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Opinio-nalysis: If the Buffalo Bills lose to the New England Patriots, I’m happy to call it a season

A sweep by the Patriots suggests a fatal flaw that won’t allow a Super Bowl

New England Patriots v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

It’s been a wacky season for the Buffalo Bills and that’s led to some wacky writing by yours truly. Like this article. I’ll dive into some stats and I could steer this toward my usual comparative analytics type of opponent preview. This time though I’m of the belief that you all need to have a healthier dose of opinion so I’m dubbing this “opinio-nalysis.” It’s about half of each, I’d say. If you’re into the short version of things though, here it is.

If the Buffalo Bills allow the New England Patriots to sweep them this year, I’m calling the season over. Note: I’ll be happy to celebrate any noise the Bills make in the postseason, I’ll just be placing it in the “did not see that coming” column. Here’s why...


The Patriots’ Defense

If you’re a four-win team this late in the year, it’s safe to say you’re a lousy team. No disrespect intended as we’ve suffered through our own lousy teams over the years. Not that I’m opposed to disrespecting the Patriots, it’s just that this one is unintentional. Still, they’ve beaten four teams including our beloved Bills. Even lousy teams have something going for them. For New England, the defense is their obvious strength.

Their obvious strength is still spotty as it gets. They’re the fourth-best team in yards per play, allowing a scant 4.78 yards per play. They’re best in the league against the run at 3.17 yards allowed per rush. Against they pass they’re a surprisingly mediocre 6.32 yards per play (14th).

They’re flirting with “bad” at generating interceptions, according to my rule of four, with 1.71% of passes resulting in a pick. They’re even worse at generating sacks, with a 6.48% sack rate (26th).

Perhaps most importantly, they’re the definition of average in points allowed, with 21.5 per game against them. Remember this for a second when we segue into the offense.

Remember, this is their strong side of the ball. A team that’s incredibly good at stopping the run but so-so against the pass. A team set to face Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and Dalton Kincaid... among others. A team that should struggle to exploit the Bills’ turnover issue. A team that may have a tough time pressuring a quarterback against the team that makes avoiding pressure seem easy.

I’m not saying the Patriots are a bad defense. Or even that they shouldn’t be expected to make some plays. They absolutely should. For a full 60 minutes though? This should be a lopsided affair and, again, this is their better half.

Now to segue...

The Patriots’ Offense

It’s 100% a fact that the Patriots are average in points per game. They’re the sixth-best team in the league at preventing points per drive, though, with a measly 1.63 points allowed per opportunity. The offense has the second-worst time of possession per drive. In other words, while New England’s defense is actually quite good at stopping scores on a per-drive basis, it’s often the case they allow an extra opportunity or two to the opposition thanks to a lousy offense. How lousy? I don’t have a punchline for this, but the stats tell a tale.

Let’s start right off with points. On a per-drive basis the Patriots score 1.17 points, which is third worst. Remember that time-of-possession thing from ten seconds ago? No one scores fewer points per game than New England.

When it comes to moving the ball, they’re the 24th-best team in the league rushing the ball. That’s not great. That’s their highlight as they’re 28th passing, and 28th overall. They have the fourth-worst interception rate, an average 21st in sack rate, and are third worst in third-down conversion success rate (31.3% rate).

In other words, the Patriots field an ineffective, turnover-prone offense, that’s ho-hum at protecting their quarterback. This will square off against a defense with the third-highest takeaway rate and the third-best sack rate. The Bills aren’t bad at preventing points either, as they’re 10th-best in the league despite an injury-depleted roster.


The Final Straw

Here’s a final thought on the idea of potential. In their four wins, the New England Patriots are +15 in points. When they win, it’s by the skin of their teeth. The Bills have done that a few times as well, but Buffalo has five individual victories that were more than +15 in points. The Patriots’ ceiling seems to be “win by a nose.” Buffalo’s ceiling is a “scorched earth” level of dominance.

The term “any given Sunday” exists for a reason, but there’s zero reason Buffalo should allow themselves to be swept this season by New England. If they do, it’ll represent another massive dive in their roller coaster of a ceiling. That screams lack of preparation whether it’s strategically, emotionally, or a combination of both and/or other factors.

The last few games appear to have been ones of relative stability for Buffalo. However, a loss here would destroy that notion. I spoke about Buffalo’s ceiling a moment ago. A loss here speaks to their floor, which we all know has been pretty low this year. If they haven’t figured out how to stay above floor level by Week 17, I have zero confidence they’ll pull it out for the postseason where it’s highly likely every game will need them to be closer to that ceiling.

Or put simply, if they sink here there’s no reasonable expectation that they’ll ascend and stay there for what amounts to a month of top competition.