For the 115h time since 1960, the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots meet in a huge Week 13 divisional game. It’s been forever since both teams had meaningful games against each other this late in the season mainly because of how bad the Bills have been. However, both teams enter this match up after coming off big wins in Week 12 and look to build on their final push to the playoffs.
The Bills (6-5) broke a three game losing skid in Kansas City last week which has kept their slim playoff hopes alive. While they currently hold the 6th seed in the AFC, they have little to no room for mistakes heading down the stretch after terrible losses within the conference to the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets, and the Los Angeles Charges earlier this year.
The Patriots enter this game riding a Conference leading seven game winning streak. Though they did not have their sharpest of games in Week 12, they were able to easily crush the cellar dwelling Miami Dolphins to the tune of 35-17.
Massive playoff implications are on the line this weekend in Orchard Park New York so in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams were broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – Patriots: The Bills have turned back to Tyrod Taylor as their starter as the “Nathan Peterman Experiment” lasted only about 1 half of football a few weeks ago. While Taylor is certainly talented and has the ability to throw the ball deep, he has been wildly inconsistent this year and tends to look for the check down receiver too early in his progressions. His 6.58 Yards per Attempt ranks near the bottom of the NFL. As for the Patriots, Tom Brady is having an MVP-like season and if he can make it through a game like last week’s game against the Miami Dolphins’ Cheapshot Crew (led by the overpaid/under-performing Ndamukong Suh), the Patriots should be in good shape.
Running Backs – Push: Though the Patriots’ backs have more yards from scrimmage and touchdowns than their Bills counterparts, this is a relatively even match up due to LeSean McCoy’s versatility and big play ability.
Wide Receivers – Patriots: While New England spent their off season trying to bolster their receiving corps, the Bills decided to ship out all of the talent and start fresh. When that didn’t work out they brought in Kelvin Benjamin who promptly injured his knee and is out for a few weeks. Advantage Patriots.
Tight Ends – Patriots: Buffalo’s Charles Clay has been the Bills’ leading (and most consistent) receiving threat however his numbers pale in comparison to Rob Gronkowski’s.
Offensive Line – Push: Both teams have had similar offensive line play in 2017. While the Bills have a slight edge in run blocking, the Patriots hold the edge on pass protection ability.
Defensive Front Seven – Push: Buffalo and New England are ranked 21st and 22nd, respectively, in rushing yards allowed per game. While the Patriots got a significant boost in their sack production numbers last week against a woefully awful Miami Dolphins team, their normal ability to get to the Quarterback is similar to the Buffalo Bills’ ability.
Secondary – Bills: While the Patriots secondary is starting to show signs of life, Buffalo’s secondary is still allowing less yards per game (241 yards vs. 270 yards) and are also allowing a lower QB Rating to opposing passers (80.5 vs. 92.3) than their New England counterparts.
Special Teams – Push: Both Special Teams units, from a return and kicking standpoint, are statistically even more or less.
Coaching – Patriots: Buffalo’s first year Head Coach Sean McDermott has had a bit of roller coaster ride this season. After getting the Bills off to 5-2 start, the fan base was in jubilation and the GCA was flowing like Niagara Falls. However after a 3 game slide which included benching Tyrod Taylor in lieu of Nathan “The Interception Machine” Peterman, the fan base turned quickly and the pitch forks and torches made their annual appearance. While it will be interesting to see how the Bills perform down the stretch it’s pretty clear that at this point McDermott is not at the level of Bill Belichick.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
1) Protect the Quarterback: While Tom Brady may be having one of his best seasons, the Patriots need to focus making sure that their aging wonder is kept safe from the Bills’ pass rush. Whether that means leaving more people in to block or helping with blocking assignments, New England can’t have another day of letting Brady absorb big hits.
2) Clean up the Mental Mistakes: The Patriots are coming off a game where they were uncharacteristically sloppy in certain situations. While delusional fans of the woefully terrible Dolphins will try to take some credit for that, it is clear that the Patriots’ issues were self-inflicted and they need to spend the time to make sure they correct those mental lapses.
3) Focus on the Task at Hand: With a win on Sunday, the Patriots could have a four game lead in the AFC East. With a huge month of December coming up which will decide not only the division but possibly Home Field Advantage, the Patriots cannot look past the Bills who are aiming to break the longest playoff drought in professional sports.
While meaningful games in December is a concept that the Buffalo Bills organization has not been used to seeing since the turn of the century, it has become common place for the Patriots. That is where the concern should be for New England: Not to be complacent and take the Bills seriously as an opponent. While Bill Belichick made the Patriots come in this week and watch extra film because of their lack luster play last week, it will be up to the players to execute the game plan an minimize mental errors.
Once again on paper the Patriots look like they should dominate this game. New England, however, needs to stay focused, take what the Bills give them, and not give Buffalo the opportunity to let their fans into the game. Expect a closer than expected contest that will could come down to a late game possession to determine the game
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 27 – Bills 20