A battle for first place is coming on Monday night
The Buffalo Bills host the New England Patriots this Monday night in what will be the most important game to date of the 2021 season for each team. While Buffalo’s early season victory over the Kansas City Chiefs was thought to carry that level of importance at the time, things have changed. It’s become evident that the divisional title many thought was destined to be Buffalo’s is now very much up for grabs.
The Bills find themselves trailing New England by half a game heading into this one, and we can’t overstate how important a victory would be for Buffalo. A win would give the Bills a half-game edge over the Patriots, and it would also give the Bills a 4-0 divisional record. With one game remaining against New England and one game left against the New York Jets, it’s a good bet that the Bills could at least finish 5-1 in the AFC East. A loss for New England on Monday would give the Patriots their second divisional loss on the season, as they dropped their season opener to the Miami Dolphins.
Buffalo is going to need some big performances from their top-end players in what could be a stormy affair. Here are our players to watch on Monday night.
QB Josh Allen
Yep, this is a big night for QB1. Allen has been lights-out during primetime over the last two seasons, and he could use another top-notch performance against one of the league’s best defenses. Allen is in the middle of a bad streak of turnovers, as he has thrown seven interceptions and lost a fumble in the last four contests. Against an opportunistic New England defense that has forced 12 turnovers in the last four games, that’s a recipe for disaster if Allen doesn’t protect the football. A potential boost to Allen’s prospects is the return of both Spencer Brown at right tackle and Jon Feliciano at left guard—while the former is all but a certainty, the latter is still a question mark. If both of those linemen can play on Monday, that should give Allen all the protection he needs to go to work on a tough Patriots defense. He’ll need to play smart, aggressive football, limiting his mistakes and staying patient within the offense in order to lead the Bills to victory.
WR Gabriel Davis
There are other players who are flashier names, but in a game that could feature bad weather, the Bills are going to have to go with some of their heavier packages, which should lead to more opportunities for Davis to shine. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is notorious for taking away a team’s first option, and given that everyone knows Buffalo wants the ball to go to Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley, someone like Davis is going to be the guy Belichick forces to beat him. Davis is more than capable of obliging that request, as he has shown the ability to make all sorts of wild catches deep down field. If Davis is lined up on one of the Pats’ slot corners, he can use his size to his advantage. Look for at least one big play from Davis off of play action, probably in the first half.
G Jon Feliciano
He hasn’t even been activated yet, but I’m anticipating that he will be. And if he is, then he’s going to need to come back nasty to add to Buffalo’s protection. If Feliciano isn’t active, then it will be another week of either Ike Boettger or Cody Ford, and while both players were better last week, that’s not an ideal scenario in a game that carries first place as a prize for victory. Feliciano needs to come back and play the way he’s capable of playing.
DT Star Lotulelei
Speaking of players who need to come back and play well, the Bills need their top run-stuffer to counter the Patriots’ one-two punch of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. While Eli Ankou and Brandin Bryant filled in admirably last week, the New Orleans Saints were missing both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, so it’s of little surprise that they were unable to move the ball effectively on the ground. Lotulelei was listed as limited in Thursday’s practice due to an “illness,” so it’s possible that he is still suffering from the after-effects of the virus even though he is no longer on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. If Lotulelei can play to the level he has for most of this year, it will be a huge boost to Buffalo’s No. 1-ranked defense.
CB Dane Jackson
Everyone knows that Bill Belichick is going to instruct offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to see if the man replacing Tre’Davious White in the lineup is up to snuff. This will be Jackson’s third career start, but the first start of his 2021 season. In limited duty this year, he has seemed to be susceptible to double moves, so it will be interesting to see if the Patriots can take advantage. Quarterback Mac Jones has been great on throws to the sidelines within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage, but on anything over that, he’s been well below league average. This might be a time where Jackson’s physicality and aggressive nature play well to his opponent. We’re going to find out early, though, as the Patriots will definitely put pressure on the second-year corner. On the year, Jackson has 14 tackles and zero pass breakups. He’s going to need to come in and play well immediately.