The Pats are the ones playing out the string this time around
The Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots have played against one another 120 times. New England has won 75, lost 44, and tied once. Of those 75 wins, 35 have come since the year 2000. That incredible era of dominance has come to a close, and it’s also led to some statistical anomalies.
The Patriots have played Buffalo multiple times over the last 20 years with a playoff berth already clinched while Buffalo has already been eliminated. As far as I can tell, this Monday will be the first time in the history of this matchup where the Bills have clinched a playoff berth and New England has already been eliminated. There are times where the Bills have been well on their way to a playoff berth (1991, for example) and times where the Bills have clinched a playoff spot by beating New England (like in 1999), but I can’t find one where Buffalo had officially clinched and the Patriots had already been officially eliminated.
If I’m wrong, please point it out (I’ve consulted Pro Football Reference and Sal Maiorana’s Relentless for more hours than my bleary eyes will allow), but I think we’ll be watching some history unfold in the form of retribution on Monday night.
Here are the Patriots we’ll be watching in this game where they’ll be playing for nothing but pride.
QB Cam Newton
My, how the mighty have fallen. Over the first month of the season, Newton was able to mask his limitations as a passer with strong rushing numbers. He threw only two touchdowns against four interceptions through the first four weeks, but he managed to complete 68 percent of his passes while rushing for 225 yards and five touchdowns. In the nine games since, Newton still has a negative touchdown-to-interception ratio (three touchdowns, six picks), is competing 64 percent of his passes, and has added 264 rushing yards and six touchdowns. As dynamic as he looked like he could be early in the year, he has been anything but as the season has worn on. Buffalo should be able to dominate him early, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see some Jarrett Stidham this week.
RB Sony Michel
The third-year man is back healthy after missing time due to an injured quad earlier in the year, but he looked good against the Miami Dolphins last week. He had ten carries for 74 yards in the loss, and while rookie Damien Harris has overtaken the feature-back role, Harris looks like he may miss the game thanks to an injured ankle. Michel ran for over 900 yards in each of the last two seasons, so he’s not some bum coming in to replace Harris. The Bills will need to remain sound in their gap assignments and continue playing disciplined, tough football in order to shut down New England’s running game. Putting them in a negative game script early could lead to a laugher.
WR Jakobi Meyers
It’s too bad that Meyers wasn’t a teammate of Benjarvus Green-Ellis, because the two of them together would have made for a great law firm-type name. Alas, it’s only Meyers who can go by “The Law Firm” now, and he’s found moderate success as the Pats’ top wideout this year. He is second on the squad in targets with 68, but he leads the team in catches (49) and yards (616). He has yet to catch a touchdown this season, and the Bills will look to keep it that way. If Tre’Davious White and/or Levi Wallace are limited in any way, it could open up some chances for Meyers, but if either Wallace or White plays, Buffalo should be able to handle New England’s pop-gun passing attack.
CB J.C. Jackson
Jackson has eight interceptions this year to go with 13 pass breakups and three fumble recoveries. To say that he’s having a phenomenal year would be an understatement. With teammate Stephon Gilmore suffering a quad tear last week, it’ll be all on Jackson to step up as the number-one corner, meaning he’ll see more of Stefon Diggs than he may have otherwise. It’s possible that the Bills have John Brown back this week, too, which could further stress the Patriots’ pass defense. Josh Allen shouldn’t avoid Jackson altogether, but he would be wise to find other areas to attack when given the chance.
S Adrian Phillips
The veteran is having a solid year in his first season under Bill Belichick, leading the team in tackles with 101 and tackles-for-loss with seven. He’s added two interceptions, four pass breakups, one sack, and one quarterback hit to fill out his ledger. When he’s been the closest defender in coverage, though, he has struggled this season, as he has allowed 77.5 percent of the passes thrown his way to be completed for 288 yards and a touchdown. Buffalo has been dynamite in the play-action game, and that could leave Phillips exposed in some one-on-one scenarios over the middle—and that would be a good matchup for the Bills.