The Buffalo Bills play host to their division rivals, the New England Patriots, on Sunday. For the first time since Week 2 of the 2015 season, Buffalo is favored to win (though Pro Football Reference has Buffalo as a one-point underdog in that game). The 5-2 Bills could bury the 2-4 Patriots with a victory, but a loss leaves the door open for Bill Belichick’s team to rise again.
The Bills have had success this season, but they still have plenty of warts for a division-leading squad. They’ll need to sort out some of the messier parts of their game if they’re going to come out with their first win over New England in Buffalo since 2011.
Here are our players to watch in order to make that win happen.
QB Josh Allen
Allen hasn’t been as sharp over the last three weeks...well, he was pretty sharp last week against the New York Jets (30-of-43, 307 yards), but he hasn’t looked like the potential MVP candidate that he was during the team’s first four games. A combination of some solid defenses and some zone concepts slowing him down have led to Allen’s big-play numbers taking a dive, but he found a groove hitting his check-downs last week. Cole Beasley was a beneficiary of Allen’s patience, and with another receiver looking like he’ll be ready to play, the offense should open right back up again. In three career games against New England, Allen has struggled, completing under 50% of his passes with more interceptions (5) than touchdowns (3). Against a defensive mastermind like Belichick, it’s always going to be difficult, but this is the best team Allen has entered a Patriots’ game with at his back. A strong performance from Josh is the single biggest key in the game this week.
WR John Brown
With a healthy John Brown in the lineup, Buffalo’s offense rolled out to an incredible start to the 2020 campaign. Josh Allen averaged nine yards per attempt and 332 passing yards per game over the first four weeks of the year. When Brown injured his calf, missing the game against the Tennessee Titans, and then played on one good leg thanks to a knee injury and that same calf injury against the Kansas City Chiefs before missing last week’s game against the Jets, Allen struggled a bit to find open space in the secondary. Over his last three games, Allen averaged 231 passing yards per game and 6.2 yards per attempt. Brown might not have the huge numbers that teammate Stefon Diggs has, but his presence means so much to Buffalo’s offense. When he’s out there, teams can’t possibly guard him and Diggs and Cole Beasley. When Brown is healthy, Buffalo is explosive. Brown has been able to log two full practices for the first time in a month, so he should be healthy. If he can do what he does best, he’ll impact the game even if he isn’t the team’s leading receiver.
DT Harrison Phillips
Speaking of players who can impact the game without racking up big statistics, it might seem odd to bring up a defensive tackle who has been a healthy scratch for two straight weeks. However, with both Vernon Butler (groin) and Quinton Jefferson (knee) looking like they’ll miss the game or be limited if they can play. Phillips was surpassed on the depth chart by Justin Zimmer, but he may be in line to play a significant number of snaps as the one-tech defensive tackle against a New England squad that is sure to pound the football this week. Phillips should have a chance at redemption this Sunday.
LB Matt Milano
How many snaps can he play? Will he be able to perform at his best after coming back from a pectoral muscle strain? After missing two games, Milano only played on one-third of Buffalo’s defensive snaps last week against the Jets. Facing off against a New England team that loves to throw to the running backs, especially given the injuries at wide receiver, Milano should be stressed early and often. Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will try to see just how healthy Milano is this week.
S Dean Marlowe
Micah Hyde is expected to miss this game with a concussion, and some might think that the logical “next man up” is Jaquan Johnson. However, the veteran Marlowe has stepped in at safety before and performed well, so I think that head coach Sean McDermott will trust the veteran to do it again this week. Marlowe has played some Big Nickel at times, as well, so he might be moved around a bit this week. Or, we could see Johnson, who has only appeared on two defensive snaps so far this year, deployed in that fashion, as well. Either way, I think it will be Marlowe taking the bulk of the snaps next to Jordan Poyer this week.