The Patriots can wrap up their 11th straight division title with a win over the Buffalo Bills on Saturday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. in Gillette Stadium. Unlike in years past where the crowning of the division title was a foregone conclusion, this year is very different.
Even with a win, the Bills in order to win the division would have to win next week and have the Patriots lose to the Dolphins. While still a possibility, it is rather remote at this point. However, Buffalo has already clinched a playoff spot of their own and are looking to carve out their own identity. And they’d like nothing more than to knock the Patriots out of a playoff bye.
That could possibly set up a third meeting between the two teams during Wildcard Weekend in two weeks. So, with a playoff bye and the division crown on the line, this IS a playoff atmosphere this week.
This week’s game will be broadcast by NFL Network on Saturday, December 21 at 4:30 p.m. and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Mike Tirico will handle play-by-play duties with Kurt Warner as the color analyst. Peter Schrager 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) beat the Cincinnati Bengals 34-13 and intercepted Andy Dalton four times, with Stephon Gilmore grabbing two, including a 64-yard pick-six.
The Bills (10-4) beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-10 as the Bills also intercepted four passes and generated five turnovers in a big win for Bills.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 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 have been playing each other since 1960 and this will mark the 120th time the two teams have faced each other.
The Patriots have swept the season series the past two years and have won six in a row against the Bills. The Patriots have dominated the season series against the Bills 75-43-1 and since Bill Belichick took over the team in 2000, the Patriots are 34-5 against the Bills.
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 Buffalo
The Patriots running game finally showed some life last week in Cincinnati as they rolled up 175 yards on the ground in the win over the Bengals. Sony Michel led the way with 89 yards while Rex Burkhead ripped a nice 33-yard touchdown run.
The Bills are 10th in the league against the run allowing just over 101 yards per game. They have the stout men upfront, Star Lotulelei and Jordan Phillips are good at stuffing things at the point of attack. Matt Milano and Tremaine Edwards at linebacker are very active and aggressive in run support.
Look for the Patriots to try to establish the run between the tackles. In this one guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason will be the keys to whether they can get any sustained yardage on the ground. Getting those two out front and doing some damage at the second level will be imperative for the backs to get some traction.
Michel, Burkhead, and James White will be looked to keep the offense in manageable down and distance. In the first meeting, Brandon Bolden got a carry in the red zone and chipped in with a 4-yard touchdown run. Could we see him a bit? Possibly.
Patriots WRs vs Bills Secondary – Razor’s Edge Buffalo
The Patriots passing game has been consistently inconsistent for several weeks. Julian Edelman is banged up and clearly hobbling. He shouldn’t even play this week, or next. However, it is all hands on deck time and I expect we’ll see him out there. How effective will Edelman be? It is doubtful we’ll see anything close to his optimal game. But he’s as tough as they come and he’ll give what he has.
The Bills pass defense is second only to the Patriots in stickiness to the wide receivers. They allow only 190.5 yards per game via the air. The Patriots and Bills are #1 – #2 in points allowed this season (12.9, 15.9 respectively). Tre’Davious White leads the secondary with six interceptions on the year. They have an excellent pass rush led by Phillips with 9.5 sacks, Ed Oliver, Jerry Hughes, and Shaq Lawson who all can get after the opposing QB. Two excellent safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde solidify things in the middle.
What the Patriots need …desperately is for someone else other than James White to step up. Mohamad Sanu and Phillip Dorsett have been MIA for weeks now and if there is ever a time for them to shine, now would be a nice weekend to get it going. In the first meeting, Dorsett was targeted nine times and had two catches for 10 yards. Look for N’Keal Harry to see some more snaps and targets this week.
If the Bills pass defense struggles in any area it would be (like New England) with backs out of the backfield in the screen game. That’s why we should see plenty of White and Burkhead in this one.
Next up the Bills offense:
Bills RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots front seven, in particular, Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton have been fantastic against the run. They’ve held up opponents at the line of scrimmage and allow the linebackers to flow and make plays. Guy leads the league in missing only one of 53 tackles. Shelton has missed two 52 of 54 tackle opportunities.
Buffalo has a big bruising back (Frank Gore who gained 109 yards in the previous meeting) and a faster back who can challenge out of the backfield in Devin Singletary who missed the first game. The Bills will want to run the ball to make life easier on Josh Allen in this one and Singletary will present a tough matchup.
This will be a big game for the Patriots linebackers to try to take the running game away. Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower, and Jamie Collins will have to be active and sure in their tackling this week as the Patriots will try to force the issue and make Allen throw to win.
Bills WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England
The Bills passing game with Josh Allen is beginning to emerge as he gets more and more comfortable in the offense of Brian Daboll. They have an underrated pass receiving group with John Brown who has emerged as their #1 target, Cole Beasley out of the slot and talented TE Dawson Knox, with Singletary out of the backfield.
The Patriots are allowing just 170.9 yards per game through the air. Stephon Gilmore has been outstanding and is in the running for the Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY). He’ll be matched up with Brown. They’ll try to mix up their coverages and looks and try to bait Allen into making a mistake.
The big matchup to watch this week is Beasley out of the slot. Jonathan Jones is out with a groin injury. Jason McCourty has been battling a groin injury of his own. Those two would be the top two choices to cover Beasley. If neither is available, rookie Joejuan Williams would probably see some action in there or the team may opt for a safety.
Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots special teams units have been the key to a lot of success this season and certainly had a hand in the win over Buffalo earlier this season. They blocked the first of four punts and Matthew Slater scored a touchdown. Look for them to come after some of Corey Bojorquez’s punts in this one to help out the offense. Jake Bailey is having an outstanding rookie season while Nick Folk has at least solidified the kicking game. Coverage on kicks has been outstanding while the return game has been poor.
Buffalo’s Stephen Hauschka has been very inconsistent this season and has missed several kicks that have influenced games with a lack of range this season. Bojorquez is very solid and the Bills have a dynamic returner in Andre Roberts. But home cooking gives the Patriots the edge here.
Next up, who wins and why…
The Patriots and Tom Brady have enjoyed incredible success against the Bills (31-3) and since Brady became the starter in 2001, and are looking for a win that will give them their 12th win of the season for an amazing 13th time since the 1970 merger which would tie San Francisco for the most in the league.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Those late-season walkovers are a thing of the past and although the Bills have never beaten Brady in a meaningful game in New England (Sean McDermott is 0-5 overall), the tides are changing. This one is going to be a battle.
Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:
Running Game Must Be Effective – Look for the Patriots to try to run the ball between the tackles this week. They have to help out a passing game that is really struggling and going against an outstanding pass defense, this is imperative.
Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and James White must be physical, and get yards after contact this week. The guards (as we pointed out earlier), have to win their matchups.
Get After Allen – With the Bills offense still a work in progress throwing the ball, Allen still has occasional issues with accuracy and is prone to make mistakes. The defense will have to force the issue this week. They can’t lay back and just try to contain Allen in the pocket, they will have to get after him hard this week.
Both defenses will be aggressive this week, the Patriots’ unit will have to be better and and generate a turnover or two.
Continue the Script – This week, that means playing tough opportunistic defense, having the special teams flip field position, and securing the football as well as generating some turnovers. The Patriots are well versed in playing in big games and always seem to turn it up a notch in those….This is a prime opportunity to do so again.
This should be a tough, physical contest… and a very low scoring one and even lower if Edelman can’t play this week. Buffalo is just beginning to learn how to win. They’ve been given very little respect on the national stage. But a win over Dallas on Thanksgiving where they curb stomped the Cowboys started to change the narrative a bit. A win in Pittsburgh last week was impressive and now they are taking on their nemesis in the division.
They have had zero success here in New England during the Brady/Belichick era but feel they have the team to create a new order in the AFC East. Is it this year?
The Patriots have been here before, they won’t let the moment get too big for them. And the Patriots defense continues to rise up for the occasion and they’ll have to once again. The Pats defense gets a couple of big turnovers and a huge stop late in the game to salt away another division crown. Patriots17-16
The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” tour returns for the final regular-season game of 2019 at home when the Pats take on the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.