Patriots vs Bills is one of the few marquee matchups of an NFL week the Monday Night affair. Not often have the Patriots and Bills been facing off this late in the season with first place in the division on the line. The Bills took advantage of a down year for the Patriots last year. Their clean sweep of their divisional opponent last year led many to predict the Bills would start a new reign in the AFC East, finally making up for two decades of serving as the Patriots punching bag.
Fast forward a year and the Bills find themselves in a familiar spot: looking up at the Patriots in the standings. But these are the same old Bills or the same Patriots that ripped off a 35-5 record against the Bills from 2000-2019.
This is the first meeting for these two foes this year. How the season series goes will not only largely decide the division, but may also have a massive impact on the AFC playoff field. Nobody expected the Pats to be back this soon. How they hold up in this MASSIVE late-season matchup will tell us if they’re back for good.
Pats Run the Ball
The Patriots have become a behemoth of a rushing team since going for -1 yards on Sunday Night Football against the Bucs in week 4. They have now rushed for over 100 yards in eight straight games, including going over 120 in 7 of those. The return of Trent Brown has been palpable on the entire offense but running behind him has had immense success in recent weeks.
The Bills have been a paradox against the run this year. They have only allowed three of their opponents to go over 100 yards in a game. Those outputs also occurred against the better competition that Buffalo has faced this year. And it was only two weeks ago the Colts went for 264 yards and 4 touchdowns on 46 carries.
The Pats running the ball is going to be a key to the game, especially in the forecasted inclement weather. Their power running scheme should find success against the Bills’ undersized front 7. The Pats will feed Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson to shorten the game and limit Josh Allen’s possessions.
Pats Pass the Ball
Mac Jones may not be a world-beater, but he is certainly responsible for operating one of the most efficient offenses in the league this year. Surprisingly, one of the most efficient offenses the Patriots has had in recent years too. The Pats now have the same amount of total touchdowns as they do punts this year; 35 apiece.
The last time the Pats had an offense that scored more than punted was in 2021. There are a lot of very good Brady years between 2021 and now that didn’t have the same efficiency as this current model.
Part of the reason the offense has been so effective has been their ability to keep Mac Jones clean. During their 6-game win streak, Jones has been under pressure on only 22.9% of his dropbacks. During that same stretch, the Patriots’ offensive line has ranked first in passing blocking efficiency. And the line has only gotten better since Trent Brown’s return. Since his return, Mac is getting hit 4 times a game, compared to 5.6 without Brown.
Mac has taken that extra protection and produced. In the last six weeks, Mac is 2nd in the NFL in yards (1379), second in yards per attempt (8.1), second in “big-time throws” (9), fourth in touchdown passes (9), and fourth in completion percentage (69.4%).
Despite his recent success, he’ll have his work cut for him against the Bills’ defense. They are ranked number 1 in passing defense DVOA, allowing only a 57% completion percentage and eight passing touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks. The Bills did lose All-World Corner Tre’Davious White on Thanksgiving to a torn ACL. His absence will be palpable despite a well-coached and talented defense. Mac will have to choose his spots and generally avoid the Bills’ talented safety duo.
Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer have combined for eight interceptions this year and will be leaned upon heavily in White’s absence. If the running game gets going, the play-action passing game will be where Mac makes his hay in Buffalo.
Advantage: Patriots (slightly)
Bills Run the Ball
The Bills designed their offense this offseason to play in high-flying affairs with the Kansas City’s and Los Angeles’ of the world. The sacrifice for doing so came in the form of their running game. They have struggled to consistently put together a strong ground attack this season. With inclement weather forecasted for Monday Night, their inability to run the ball may be their undoing. The Bills leading rusher is Devin Singletary with 459 yards, second on the team is Josh Allen with 383.
The Titans had success last week running the ball against the Patriots, going for 270 on 39 carries. However, the Patriots seemed happy to let the Titans run the ball, evidenced by a Titans playcalling disparity of 39 runs to 21 passes, despite trailing for most of the game.
A similar defensive strategy might be employed against the Bills. Don’t be surprised if the Pats go light in the box, begging for the Bills to try to run it and keeping the ball out of Allen’s hands. Kyle Dugger has a slim chance of clearing COVID protocol by Monday. If he can’t go, his absence as a do-it-all safety will be acutely felt when the Pats go lighter in their defensive personnel. Dugger leads the team in tackles and is good for a couple of bone-crunching hits every game.
Bills Pass the Ball
The Bills go as Allen goes. The first few weeks of the season Allen looked like an MVP candidate. Lately, he’s looked a little like the Allen of old. He has thrown seven interceptions over the last four weeks and has also lost a fumble during that span. His eight turnovers are balanced by eight touchdowns but the up and down play of Allen has led to up and down success for Buffalo.
Since week seven, the Bills are 3-2 with a negative two turnover differential and sack differential. New England leads the league in interceptions this year and is very good at getting after the opposing quarterback. Neither is good news for Allen and the Bills.
While the Bills boast a talented stable of weapons, the Pats’ recent transformation to a zone defense is sure to make life tough for Allen. Using zones, the Patriots can send a varying arrangement of blitzers and force Allen to identify exotic looks after the snap. The inclement weather is sure to slow down the potentially explosive Buffalo offense and force them to play left-handed. Don’t be shocked to see Belichick get the better of Allen and get a key couple of takeaways in this matchup.
In a game where the weather may become a factor, Belichick’s team is likely to have an upper hand. Especially in the third phase as handling kicks and kicking becomes a challenge later in the evening. The Bills feature a talented punter/kicker duo in Matt Haack and Tyler Bass.
The Patriots will also need to contain explosive return man Isaiah McKenzie. The Patriots have been very solid after a shaky start to the season in the third phase of the game. In a game where points might be a premium, field position will play a big part.
As head coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick is 35-7 against the Bills. The Patriots QB’s who played the most in each of Buffalo’s past four victories have been Jarrett Stidham, Cam Newton, Jacoby Brissett (his rookie year), and Jimmy Garoppolo (also a rookie). Mac Jones has proven to be a different breed than those four. Belichick also has his group playing its best football coming down the stretch.
Since week 7 the Pats are first in points per game (35.2), first in opponents points per game (10.5), and first in turnover differential (+13). They are only the fourth team since the merger to average more than 30 points per game and allow less than 10 points per game in November.
Sean McDermott is a solid coach in his own right. His team just isn’t rounding into form the way Belichick has his boys playing. While the Bills have been inconsistent in recent weeks, McDermott will have his guys ready to play. This is sure to be a physical and well-coached game.
Patriots vs Bills Prediction
The weather will solidly aid the Pats by forcing the Bills passing game to operate at a near-perfect level. Belichick will surely invite the Bills to run the ball and see how patient Allen can be. The bend-don’t-break defense will be alive and well throughout Monday night. The familiarity of these two teams will keep the game close but Allen’s turnovers will be the difference.
Patriots win 27-23