The Pats can all but clinch the division with a win this weekend
The New England Patriots host the Buffalo Bills this week in the teams’ second matchup of the season. You may recall that New England won the first installment 14-10 in a hard-fought game played in crazy weather. Coming off a loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Patriots will definitely be focused, intent on putting themselves in prime position for a divisional championship.
The weather should be fairly normal this time around, as the winds aren’t expected to be much of an issue. While there is a chance of some wintry precipitation, it doesn’t seem as if it will be enough to ground the Patriots’ aerial attack like the crazy winds in Orchard Park on December 6.
There are plenty of players that Buffalo will need to contain in order to come out with a win this time around. Here are the five we’ll be watching this week.
QB Mac Jones
Jones completed two of his three passes for 19 yards in the first meeting. This time around, chances are good that he’ll be asked to throw it more often. After watching him against the Colts last week, I can see what’s meant by those who think he’s great, but I can also see the issues raised by those who think he’s terrible, as well. The truth, as with most things, lies somewhere in the middle. Jones is deadly accurate when given time and the ability to set his feet, and he seems especially good in the red zone. However, he doesn’t have plus arm strength, and footballs will hang in the air on him as a result. He’s not going to be confused with Josh Allen or Justin Herbert, and these Tom Brady comparisons are straight lunacy right now, but Jones is a serviceable thrower of the football who can manage a game and make enough plays to win. Buffalo will need to keep the Patriots in 3rd & Uncomfortable situations, then show some of those double-A gap pressures with Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano to throw Jones for a loop. Buffalo has three secondary players—Taron Johnson, Micah Hyde, and Jordan Poyer—who are all excellent blitzers off the edge, as well. If Buffalo speeds up Jones’s clock and moves him off his spot, they will force a turnover. They can’t just sit back and expect the front four to generate pressure. They’ll need to scheme it up a little, confusing the rookie in the process.
RB Damien Harris
Harris sat out last week with a hamstring injury, but he has returned to the practice field this week already. His 64-yard touchdown run was really the difference in New England’s win over Buffalo, and it’s that ability to hit holes with authority and chug through the second and third levels of the defense that makes him such a dangerous runner. Buffalo needs to be sound in their gap assignments this week, but they also just need to go tackle someone. Harris has gained 393 of his 754 yards after contact, so it will probably take more than one defender to bring him to the ground. Buffalo needs to swarm to him aggressively when they see run.
TE Hunter Henry
The Patriots have some issues right now at wide receiver. Nelson Agholor suffered a concussion last week. N’Keal Harry is dealing with a hip injury. and Kendrick Bourne is on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. There’s a very real possibility that New England’s top wideouts could be Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski. That leaves Henry and fellow tight end Jonnu Smith as prime candidates for more targets. Especially since the Bills allowed so much on the ground three weeks ago, I could absolutely see the Patriots coming out with two tight ends and heavy formations, running the ball to set up play-action, and targeting Henry at least ten times in the game. Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds will need to follow the ball and then find their target in order to prevent big gains on crossers over the middle.
DT Davon Godchaux
When the Bills and Patriots played last time, Godchaux had ten tackles. That’s Ted Washington stuff right there out of an interior lineman. Godchaux was a wrecking ball in the middle, and his brute strength is not a great matchup for center Mitch Morse, who is best when he’s on the move and pulling, not in a mudfight in the trenches. The problem is that Buffalo can’t really afford to double Godchaux since Matt Judon, Kyle Van Noy, and Deatrich Wise Jr. are all formidable pass rushers who will require extra attention. Buffalo’s linemen are going to have to win some one-on-ones in order to survive this one. Godchaux is an interesting X-Factor at a position where Buffalo is susceptible to issues.
CB Jalen Mills
New England’s secondary is really good. J.C. Jackson is one of the best corners in the league. Adrian Phillips and Devin McCourty are a solid pair of veteran safeties. The “weak link,” if there is one, is Mills, who has allowed a quarterback rating of 115.3 on passes thrown his way this year. While he’s only allowing a completion rate of 55.8 percent, he has allowed six touchdowns this season, and he’s allowing 12.1 yards per completed pass. Mills will probably be matched up against Gabe Davis in a battle of young players, and Davis is just a bit bigger and stronger. Quarterback Josh Allen is going to need to air it out to win, and Mills is his best bet at a mismatch.