The Buffalo Bills travel to Foxborough, MA this week to take on the New England Patriots for the second time this season. In the previous match-up between the two teams, Buffalo lost 16-10 on its home field, with the difference being a blocked punt that New England returned for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Both teams entered that game at 3-0 but, with the win, the Patriots took control of the AFC East. A Bills victory this week would bring the teams even at 11-4 overall, although New England would still hold the division lead thanks to tiebreakers. This is the first time in a long time that Buffalo has a chance to win the division this late in a season, so the importance of this week’s game can’t be overstated.
With that in mind, the Bills will need big performances from their best players in order to come out on top. Here are the Bills we’ll be watching this weekend.
QB Josh Allen
Buffalo’s quarterback tried to play hero ball early on in the first game against New England, throwing three interceptions in what was an ugly performance overall (13-of-28, 153 yards, 3 INT, 5 carries, 26 yards, 1 TD). Allen was knocked out of that game in the beginning of the fourth quarter after absorbing a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit from Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones. Since Allen threw three interceptions on 28 attempts that day, he has improved drastically. Allen has only been intercepted a total of three times since then. That span covers ten games and 299 pass attempts. Clearly, Allen learned from his failures versus the Patriots, and that lesson has resulted in a fantastic season for the second-year man. Allen is on pace to complete 59% of his passes for 3,287 yards, 21 touchdowns, and ten interceptions—adding in 534 yards and ten touchdowns on the ground. Sure, those numbers don’t scream “fantastic” in 2019, but considering Allen’s rookie season pace over 16 games (52.8% completion rate, 2,765 yards, 13 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 631 rushing yards, 8 touchdowns), his improvement as a passer is undeniable. If he can prevent costly turnovers, complete passes to maintain drives, and use his legs when necessary, the Bills can pull out a victory in Foxborough.
RB Devin Singletary
The rookie running back missed Buffalo’s first game against the Patriots due to a hamstring injury, and the Bills definitely missed him. True, Frank Gore had his best day of the season against the Pats, carrying 17 times for 109 yards, but the Bills clearly didn’t want to overuse the venerable veteran, leaving T.J. Yeldon in to take snaps when Gore needed a break. The coaching staff obviously didn’t trust Yeldon to run, choosing instead to use him as a receiver. With Singletary, the Bills can better disguise their intentions, as the rookie’s ability as both a runner and a receiver make him the most complete player Buffalo has at the running-back position. Expect a heavy dose of Devin this week as the Bills try to win the time-of-possession game. Over his last seven games, Singletary is averaging 19 touches and 99 yards per game. He’ll need to hit those averages at a minimum for Buffalo to win Saturday.
C Mitch Morse
With a defense that can be as confusing as New England’s is, Allen will need all the help he can get in setting protections. Enter Morse, who was signed exactly for a situation like this one. Morse will be a vital component to Buffalo’s offense. If he can help Allen to identify where defensive mastermind Bill Belichick is sending pressure from, then Buffalo’s offense will operate that much more smoothly.
DT Ed Oliver
The interior pass rush is huge, and against Tom Brady, it’s an essential part of keeping the legendary quarterback off balance. Oliver is third on the Bills in sacks this year with five. Along with his teammate and fellow defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, who leads the team with 9.5 sacks, Oliver will need to collapse the pocket and force Brady to move his feet before throwing. If Oliver can continue to find gaps and hound the quarterback, it will keep Brady from finding a rhythm—something that has to happen in order for Buffalo to keep their hopes of a division title alive.
LB Matt Milano
The speedy coverage linebacker played great against the Patriots in the first match-up, allowing only one big reception early in the game to James White. Otherwise, Milano was stellar in coverage while also playing well in run support. He had six tackles and one pass breakup during the first game, and he also managed to play on all 63 of Buffalo’s defensive snaps. With a Patriots receiving corps that includes an injured top target in Julian Edelman, a relative newcomer in Mohamed Sanu, a pair of intriguing rookies in N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Myers, and an inconsistent speedster in Phillip Dorsett, Brady’s best bet might be to use his running backs in the passing game. That puts Milano’s play under a microscope. He’ll need to be up to the challenge this week.