Bills increase playoff odds with nail-biting win over Patriots, 27-21

12/31/2023
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The Buffalo Bills managed to get the win, scraping by the New England Patriots 27-21. Despite an incredible first-half performance by the Bills defense in which they created four turnovers, the Bills’ offense could not capitalize on the Patriots’ mistakes and let them hang around for far longer than they should have. Despite the frustrating game, the Bills move to 10-6 on the season and continue to increase their playoff odds moving into their Week 18 finale against the Miami Dolphins.

Below we’ll take a look at the most inspiring parts of the game, inquire about a coach who has gotten quite a bit of praise before, look into an aspect of the offense that requires a better performance, and break down the most irksome parts of the game. 

Inspire – Turnovers (Rasul Douglas and Ed Oliver):

It wasn’t a perfect day by the Bills defense, but the unit is largely responsible for the team’s victory today. Ed Oliver wreaked havoc from the first drive, snagging an incredibly athletic one-handed interception, generating pressure, and logging another sack on the season. Rasul Douglas had an incredible game, getting two picks, one of which was returned for a TD, and he was around the ball constantly. Suffice it to say, Douglas has been a huge acquisition for Brandon Beane, becoming an instant playmaker in the secondary and helping to energize a depleted unit that needed more juice. For a defense that took some lumps for a good portion of the season after dealing with a lot of injuries, Sean McDermott and company have this group humming as they approach the month of January. Generating four first-half turnovers should have resulted in far more points than what the Bills had through the first two quarters, but that was not the fault of the defense by a long shot. The Bills’ defense came to play as they have since the bye week. The aforementioned Douglas and Oliver are both having incredible seasons and both are very deserving of Pro Bowl nods this season.

Inquire – Joe Brady:

A strangely disjointed game by the Bills offense. The Bills didn’t seem to know exactly what they wanted to do offensively, struggling to find consistency both on the ground and in the air. The plays on offense weren’t clicking early, Josh Allen missed far too often, and for the second week in a row, the Bills simply looked disjointed. For a team that supposedly no one wants to see in the playoffs, they’ve given little reason on offense to create any fear in whoever their future opponent may be. After an excellent first few weeks of play calling as the Bills’ interim OC, Joe Brady hasn’t been quite on the same heater as he was to start. Some of that is the fault of Allen (as we’ll discuss later), but the offense as a whole felt disjointed, which ultimately all comes back to the offensive coordinator. If Bills fans want to crucify Ken Dorsey for not getting the most out of the Bills’ offense and Allen, it’s fair to criticize Brady for not doing it now either.

Require – Run Game:

Since his breakout game against the Cowboys, James Cook and the Bills’ run game have been a bit disappointing. Cook hasn’t been consistent, the offensive line has struggled with their assignments, and they’re not generating the same yardage that they were through most of the season. While the Bills should still feel generally confident in the run game potentially getting going again given the health and consistency on the offensive line and the coaching prowess of Aaron Kromer, it’s worth saying that this run game hasn’t had anywhere near the same level of success as they had a few weeks ago. Yes, the Patriots’ defense is tough and Bill Belichick will always have his team ready to play, but if you want to compete and be one of the best teams in the league, you have to do more than scrape by against the bottom feeders of the league.  

Irk – Special Teams and Josh Allen:

Another week, another bad moment for Matthew Smiley’s special teams unit. Since taking over for Heath Farwell after the 2021 season, Matthew Smiley looked to keep things going in 2022, starting strong with a good special teams unit. 2023 has told a different story, leaving Bills fans wondering why this unit, which has been heavily invested in monetarily and has been generally quite good under Sean McDermott, is struggling. Giving up a kick return on the first play against an equally bad, if not worse, Patriots’ special teams unit is inexcusable. Players like Sam Martin and Tyler Bass have not been as strong this year, though they both had excellent games today, and the blocking and coverage units have been maddeningly inconsistent. The Bills have to figure out a way to get this unit together, because there is no quicker way to lose a playoff game than by giving up big plays on special teams.

Josh Allen has also been disappointing for the last few games. Allen has looked asleep at the wheel and off-target on too many throws. Allen has been gassed up by Bills fans as a potential MVP candidate if they make the playoffs but his performance the last few weeks has been anything but MVP-worthy. Suffice it to say, Allen has been a major reason why the Bills are where they are at this point of the season, both good and bad. There have been games where Allen has carried this team, and the defense lost it. There have been games where the Bills have won after the defense stepped up because Allen was too scattershot and erratic. It was a tough performance by Allen; if the Bills want to compete in the playoffs and potentially make a Super Bowl run, Allen has to be better than he has been. 

Despite the heart-palpitating way in which they did it, the Bills won and now move into a showdown with the Miami Dolphins for the AFC East division title in Week 18. It is currently TBD as to when the game will be played, but given the magnitude, circumstances, and star power of this game, one would imagine it gets flexed to Sunday Night Football on NBC. We here at Cover 1 will bring you all the information and analysis that you need to prepare for this showdown for the 2023 AFC East title. 

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