The New England Patriots come to Orchard Park to face the Buffalo Bills in an unfamiliar scenario. The Bills sit at 5-3, two games ahead of the second-place Miami Dolphins, who at 3-3 are a game ahead of the third-place Patriots. New England is just 2-4, and while a loss to Buffalo won’t end their season, it will definitely put a damper on their hopes for yet another AFC East Division title.
In order for the Bills to collect a huge divisional win, they’ll need to shut down New England’s key players. Here’s who we’ll be watching this week.
QB Cam Newton
The veteran quarterback was the talk of the league for two weeks, as he looked spry and on his way to a great season. After contracting COVID-19, Newton’s play has regressed to the point that he was benched at the end of last week’s blowout loss against the San Francisco 49ers. After scoring 21, 30, and 36 points in their first three games, the Patriots have combined to score only 28 points combined in their last three games. Newton is just 26-of-40 for 255 yards with five interceptions over his last two starts, and he hasn’t thrown the ball to the right side of the field at all for two weeks. Something’s rotten in Foxborough, and the Bills need to capitalize.
RB Damien Harris
The Patriots are going to want to bully Buffalo up front, exploiting the Bills’ porous run defense. Their bruising second-year running back would certainly help the cause, and if he’s able to gut through an ankle injury, then he’s sure to see plenty of work on Sunday. Harris is averaging more than five yards per carry this year, and Buffalo is allowing 4.6 yards per rush so far. They allowed 37-year-old Frank Gore to average higher than five yards per carry last week, so the Bills will need to tighten up and force Newton to beat them (preferably to the offensive right side) this week.
DE Chase Winovich
The Patriots’ top pass rusher has 2.5 sacks and six quarterback hits this year—not great numbers, but enough to make the Bills aware of his presence when he’s on the field. A former second-round pick, Winovich is a worker-type whose high motor means he’s never out of a play. The Bills will have to make sure that he’s accounted for, especially if he’s lined up across from Daryl Williams, who allowed a blow-by sack that led to a Josh Allen fumble last week. Running some screens at his side will make Winovich hesitate enough to simplify Williams’s job.
CB J.C. Jackson
With many teams avoiding New England’s other corner (more on him in a minute), it’s been Jackson who has the chance to thrive. Jackson has seven pass breakups and three interceptions already this year, and he’s only allowed 168 passing yards on 21 targets this year. He allowed his first career touchdown this year, but Jackson is an outstanding second corner. Luckily for Buffalo, they have an outstanding second receiver in John Brown who’s ready to return from injury this week. That matchup will be worth the price of...Sunday Ticket, since admission isn’t possible at the moment.
CB Stephon Gilmore
New England’s other corner is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s been criticized for his play in some circles for some things that might sound familiar to Bills fans. Gilmore has been accused of making “business decisions” to avoid contact, and he has appeared less focused than he was last year. With Buffalo, Gilmore played with little physicality when his contract was expiring, as he was poised to enter a free-agent year healthy. In 2020, Gilmore is allowing 13.6 yards per reception. He has one interception, 20 tackles, and two pass breakups this year. He’ll probably shadow Stefon Diggs for much of the afternoon in a highly anticipated matchup.