So many matchups between the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots have featured this same storyline: One of the teams has its playoff berth sewn up, and the other is already eliminated, merely playing out the string until the following year where hopes spring anew. That same scenario is exactly what we find in this matchup between the two squads this Monday night.
There’s one big difference, though: It’s Buffalo with the divisional title clinched, and it’s New England that knows it’s going home once the final gun sounds on January 3. This is the first time that the Bills have played New England in December with more wins than the Patriots since the 2000 season, when the 7-7 Bills lost to the 4-10 Patriots, so it’s been a while since this was the scenario.
Buffalo still has something to play for, as the No. 2 seed could be theirs, and there is a slim outside chance that the Bills can take over the No. 1 seed from the Kansas City Chiefs. However, the Chiefs could clinch that spot with a win on Sunday, so Buffalo could be left to play for the second seed by the time they kick off on Monday night.
Which players will help the Bills earn a season sweep over the Patriots? Here’s who we’ll be watching this week.
RB Devin Singletary
The Bills have had 13 players catch a touchdown pass this season. Singletary is not among them. This week, I think it’s Singletary who becomes the 14th Buffalo player to score a receiving touchdown, thus setting an NFL record. With quarterback Josh Allen doing an excellent job spreading the ball around to his targets in the red zone, it will be a fitting cap to what has been an excellent season for the offense as a whole. As for Singletary, he had his best game of the season on the ground against the Patriots in the first meeting, carrying 14 times for 86 yards in the victory. He scored his first touchdown since October 4 in the blowout over the Denver Broncos, and he’s quietly creeping towards eclipsing his scrimmage yardage total from last season. He’s currently at 891 yards, and he had 969 last year. Singletary should surpass that total Monday night.
WR Andre Roberts
His muffed punt last week was a black mark on an otherwise solid game, but the Pro Bowl return man has been dangerously close to breaking one for a touchdown all season. I’d love to see him finally break through and take it to the house in Foxborough. Roberts is averaging 10.4 yards per punt return and a league-leading 29.4 yards per kickoff return. I’m expecting at least one big play this week.
DT Ed Oliver
The big fella notched a bone-crunching sack on Drew Lock last week, and he’s looked mighty disruptive even while fighting double teams of late. Oliver had three tackles, one tackle-for-loss, a sack, a quarterback hit, and a pass breakup last weekend. He’s been playing out of position often here as a one-tech with Star Lotulelei out, and he is still fourth on the team in sacks, fifth in quarterback hits, and second in tackles-for-loss. Oliver has the potential to wreak havoc on the Patriots’ rushing attack, which will force Cam Newton into some situations he hasn’t shown the ability to succeed in this year.
LB Tremaine Edmunds
After scoring his second straight Pro Bowl nod, the big middle linebacker finds himself in a position where he’ll have to spy one of the best running quarterbacks in the league. Newton has looked lost as a passer, but he can still do work with his legs. Edmunds is second on the Bills in tackles with 105, and after struggling in the early going with a shoulder injury, his improved play has been a huge part of the reason why Buffalo has been so good defensively since their bye week. Whether he’s shooting the “A” gap as a blitzer or operating as a spy on Newton, Tremaine will be key to Buffalo’s success.
S Jordan Poyer
I’m watching Poyer because he’s the consummate professional—one of the best players at his position in the NFL—and he was left off the AFC Pro Bowl roster again. The man silently goes about his business week in and week out, leading the Bills in tackles with 117, playing a great deep safety, and covering players in man coverage at times. He has two interceptions on the year, two sacks, four tackles-for-loss, five pass breakups, four quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles. He’s been absolutely phenomenal all season long. Against New England in the first meeting, he had a season-high 11 solo tackles. I think he’ll add a turnover to his resume this week.