The Buffalo Bills face off against the New England Patriots this week in the first of three consecutive divisional games for the Bills. Buffalo travels to New England this week, but they host the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins in their next two contests. After dropping their first two AFC East games of the year, the Bills desperately need to pick up a win in their meeting with the Patriots.
The last time these two teams met was in the 2021 NFL Playoffs, and Buffalo played a game for the ages in that one. The Bills did not punt once en route to a dominant 47-17 victory. New England will absolutely have a score to settle this week, and their outstanding defense will have even more motivation.
Buffalo will need big contributions from these key players in order to move to 9-3 on the year. Here are our five players to watch this week during Thursday Night Football.
WR Gabe Davis
With apologies to quarterback Josh Allen, running back Devin Singletary, and wide receiver Stefon Diggs, I’ve written about those guys plenty this year. We all know that they’re essential components of any Bills win. Someone who needs to step up in a big way, though, is Davis, the third-year player tasked with slotting in as the WR2 this year. Davis has been inconsistent at best, and disappointing at worst in a year where he’s seen his snap share jump to 93% on offense. Even with all of that extra time, Davis has caught just 55% of his targets this season. He has 33 receptions on 60 targets with a career-high 650 receiving yards and five touchdowns. In a game against evil mastermind Bill Belichick, Buffalo’s offense will need all of its parts operating at maximum efficiency in order to play well. Davis can’t afford to have one of those shaky nights on Thursday. When he’s flashed this year, he’s been exactly the guy that Buffalo thought he could be as a complement to Diggs. Some iffy moments have tainted that success, though. If Davis can find space against what should be tight man coverage, or win a contested catch or two for Allen, then it will make Buffalo’s life much easier.
TE Dawson Knox
Speaking of players who need to be more consistent, Knox needs to show up more, too... but his lack of consistency shouldn’t be attributed to his play, but instead to his usage with first-year offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey. After seeing his targets jump to 71 over 15 games last year, Knox is averaging just four targets per game this season. That puts him on pace for 68 targets over the course of 17 games, and while it’s basically the same number of throws his way as last year, it would come over the course of two more contests. Knox has seen more than four targets in a game just once this year, and that was two games ago against the Cleveland Browns. All he did in that one was catch seven passes for 70 yards. He’s going to be extremely necessary this week on chips in pass protection, and if he can help Singletary and company to establish some rhythm on the ground, then it will take pressure off of Allen and the passing game. However, there needs to be some chip-and-release where Knox is the primary target, or some play-action work where he can attack the flats whether on a designed roll-out or as an outlet to a deeper pass. Involving Knox in the passing game needs to happen more, and there’s no time like the present.
The starting left tackle
Is it going to be Dion Dawkins? If it is Dawkins, how will that ankle hold up against Matt Judon and Deatrich Wise Jr.? If it’s David Quessenberry, can he fare better than he did in the second half of last week’s game? Against the Detroit Lions, Quessenberry allowed one of practice squad call-up James Houston IV’s two sacks. Quessenberry wasn’t very good in pass protection with the Tennessee Titans last year when starting at right tackle, allowing a league-high 11 sacks last year. When the opposing team has a game-wrecker like Judon, it makes life difficult. When that guy might be blocked by a reserve? It means the play caller has to be creative. Helping with a variety of double-team blocks will be a huge part of what the Bills need to do this week.
LB Tremaine Edmunds
After missing two games and a half with a groin injury, Edmunds is expected to return this week. The Patriots utilize a ton of play-action, and they love to throw screens to their running backs and tight ends. That means the Bills will have to be decisive in reading their keys, and having their outstanding middle linebacker back in the fold will be a big boost this week. The Pats also love to burn teams on crossers at different levels over the middle of the field. Few players in the league can cover the ground Edmunds does from the linebacker position, and his speed combined with his great length makes him a fantastic deterrent to the passing game. He needs to be on the field for this defense to operate at maximum efficiency.
CB Tre’Davious White
Alright, last week he came back and played for the first time since Thanksgiving night 2021. This week, with Dane Jackson struggling and Christian Benford on injured reserve, White will need to step in and play more than he did last Thursday. He looked just fine physically, but I still expect a fair amount of rotation given that White is only in his second game back from that ACL injury, and fellow cornerback Kaiir Elam has been dealing with an ankle injury, too. That means that Jackson and veteran Xavier Rhodes, who was signed to the active roster from the practice squad this week, should see a healthy amount of time. If White can play around half of the team’s snaps, it will be a big step in the right direction — and it’ll also help the Bills to come out on top in Week 13.