By Mason Sousa
The margin for error has shrunken drastically. This is where the rubber meets the road. The times of close games and moral victories against quality opponents are over. It’s really simple.
Win and stay alive.
Lose and see playoff hopes virtually disappear.
It’s a Thursday night game but both teams have had a full week to prepare. The Bills have had the Patriots number as of late with 4 wins in the last 5 matchups.
Buffalo is top 5 in both scoring offense and defense. The one true knock you can put on the Bills is they’ve given the ball away the 3rd most in the league. However, they also take the ball away the 3rd most in the league as well. Almost identical numbers to the Patriots where they have also given and taken the ball away a lot this season.
The Patriots touchdown percentage in the redzone this season has been putrid. Less than 40% of the time they are getting in the endzone when they take a snap inside the 20 yard line on a given drive. Only the Denver Broncos have a worse percentage.
Against a high powered attack like the Bills, the Patriots redzone woes must end starting Thursday night. If that means going for it on 4th down inside the 10 yard line then so be it. You can’t kick short field goals while the Bills are averaging over 28 points per game. Time to get gutsy.
Time to act fearless.
Time to act like the season is on the line.
Time to act like your job is on the line.
To shine some light on the Patriots chances, the offense finally came alive on Thanksgiving after taking an extended nap the previous month where they were held under 300 yards in the last 4 games. And looking closely at the Bills while the offense is still putting up massive numbers, Buffalo’s defense has given up an average of 27 points over the last 3 games to the Vikings, Browns, and Lions. Not to mention Josh Allen has gotten sloppy lately throwing 7 interceptions in his last 5 games while on the flip-side Mac Jones has kept it clean through the air in the last 3 games. It’s going to take a mistake. Who will be the one to turn the ball over? Since both teams do it a lot that’s what I’m banking on. And will the Patriots be able to capitalize if it’s the Bills that make that crucial mistake?
As for the playmakers you’ve heard of this wide receiver called Stefon Diggs right? He’s a beast and is averaging over 100 yards a game. I would say the matchup of Jonathan Jones and Devin McCourty over the top would be the way to go but that didn’t work out so great against Justin Jefferson last week. Gabe Davis has emerged as a very explosive #2 receiver for Josh Allen and don’t forget slot receiver Isaiah McKenzie who cooked Myles Bryant in their Week 16 matchup last season. There are some high-end talent on the receiving end of an elite QB and I’m worried the Patriots don’t have the horses to contain them.
As for some injured players the Buffalo Bills will be without, future Hall of Fame pass rusher Von Miller will miss this game and that is obviously HUGE for the offensive tackles protecting Mac Jones. And speaking for offensive tackles starting LT Dion Dawkins may miss this game as well. I would say that’s huge for Judon and Wise but the Vikings lost their star left tackle and held both of the Patriots pass rushers of the sack stat sheet. Regardless, those are two big pieces the Bills may potentially miss. And another player in Micah Hyde won’t be on the field to face the Patriots this year, if you remember he made a redzone interception against Mac Jones the last time these two teams faced off. One less star in the secondary for Mac to worry about is beneficial for the Patriots offense.
Even though Matthew Judon didn’t show up on the stat sheet he was disruptive against the Vikings but he and the defense need to continue to free him up and get to Josh Allen if the defense as a whole will play better than they did on Thanksgiving night. And as for the Patriots offense, I said at the beginning of the year, the New England goes as long as Devante Parker goes. If Parker can be a threat that softens the defense and makes it easier for Mac Jones. However the Bills shutdown cornerback Tre’Davious White made his season debut last week after recovering from an ACL injury. He played limited snaps but didn’t look like he lost a step. It’ll be interesting to see how much Sean McDermott decides to play White this week to help his defense stay top 5 in points allowed.
This may not be considered bold given this is what both teams are almost averaging but I’m predicting that both teams will turn the ball over twice. Josh Allen has been sloppy lately and the Patriots will need to be creative to get in the endzone. Both of those have elements of risky ball handling.
I’m not going to draw this out any longer. I’d be shocked if the Patriots win, but then I again I said I’d be shocked if the Bears beat the Patriots earlier in the year and that’s what happened. Be that as it may, unfortunately the Patriots aren’t in the same class as the Bills and they haven’t been for a couple years now. While the offense coming alive last week was encouraging and the Bills defense has given up points lately, this has the makings of a “get right” game for Buffalo who have Super Bowl aspirations in their near future. FINAL PREDICTION: BILLS 31