The Buffalo Bills head to Foxborough, MA this weekend for a friendly little game of football against their AFC East rivals, the New England Patriots. Buffalo opened as -8.5 favorites against New England with DraftKings Sportsbook. The over/under for the game has been set at 42.5 — suggesting a tight divisional battle.
This isn’t the Patriots most people remember. Though, while the Bills are 4-2 and in second place to the Miami Dolphins, they, too, have their own issues to work through.
Buffalo defeated the New York Giants in Week 6, but you might think otherwise after looking at the stats sheet or by digesting content from any number of Bills-centric places. According to Opta Sports and shared earlier this week on Buffalo Rumblings, the Bills are the first team to win a game with fewer rushing yards, passing yards, more interceptions thrown, more fumbles lost, and more missed field goals than their opponent. Prior to the Bills, teams with these deficits were 0-134.
But they won, and ugly wins are far better than a loss of any kind. However, they’re not without deep criticisms of systems, players, and more. For Buffalo, the issues are mainly on offense, which sounds incredible when you consider quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs are as simpatico and dialed-in as ever. After Diggs, there’s a sharp decline in production among the wide receivers — and almost no production beyond Gabe Davis. Offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey has made a concerted effort to utilize more 12-personnel, but the results (at least for tight ends Dawson Knox and Dalton Kincaid) haven’t jumped off the page.
There have been far too many long stretches where the offense can’t find its rhythm, and can’t move the ball. Against 3-4 defenses, the passing game has been handcuffed, yet then and otherwise, the team seems to neglect running the football when it seems most advantageous. The Bills have fielded a far better running offense through six weeks, but they went away from it against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London two weeks ago.
Despite an alarming number of injuries on defense, head coach Sean McDermott has put together a fantastic group of players, many of whom are pleasant surprises to some within Bills Mafia who predicted big problems at linebacker and elsewhere.
While a similar sentiment was intimated last week: These Buffalo Bills are far better than those New England Patriots.
New England hasn’t scored more than 17 points but once this season, and that came in Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Since then, it’s been a steep downhill slope culminating with a double-header of all-time worsts for head coach Bill Belichick. In Weeks 4 and 5, the Patriots lost by a combined score of 72-3 (38-3 at Dallas Cowboys, 31-0 vs. New Orleans Saints). Remember, he was once the head coach of the Cleveland Browns (and New York Jets for 10 minutes).
The Patriots, at 1-5, aren’t a good football team, no matter which way you slice it. On offense, they’re bereft of talent. New England signed wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in the offseason, but to this point things haven’t worked out. The receiver room in general lacks the ability to win downfield against man coverage. The offensive line appears to be a mess, which has affected what was a very good running game last season. Running backs Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliot have rushed a combined 127 carries for 427 yards with 3 TDs.
Perhaps worst of all, quarterback Mac Jones has seen a major regression despite New England bringing Bill O’Brien onboard as offensive coordinator. With so little around him, it’s impossible to properly evaluate Jones and his potential down the road. Anyone would look bad playing QB at this point for the Patriots.
The latest talk centers around whether undrafted rookie quarterback Malik Cunningham will see meaningful snaps and, if so, when? The Patriots just signed Cunningham to the team’s active roster, giving him a three-year contract in the process. At this stage of his career, Cunningham is more of a dynamic athlete playing quarterback than a refined franchise QB ready to take the reigns.
Uncharacteristically, New England’s defense is a shell of its typical Belichick’ian self — lacking in detail and subject to blown coverages and assignments.
But despite all these issues, the Patriots defeated the Jets 15-10 in Week 3, and hung tough with Miami in Week 2 (losing 24-17). It’s oft-repeated phrase that divisional games are always the toughest. That idea will be put to the test this week when they welcome the Bills to Gillette Stadium. The last time these two teams met was the Bills’ first game following safety Damar Hamlin’s traumatic on-field cardiac arrest. It’s likely Belichick remembers the two plays very well, one being the very first of the game. Running back Nyheim Hines returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in Highmark Stadium — scores that proved pivotal to the game’s outcome.
If Buffalo hopes to leave New England victorious, the offense must establish its own rhythm through a diverse game plan, while the defense needs to contain the Patriots’ run game while negating the tight ends. If this season has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.