The Buffalo Bills (4-2) will take on the New England Patriots (1-5) in Week 7 of the 2023 NFL season. The Bills come into this game looking to extend their winning streak to three games, while the Patriots look to end their three-game losing skid. This year’s first matchup will be decided in Gillette Stadium. To prepare for kickoff early Sunday afternoon, here’s what to lock in on during the game.
Tables turned (or better yet... broken)
Since Tom Brady left the Patriots to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020, the Bills and Patriots have played each other seven times, including one playoff matchup in 2022. The Bills hold a 6-1 edge over the Patriots in those seven games. Their only loss came in 50 mph winds during a chilly evening in Orchard Park, NY — losing by a score of 14-10 in 2022. In those seven games, the Bills have outscored the Patriots by an astounding figure of 211-115. It’s safe to say that the Bills have had their way against the Patriots over the last three years, and I would look for more of the same this weekend.
What version of the Buffalo Bills’ offense will show up?
Buffalo’s offense is batting .500 for the season in terms of good games versus bad games. From Weeks 2-4, the Bills averaged 41 points per game on offense. In Week 1, Week 5, and Week 6, the offense averaged 16.6 points per game. Look for Buffalo to get into a rhythm early and try to establish a long drive to start the game. The Bills have had trouble “being behind the sticks” in recent games, leaving themselves with more-than-desired 2nd- or 3rd & Long situations. Getting themselves into manageable third downs, moving the sticks, and sustaining drives will help Buffalo’s offense get back on track.
Bills are thin at DT
The Bills lost defensive tackle DaQuan Jones for the foreseeable future due to a pectoral injury he suffered in Week 5. Now the defense will be without defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who’s been ruled OUT for the Week 7 matchup with a turf toe injury. This leaves Buffalo without their two starting defensive tackles. Jordan Phillips, Tim Settle, and Poona Ford appear set to play withing a rotation on Sunday. Additionally, Kendal Vickers is a likely candidate to be called up as a depth piece from the practice squad. Vickers last saw action in Week 5 versus the Jacksonville Jaguars and logged two total tackles in 46 total snaps (52%). The other option the Bills can turn to this weekend is newly signed practice squad player Andrew Brown, who last saw action in 2022 with the Chicago Bears.
Patriots have struggled on offense
To say the Patriots’ offense has struggled is an understatement. Here are some of their offensive rankings through six weeks:
- Points per game = 12.0 (31st)
- Yards per game = 282.7 (27th)
- Yards per play = 4.5 (27th)
- First Downs per game = 16.5 (29th)
- Rushing yards per game = 83.7 (26th)
- Passing yards per game = 199.0 (22nd)
To make matters worse the Patriots currently have 11 turnovers, which is 27th in the NFL, and they have the worst turnover differential in the NFL at -8. The Patriots have had trouble executing on offense in every facet. They have limited-to-no weapons on offense, their right tackle situation is among the worst in the league, and they’ve subbed out starting quarterback Mac Jones multiple times this season. Even with numerous injuries mounting on defense for the Bills, they should handle this lackluster Patriots offense without much trouble. That being said, this is a divisional game and the Patriots have nothing to lose at this point. Be ready for anything and everything from New England on offense.
Will the Patriots use more than one QB?
As mentioned above, the Patriots have elected to bench Jones mid-game twice so far this season in favor of backup quarterback Bailey Zappe. Rookie undrafted free-agent quarterback Malik Cunningham also saw some playing time in the Patriots' Week 6 game, logging six snaps with two of those snaps coming at QB. Cunningham reportedly has been activated from the practice squad and signed a three-year contract to join New England’s active roster. I would expect to see Mac Jones for the majority of the game because he’s their best option right now. However, Malik Cunningham's athleticism and running ability bring a different dimension to the Patriots offense. The Louisville product had over 3,000 yards rushing in his career for the Cardinals. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots tried to give a jolt to their offense by involving a special package featuring Cunningham. They didn’t use Cunningham much in Week 6, but it usually takes a few weeks to install and execute a new package. The Bills should be prepared to see Cunningham in some fashion on Sunday.
Can Buffalo’s offense find a receiving option behind Diggs?
Stefon Diggs is well on his way to another stellar season with the Bills. The superstar WR1 already has 49 receptions for 620 yards and five touchdowns. Diggs has 66 targets, which is more than double the next closest player on the Bills. The target breakdown is as follows:
- Stefon Diggs - 69 targets
- Gabe Davis - 30 targets
- Dawson Knox - 25 targets
- Dalton Kincaid - 19 targets
- James Cook - 18 targets
- Deonte Harty - 15 targets
There are six other players with under 10 targets. Diggs’ 66 targets out of a total of 197 targets available is good for a 33.5% target share. This means one out of every three times Josh Allen drops back, he’s throwing to Stefon Diggs.
Let me be clear, I don’t mind this! It’s the best thing the Bills have going right now on offense, so keep riding that wave. However, if they want to go deep into the playoffs and win the Super Bowl, they need to establish a more complete option behind Diggs — someone they can rely on if things aren’t working. Wide receiver Gabe Davis is a touchdown scorer, but his consistency remains the biggest complaint. Everyone seems to think tight end Dalton Kincaid should get more looks, and I would agree with that thought. One Bills Drive didn’t draft him in the first round of this year's NFL Draft to be a clone of tight end Dawson Knox. I trust the Bills are working on ways to get him the football, and I’m confident that it’s only a matter of time before we see a breakout game from Kincaid.