The Patriots return home for the final two regular-season games of the 2017 NFL Season. They’ve been on the road for five of the last six weeks and finished that difficult part of their schedule 5-1 and although injuries have ravaged the team, are in prime position to win the top seed in the AFC. If the Patriots take care of business the right way, they won’t have to leave Gillette Stadium again unless they travel to Minneapolis.
This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, December 24 at 1:05 p.m. and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work from the sidelines.The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.
The Patriots (11-3) are coming off a stunning 27-24 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road. The Patriots scored the final 11 points of the game and then had to make a stand inside the 10-yard line where Duron Harmon intercepted Ben Roethlisberger to seal away the win.
The Bills (8-6) have won two in a row since losing to the Patriots on December 3 and last week beat Miami 24-16. If the playoffs started today, the Bills would be the #6 seed in the playoffs as they hold the tie-breaker with the Ravens.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
The Patriots and Bills history go back to the earliest days of the AFL in 1960. Sunday will mark the 116th meeting between the two franchises. Overall the Patriots hold a 71-43-1 edge, including a 36-21 at Foxboro. The Patriots have dominated in the Bill Belichick era, taking 30 of 34, and since Tom Brady became the QB of the Patriots, the Bills have only beaten NE in Foxboro once, in the season finale in 2014. New England rested many of their starters and Brady played only the first half.
Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.
First up is the Patriots offense:
Patriots RBs vs Bills Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots running game had one its best games of the year against the Bills a few weeks ago, rushing for 191 yards with Dion Lewis leading the way with 92 yards and Rex Burkhead with a pair of touchdowns. Lewis will probably continue to get the lion’s share of the carries with James White and possibly Mike Gillislee getting some work this week. The offensive line did a good job in the running game three weeks ago.
Buffalo’s run defense has been as problematic as the Patriots have. The two teams have nearly the identical yards per game average allowed on the ground. Last week, Miami ran 21 times for 100 yards.
Look for New England to run the ball hard again at the Bills front seven. Lewis is having a fantastic year and has taken over the top back slot in the New England offense. They’ll miss Burkhead who’ll be out until at least the playoffs begin and hopefully have him back by the divisional round. Gillislee, having been a healthy scratch for a month and a half, could play a key role this week.
Patriots WRs vs Bills Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots passing game is banged up at the wide receiver position. Chris Hogan missed last week’s game with a flare-up of his shoulder injury. Hopefully, he’ll be back this week to go along with Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, newcomer Kenny Britt and Phillip Dorsett. But the wildcard is Rob Gronkowski. He torched the Steelers for nine catches for 168 yards last week. Three weeks ago against the Bills, he had nine catches for 147 yards and despite being held on a few plays that went uncalled, was the big “X” factor of the game. James White and Lewis add to the weapons that can be brought to bear in the passing game.
Buffalo’s pass defense has created a ton of turnovers. Last week, they forced four fumbles against Jay Cutler and picked him off three times. Led by Tre’Davious White, they’ve stiffened their pass defense on the perimeter. Safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer have made a tremendous difference in the middle of the field.
Look for Brady to spread them out and look for favorable matchups. Last time Cooks was held to just 17 yards on two catches. That isn’t going to get it done. Look for Brady to get him involved early. Britt could be a factor in the red zone and of course, Gronkowski remains the man the Bills have to stop. Brady will look for him to attack the seams. If Hogan is recovered from his setback which was supposedly related to a bad reaction to meds, it will be a big bonus for the offense.
Next up the Bills offense:
Bills RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Buffalo
The Bills running game goes thru LeSean McCoy and the last time the teams played, he ran for 93 yards on just 15 carries. But once the Bills fell far behind, they had to abandon the running game in an attempt to catch up. Look for McCoy to get a lot of looks early in this one. Buffalo will be taking a page out of the Pittsburgh playbook and try to keep Brady and Co. on the sideline. Tyrod Taylor is always a threat to run and can keep the chains moving with his feet.
The Patriots depleted front seven continues to struggle badly against the run. No Dont’a Hightower, Alan Branch and Kyle Van Noy among others have left them struggling for solutions. Branch is definitely out this week and it remains to be seen if Van Noy will be ready to come back although he was seen practicing…with the secondary this week.
Look for the Bills to test the Patriots at the edge, where they’ve been really struggling. Eric Lee has been targeted by opponents as well as Deatrich Wise. Without Van Noy, the edge has been a sore spot. Linebackers David Harris, Elandon Roberts, and Marquis Flowers have to do a better job at run support.
Bills WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England
Buffalo’s passing game (171.2 YPG average) is predicated on getting the running game going and then having Taylor roll out and make plays with his feet. His two biggest targets are McCoy out of the backfield and tight end Charles Clay. The production from Kelvin Benjamin who’s been hurt and Zay Jones has been inconsistent.
The Patriots pass defense, specifically their secondary has been much better the second half of the season. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots opt to defend McCoy this week. Look for Pat Chung to draw Clay. In the last matchup, they held Taylor and Nathan Peterman to 82 yards net passing.
Look for the Patriots to try to contain Taylor in the pocket. Early downs will tell the tale here. If the Bills are in third and long, their offense will struggle big time having to pass for their first downs. They’ll be looking for those third and short where Taylor can run/pass option for short gainers.
Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski is having an excellent 2017 season, his extra point miss last week was the result of a rare bad snap/hold from Joe Cardona and Ryan Allen. But his kickoffs and outstanding coverage have pinned opponents deep all season.
The Bills Special teams have been good, but not great. Stephen Hauschka has had a very solid season Colton Schmidt has a 44.4 yard average with a 40.6-yard net. The punt coverage units are very solid.
Next up, who wins and why…
This one has playoff implications for both teams. If the Patriots win this week and next, they’ll have home-field advantage for the playoffs as the AFC’s #1 seed. Buffalo is the #6 seed right now and would break their streak of no playoff years at 17. They are tied with but hold the tiebreaker with Baltimore.
Tom Brady has only lost to the Bills at home once, in the 2014 finale with most of the starters sitting and Brady playing a half. Overall since 2000, the Bills have won in New England only twice, in 2014 and last year against 3rd string QB Jacoby Brissett. That is a huge obstacle standing in front of them.
Look for the Patriots to keep things balanced offensively and running the ball much like they did the last time but attacking the Bills vertically as well. This one will be close for the first half, but New England pulls away and goes to 12-3. Patriots 31-17