When the New England Patriots come to New Era Field on Sunday to face off against the Buffalo Bills, they’ll be looking for their eighth consecutive win in the building. If they can do it, the Pats will move to 4-0 on the year, wrestling control of first place in the AFC East division while they’re at it. If Buffalo wins, they will be the 4-0 team, holding sole possession of first place heading into October.
Head coach Sean McDermott has yet to defeat the Patriots, as his Bills are 0-4 against New England over the last two years. Those games have been characterized by valiant efforts that come up short—last year’s Monday Night Football match-up comes to mind—but this year’s squad seems to be different. The Bills have a deeper roster than in years past, and they’ll have a raucous home crowd at their backs on Sunday.
Which players will the Bills need to control if they want to pull out the victory on Sunday? Here are our five Patriots to watch.
QB Tom Brady
Duh. New England’s future Hall of Fame quarterback is 30-3 all-time against Buffalo. He’s off to an outstanding start this year, completing 68% of his passes through three games for 911 yards and seven touchdowns. While he has annihilated Buffalo throughout his career, he has struggled against them (relatively speaking) since McDermott took over. Brady has thrown four interceptions in his last four games against the Bills against only three touchdowns. The last time the two clubs met, Brady had a miserable day, completing 13-of-24 passes for 126 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. If the Bills can harass the veteran into making some mistakes, then they’ll increase their chances of winning exponentially.
RB James White
If you’ve played fantasy football at any point over the last twenty years, you know that it’s almost impossible to figure out which running back Bill Belichick will turn to in a given game. However, White has a particular set of skills that make him a nightmare for teams like Buffalo. As a phenomenal pass-catcher, White is a tough cover for anyone, and given New England’s proficiency at flooding zones and creating confusion, White often finds himself in open space against a linebacker. White has given Buffalo problems in his career, and he caught ten passes for 79 yards during last year’s loss in Orchard Park. The Bills will have to check on all of New England’s backs coming out as receivers, forcing Brady to throw outside the hash marks rather than his comfort area in the middle of the field.
OT Marshall Newhouse
New England’s backup left tackle will have his hands full with Jerry Hughes on Sunday. He missed practice on Thursday thanks to an illness, so his status bears watching as the week progresses. If he plays, he will probably need help to contain Buffalo’s edge rushers. If he can’t play, then the left tackle spot will be under an even greater microscope.
CB Stephon Gilmore
Obviously, Bills fans are going to give Gilmore the business based on his defection from our squad to the Evil Empire. On the field, he’ll have a huge role to play: shutting down John Brown. Gilmore is an excellent press-corner, and Brown has ridiculous speed and agility. If Brown can beat the Gilly Lock downfield, then quarterback Josh Allen will be able to have some success. Gilmore might commit a holding penalty or three, but his aggressive style essentially begs officials to throw flags. If they don’t, he is awfully hard to beat.
S Patrick Chung
I think Chung will be the guy Buffalo tries to beat in pass coverage this week. With Gilmore and Jason McCourty outside, the Bills will look to attack the middle. Cole Beasley will be an obvious target, but if the Bills can isolate tight end Dawson Knox on some linebackers or on Chung, the rookie could build off a big Week 3. Look for the Bills to try some play-action to manipulate the veteran safety, who is a big-hitter and aggressive run-support player. If they can force him to take a false step, Knox can roam free.