The Buffalo Bills have nearly reached the end of their 2023 NFL regular-season schedule. But to fully close it out — and in a manner that satisfies the hopes and dreams of the team and Bills Mafia alike — Buffalo must come out on top against a pair of AFC East foes. That begins this Sunday, when the Bills play host for Round 2 against the New England Patriots.
The Bills are currently 13-point favorites over the Patriots, with the over/under set at 40. It seems that bettors are prepared for a bit of a defensive battle in Orchard Park, NY. Will the team that steamrolled the Dallas Cowboys during inclement weather show up, or will we see a more methodical approach by head coach Sean McDermott and interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady?
Earlier this season, Buffalo was dealt a deflating blow in their Week 7 loss at Gillette Stadium, where quarterback Mac Jones had a fantastic day, culminating in an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive inside the two-minute warning. The Bills’ defense was unable to contain a suddenly lethal Patriots passing attack, which left quarterback Josh Allen and Buffalo’s offense a mere 12 game seconds to try and overcome a four-point deficit. The Bills were unable to match New England’s execution all afternoon, forced into an unsuccessful game of catch-up until the very end. That Massachusetts victory became head coach Bill Belichick’s 300th all-time in the NFL — placing him third behind Don Shula (328) and George Halas (318).
While it was a forgettable afternoon of football for Bills fans, it’s important to remember that the team was still in the throes of losing key contributors at each level of the defense. McDermott had no choice but to give backup/role players significant snaps or starter’s roles, and the learning curve was steep for some.
In the following weeks, a common refrain was how the Bills’ offense would gather itself up to provide go-ahead points only for the defense (or special teams) to fold in crunch time. The Buffalo Bills had entered a midseason slump that would essentially last through the team’s Week 13 bye.
As we know now, the Bills exited the bye refreshed and refocused, and now have the momentum of a three-game win streak that’s positioned them as the current sixth seed in the AFC. The Patriots, conversely, have officially been eliminated from playoff contention, resting at the bottom of the AFC East. However, the team continues to play hard for Belichick in what many believe (and if the rumors are true) could be his final season with the New England Patriots. At 4-11, it’s easy to consider the Patriots a bit of a trap opponent for the Bills — but divisional rivals make for the most difficult of foes, and New England already won the first meeting this season.
A fair amount of people believed that Buffalo’s opponent last weekend represented as clear a trap as they come in the NFL, given the Los Angeles Chargers had lost their prior game 63-21 and seen its head coach and general manager fired the next day. In truth, the Bills did struggle against the Chargers, but it’s unlikely due to overlooking them as an opponent. Motivation is real, and there are enough recent examples of teams rebounding in games immediately following humiliating defeats and major coaching changes.
What did plague the Bills while in Los Angeles were turnovers, which equaled the amount of touchdowns scored on offense. Buffalo also took too long to get going on offense, waiting until into the second quarter to find the end zone. Slow starts could haunt them in the coming weeks, if the defense isn’t able to hold down the fort early.
Thankfully, we saw a Renaissance of Big Game Gabe in LA, as wide receiver Gabe Davis had himself a fruitful evening catching four passes for 130 yards and one very long touchdown. What continues to frustrate many within Bills Mafia is how seldom wide receiver Stefon Diggs seems to make game-changing plays in recent weeks. Even if defensive coverages are at play, the Bills have proven capable at overcoming similar challenges in seasons’ past. To be at its best, Buffalo’s offense needs Stefon Diggs to play at his best, and that includes saying goodbye to the drops that have entered his arena.
The Bills’ offensive line has played lights out this season, and that’s helped running back James Cook develop into a premiere multi-purpose threat out of the backfield, and that should benefit the Bills down the stretch as they look to keep defenses honest... and confused on any given down.
But make no mistake, Buffalo needs to remain focused on Week 17, shuttering outside noise about a Week 18 date in South Beach with the Miami Dolphins. A slip up on Sunday could vastly change what’s at stake to close the regular season. It will be paramount for Joe Brady to continue adding wrinkles on offense that allows James Cook and the offensive line to further batter NFL defenses.
Whether this is Belichick’s AFC East swan song or not, the Patriots are for sure to be fired up and ready to spoil the New Year for the Buffalo Bills, the same as they did for the Denver Broncos’ holiday last weekend.
Will the Bills play the brand of football needed to hold off the Patriots on Sunday?