Buffalo secured a closer-than-expected victory over the Detroit Lions last Thursday afternoon, while New England dropped a close one to the Minnesota Vikings in the nightcap. Both of these teams are jockeying for position in the surprisingly-competitive AFC East, as well as the AFC playoff picture at large. Buffalo enters the matchup with a leg up on the competition, and is accordingly favored -- even on the road.
Will the Bills make it three wins in a row, or will the Patriots get back on track and pull off an upset? We'll find out soon enough. Before we break down the matchup, here's a look at how you can watch the game.
How to watch
When the Bills have the ball
Like most young quarterbacks, Josh Allen got off to a rough start to his career against Bill Belichick-coached teams. In fact, across his first two seasons, Allen failed to complete more than half his passes in any of his three starts against the Patriots. Combined, he went just 46 of 95 (48.4%) for 578 yards (6.1 per attempt), three touchdowns and five interceptions in those three games. That's "good" for a 56.4 passer rating, or the rough equivalent of a performance in the range of someone like DeShone Kizer or Heath Shuler.
Since then, though, Allen has torn the Patriots apart in three of five starts (despite that stretch including the ridiculous wind game last year), and he put together arguably the best playoff performance of all-time in one of them.
New England's defense ranks an excellent third in the NFL in Football Outsiders' DVOA and first in TruMedia's version of EPA per dropback, but in games against quarterbacks not named Zach Wilson or Sam Ehlinger, it has merely been very good, rather than impossible to throw against. (Other quarterbacks have completed 167 of 269 passes for 1,761 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions against the Pats, while that dreadful duo went a combined 44 of 92 of 423 yards, two touchdowns and four picks -- and three additional dropped picks.)
In a matchup like this, one would expect Belichick to deploy his famous "1-Double" coverage, wherein he uses his No. 1 corner to shadow the opponent's No. 2 receiver while double-teaming the No. 1 threat on the opposition. But with Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson each having moved on, there's not necessarily a logical fit for this matchup. Does Belichick trust rookie Jack Jones enough to use him on Gabe Davis all night while doubling Stefon Diggs? If not, would he use the bigger-bodied Jalen Mills on Davis and use Jones as part of the double on Diggs? Or would he rather sit in zone and force Allen to repeatedly march his way down the field with underneath throws? Doing so would invite Allen to target Diggs all night, as the latter tends to work the short and intermediate areas of the field more often.
New England has been nearly as effective overall against the run as it has against the pass, but that doesn't much matter against Buffalo, which throws at one of the highest rates in the league. If the Bills have a choice in the matter, everything will run through Allen, Diggs, and Co. and not the likes of Devin Singletary and James Cook. Allen is also a threat in the run game, though, and his ability to change the math inside the box can prove challenging. Belichick's defense have had issues with running quarterbacks on occasion, as we saw with Justin Fields earlier this season and Lamar Jackson in the past. Buffalo doesn't like to use Allen on as many designed runs anymore, but he's always a scramble threat and a dangerous weapon around the goal line.
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When the Patriots have the ball
Coming off by far his best game of the season, Mac Jones is in for a much stiffer test than the one he faced last Thursday. Jones completed 28 of 39 passes (71.8%) for 382 yards (9.8 per attempt) and two touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings -- his first multi-touchdown game of the year. But where Minnesota sports a pass defense that ranks 27th in both DVOA and EPA per dropback, Buffalo's checks in seventh in DVOA and 14th in EPA to date.
The Bills are also getting healthier. Tre'Davious White is back in the fold, and will presumably play more than the 16 snaps he did a week ago. Buffalo is also set to get both Gregory Rousseau and Tremaine Edmunds back on the field, which should help alleviate the loss of Von Miller. Rousseau was in the midst of a breakout season prior to his injury, and even without Miller the Bills have plenty of complementary rushers to help him out up front. New England's offensive line has not been up to its usual standard this season, and there have been games where Jones has been under constant siege. He's taken at least three sacks in each of the past four games, getting dropped 19 total times in that span. That's bad news against Buffalo's defensive front.
The Patriots will be without Damien Harris on Thursday night, and they could be without Jakobi Meyers as well. Harris' absence puts even more on Rhamondre Stevenson's plate, but given the way Belichick has talked him up (apparently telling NBC's Jason Garrett that Stevenson's development reminds him of that of Tom Brady and Lawrence Taylor), the Pats are likely fine with that. Buffalo encourages underneath throws with its zone defense, so Stevenson figures to be a very busy man in this matchup. (And he'll be even more so if Meyers, the Patriots' primary short-area threat on the outside, can't suit up.)
Attempting to move the ball down the field through the run and the short pass has its drawbacks, though, in that it makes explosive plays far less likely. Against an opponent like the Bills, that's a recipe for failure. Unless the offensive line can dominate up front and allow the Pats to control the ball for the significant majority of the night, this matchup is going to favor Buffalo pretty heavily.
Prediction: Bills 27, Patriots 17