The New England Patriots travel to Orchard Park, NY this weekend for a date with the Buffalo Bills. This closes out the regular season, and if New England loses, it very well could spell the end of their season, as well. If New England is able to win, however, then they will be the AFC’s No. 7 seed in the playoffs.
Buffalo, of course, doesn’t want to do its divisional rival any favors, and they can clinch at least the No. 2 seed — if not the No. 1 seed, depending on the Kansas City Chiefs’ results on Saturday — with a win. If the Bills want to spoil New England’s potential playoff party, they’ll need to control their top players on Sunday.
Here are our five Patriots to watch this week.
QB Mac Jones
Buffalo hasn’t had much difficulty in containing New England’s quarterback of late, but to be fair, the league hasn’t had much trouble containing him this year, either. Offensive play-caller Matt Patricia and Jones haven’t exactly seen eye-to-eye this season, and the second-year passer has taken a huge step backward as a result. Jones has just 11 touchdown passes over 402 attempts this season, which is a stat line straight out of 1986. After a promising rookie campaign where Jones threw for over 3,800 yards and 22 touchdowns on his way to finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting, it hasn’t been a good follow-up for Jones. In the first meeting, Buffalo held him to 195 yards passing on 36 attempts. He’s thrown three touchdowns and four interceptions in four career meetings with the Bills, and the only time the Patriots won with Jones as the starter, he threw just three passes. If Buffalo can continue to squeeze his options over the middle, forcing him to take check downs or throw it outside the hashes, they’ll be just fine this week.
WR Jakobi Meyers
With DaVante Parker working back from a concussion and cornerback Marcus Jones, who scored the Patriots’ lone touchdown off a screen pass in the first meeting this year, dealing with a concussion of his own, that leaves Meyers as the most likely top target this week. Meyers is usually Jones’ top receiving target who isn’t named Rhamondre Stevenson, leading the way with 89 targets, 64 receptions, 772 yards, and five touchdowns for the Patriots this year. Whether he draws Tre’Davious White, who struggled mightily against the Cincinnati Bengals in two drives last week, or Dane Jackson, who’s struggled mightily at times all year, Meyers could have a decent night if Jones has time to throw. Rookie Kaiir Elam has the size, speed, and strength to counter Meyers, so that could also be a good matchup for Buffalo to consider.
LB Josh Uche
The Pats list Uche as a linebacker, but what he really is to opposing offenses is a headache. Uche was a destructive force during the last meeting, as he burned backup left tackle David Quessenberry for two sacks, a forced fumble, and three quarterback hits. With Dion Dawkins back in the lineup, that should help to contain him. But Buffalo can’t commit too many resources that way because of the man on the other side of New England’s defense. More on him in a minute. Buffalo could slow the Patriots’ rush down by continuing to run the ball effectively, especially in the draw and delay game with James Cook. I’d love to see the Bills execute a screen pass, too, but maybe I’m asking for a bit too much.
LB Matt Judon
Judon has 15.5 sacks this year, which is third in the league. However, when the Bills and the Patriots met the first time, he had just three tackles and one quarterback hit. He did recover that fumble that Uche forced, but Judon didn’t have a sack of his own to show for his efforts against right tackle Spencer Brown. If the combination of Brown, a sixth offensive lineman like Bobby Hart, a tight end like Dawson Knox, or a running back like Devin Singletary can help to chip, hit, and slow him down again, that will be huge for the Bills and their offense.
S Kyle Dugger
What a phenomenal athlete this guy is. Dugger has three interceptions on the season, and he’s returned two of them for touchdowns, which leads the league. He’s even scored on a 59-yard fumble recovery this year. Dugger also has eight pass breakups, 72 tackles, and five tackles for a loss. Dugger’s 6’2”, 220-pound frame makes him the ideal candidate to slot in as the spy on Josh Allen. I think about what the Miami Dolphins did with Jevon Holland that flustered Allen a bit, and I could see the Patriots doing the same things with Dugger.