Since the last time the Bills (11-3) and Patriots (6-8) played in Week 8 – a 24-21 win for Buffalo – the Bills have gone 5-1 and have averaged nearly 35 points per game in those six games. If not for a low percentage Hail Mary conversion for the Arizona Cardinals in Week 10, the Bills might be going into this game without a loss since October.
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So what kind of team are the Bills going to face in the Patriots, whose offense has been one of the most unproductive in the NFL this season? Quarterback Cam Newton has started 13 games this season and has just five touchdown passes with 10 interceptions. The Patriots have 20 players listed as questionable for this game and have felt the loss of several key contributors this season on both sides of the ball. Without Julian Edelman, Newton has struggled to get the ball to playmakers and the Patriots are averaging just 20.6 points per game, which ranks 27th in the league.
In Week 8, Newton and the Patriots were driving late in the fourth quarter with a chance to win the game, down just three points. Bills defensive tackle Justin Zimmer forced a fumble with New England threatening inside the red zone, thwarting the late comeback bid. Newton had some success in that game, but he was facing a completely different Bills defense. Safety Micah Hyde didn’t play in the game, Matt Milano was about to go on injured reserve because he was struggling with pec injury, and Trent Murphy was still getting significant snaps.
Newton said this week that the Bills defense he’ll face this week is another tough challenge.
“We just have to be prepared for their scheme and what they’re trying to do,” Newton said. “We’ve seen on film multiple times where they bear down and put the onus on the offense and dare them to beat you. We have to stay on schedule offensively, not only moving the ball but actually executing even more in the red zone and actually scoring touchdowns. We can’t just settle for field goals, we have to make sure that we maximize our scoring opportunities.”
That’s exactly what the Bills offense has been doing since the last time these two teams played. Allen and star receiver Stefon Diggs are on the cusp of setting franchise marks at their positions for a single season. Allen needs 360 yards passing in the final two games to pass Drew Bledsoe (2002) for the Bills all time single season passing yardage record. If Allen throws four more touchdowns he’ll pass Jim Kelly’s record 33 TD performance in 1991. Diggs already has the most catches in team history (111), but will pass Eric Moulds’ (1,368) record if he posts 55 receiving yards in the final two games.
Allen could potentially get John Brown back this week, too. The Bills have until 4 p.m. on Monday to activate Brown off injured reserve. He practiced for the second straight week and Buffalo released receiver Jake Kumerow over the weekend, potentially opening up a spot for Brown.
Allen said he still expects a difficult game from Bill Belichick’s defense, even with Stephon Gilmore out of the lineup as he’s set to miss the remainder of the season.
“AFC East games are tough to win – especially winning a second time after they’ve been able to see us,” Allen said. “They’ve got us on film and have arguably the greatest coach of all time coaching that team. They’re always going to be ready and always going to be prepared.”
BILLS vs. PATRIOTS
Kickoff: 8:15 p.m. (ET) on Monday at Gillette Stadium
TV: ESPN & ABC
RADIO: WGR 550 AM (Buffalo), WROC 950 AM (Rochester), WKTV 105.5 FM (Syracuse)
Line: Bills by 7 (Over/under at 46)
MATT PARRINO: The Bills ran all over the Patriots last time these two teams met and the Patriots are still struggling to stop the run. No matter which way Bills OC Brian Daboll chooses to attack New England, the Bills should be able to move the ball and score points. I expect a long day for Cam Newton, who’s going to face a consistent pass rush and must avoid mistakes against a secondary playing its best football of the season.
SCORE: Bills 31, Patriots 10
The Bills will come into Monday’s game with plenty of motivation. The win could put Buffalo back as the AFC’s No. 2 seed with one week remaining. It could also lead to Buffalo’s first sweep of the New England Patriots since 1999. Buffalo enters the game relatively healthy and may welcome John Brown back to the wide receiver room. Without Stephon Gilmore in the lineup, Buffalo could get the ball to their top receivers against New England’s weakened secondary. Running the ball may take top priority, however. The Bills ran with great success against New England in their first matchup and the Patriots are coming off an outing where they allowed 250 yards on the ground to the Dolphins. Regardless of what Buffalo decides to do, the Bills are the better team and the healthier team entering the game. That alone gets the job done on Monday Night Football.