
  • Case Keenum (18)

Bills starting quarterback Josh Allen leads the league with 11 interceptions and is on pace for a career-high 17 on the year. Now, here’s the problematic part from a defensive standpoint: despite that high number of turnovers, Allen is still one of the best QBs in all of football and a threat as both a passer and a runner.

The numbers speak for themselves. He has completed 262 of 410 pass attempts (63.9%) for 3,183 yards, 23 touchdowns and those 11 picks while also gaining 575 rushing yards on 73 non-kneel-down plays for an average of 7.9 yards per carry. He also found the end zone five times as a runner, ranking first on the team in both yards, yards per rush and scores.

Allen is as good a player as any the Patriots will face this season, and as they have found out in the past he can completely take over a game. If they cannot slow him down one way or another, it will be a long day.

Offensive backfield

  • Devin Singletary* (26)
  • James Cook (28)
  • Nyheim Hines (20 | KR | PR)
  • Reggie Gilliam (41 | FB)
  • Taiwan Jones (25)

When Josh Allen is not running the football, more often than not Devin Singletary is. The fourth-year man is the team’s leader with 124 carries which he took for 552 yards — an average of 4.5 per run — and three touchdowns. Additionally, he has caught 31 throws for 226 yards and another score, ranking second on the team with 778 scrimmage yards.

Behind Singletary, the Bills will be using rookie James Cook (55 touches, 369 yards, 1 TD) and recent trade acquisition Nyheim Hines (3 touches, 4 yards). Fullback Reggie Gilliam and veteran emergency option Taiwan Jones are core special teamers, meanwhile, with Gilliam leading the team with 216 kicking game snaps.

Wide receivers

  • Stefon Diggs* (14)
  • Gabe Davis* (13)
  • Isaiah McKenzie* (6)
  • Khalil Shakir (10)

What the Bills might lack in quantity at the wide receiver position they make up for with quality.

Stefon Diggs is the main man, and as good a receiver as any in the NFL. The 29-year-old has caught 84 passes on 119 targets for 1,110 yards and nine touchdowns — leading the team in all three categories and also ranking first on the Buffalo roster in yards from scrimmage. His connection with Allen is one of the most productive in the NFL.

While all eyes will be on Diggs, Gabe Davis and Isaiah McKenzie also cannot be underestimated. Davis is second on the team with 33 catches for 650 yards and five scores, while McKenzie has caught 30 passes for 315 and four touchdowns.

Depth might be a problem, but ability and production certainly are not. And as far as the depth is concerned, it might soon be improved: wideout Marquez Stevenson has been designated to return from injured reserve.

Tight ends

  • Dawson Knox* (88)
  • Quintin Morris (85)
  • Tommy Sweeney (89)

The Bills’ tight end position is the Dawson Knox show. One of Josh Allen’s favorite targets, he is ranked third on the team with 42 of them, resulting in 33 receptions (2nd) for 327 yards (3rd) and a pair of touchdowns (4th). Knox also is a solid run blocker.

He will see most of the snaps at tight end, with Quintin Morris only occasionally coming on as more of a blocking specialist. Tommy Sweeney offers depth behind the top two and might become relevant this week given that Morris has missed back-to-back practices with an illness.

Offensive tackles

  • Dion Dawkins* (73 | LT)
  • Spencer Brown* (79 | RT)
  • David Quessenberry (77)
  • Justin Murray (67)

The Bills’ starting left tackle will be in the spotlight this week. Dion Dawkins, after all, has missed two straight practices with an ankle injury and is not guaranteed to take the field against New England on Thursday. If he can’t go, David Quessenberry will fill in.

The right side, meanwhile, is not in question. Spencer Brown has been dealing with an ankle injury of his own earlier in the year, but he will start the game versus the Patriots in his usual spot. He has given up a team-high 28 quarterback disruptions this year.

Interior offensive line

  • Rodger Saffold* (76 | LG)
  • Mitch Morse* (60 | C)
  • Ryan Bates* (71 | RG)
  • Greg Van Roten (70)
  • Bobby Hart (68)

Free agency pickup Rodger Saffold has been a solid player since his arrival in March, and together with center Mitch Morse and right guard Ryan Bates forms a reliable interior trio. They are not world beaters by any stretch but they function well within the context of the Buffalo offense and have given up just two sacks and 54 total pressures between them.

Additionally, the group’s depth might see a boost soon. Guard Ike Boettger has been designated to return from the physically unable to perform list.

NFL: NOV 24 Bills at Lions Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Interior defensive line

  • DaQuan Jones* (92)
  • Ed Oliver* (91)
  • Jordan Phillips (97)
  • Tim Settle (99)

While the Bills’ defensive tackles have been credited with only 5.5 combined sacks this season, make no mistake: they are a disruptive group both in the pass rush and in run defense. DaQuan Jones and Ed Oliver are the starters, but Buffalo likes to rotate Jordan Phillips and Tim Settle in as well to keep the entire group fresh and capitalize on matchups. It shows.

Defensive edge

  • Von Miller* (40)
  • Gregory Rousseau* (50)
  • Shaq Lawson (90)
  • Carlos Basham Jr. (55)
  • A.J. Epenesa (57)

Arriving on a massive six-year, $120 million contract this offseason, Von Miller has been everything Buffalo hoped for. The team leader with eight sacks and 45 total quarterback disruptions, he has been a big part of their defensive operation through 11 games.

Unfortunately for the Bills, he will miss this week’s contest due to a knee injury. However, the depth around him is impressive and should allow the team to still put pressure on what has been an inconsistent New England offensive line so far this season.

The question is who will get most of the work considering that Gregory Rousseau and A.J. Epenesa are both coming off injuries of their own. Both were listed as full participants on Tuesday’s practice report but it remains to be seen how quickly they will be up to game speed again.

Off-the-ball linebackers

  • Matt Milano* (58)
  • Tremaine Edmunds* (49)
  • Tyrel Dodson (53)
  • Terrel Bernard (43)
  • A.J. Klein (52)
  • Tyler Matakevich (44)
  • Baylon Spector (54)

The Bills’ off-the-ball linebacker group is led by Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds, forming one of the best one-two punches the position has to offer. Milano in particular has been a playmaker for the defense this year, registering 62 tackles (4th on the team), two interceptions (2nd) — including one returned for a touchdown — and a fumble recovery (1st).

The other five linebackers on the roster are used primarily on special teams or as emergency depth, with Tyrel Dodson and Terrel Bernard the third and fourth players on the depth chart from a defensive perspective. Matakevich, meanwhile, is second on the team with 210 special teams snaps.

Cornerbacks

  • Tre’Davious White* (27)
  • Dane Jackson* (30)
  • Taron Johnson* (7)
  • Kaiir Elam (24)
  • Siran Neal (33)
  • Xavier Rhodes (29)

After missing a full year due to a torn ACL, nominal No. 1 cornerback Tre’Davious White made his return last week against the Detroit Lions. He only ended up playing two series in his usual spot on the outside, so it remains to be seen how big of a workload he will see a week later.

Should White be limited again, first-round rookie Kaiir Elam will likely get the start alongside fellow perimeter cornerback Dane Jackson and reliable slot man Taron Johnson.

Safeties

  • Jordan Poyer* (21)
  • Damar Hamlin* (3)
  • Jaquan Johnson (4)
  • Cam Lewis (39)
  • Dean Marlowe (31)

Even with Micah Hyde on injured reserve because of a neck injury, Buffalo has gotten solid production out of its safety group this year. Jordan Poyer remains his usual steady self, and is leading the team with four interceptions. Alongside him, second-year defender Damar Hamlin has carve out a starting role; Hamlin actually leads the position group with 605 defensive snaps.

Jaquan Johnson is the No. 3 in the rotation behind Poyer and Hamlin, whereas Cam Lewis and Dean Marlowe are used on special teams first and foremost.

Specialists

  • Tyler Bass (2 | K)
  • Sam Martin (8 | P)
  • Reid Ferguson (69 | LS)

Buffalo has gotten solid production out of its special teams group so far. Tyler Bass has made 23 of 26 field goal attempts and 32 of 33 extra points while also doing kickoffs; Sam Martin is averaging 48.4 yards per punt with a net of 42.1.

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