The Buffalo Bills are so close to claiming a playoff spot they can taste it. The New York Times’ playoffs simulator has Buffalo with a 91% chance to make the playoffs entering Week 17, and that number improves to 98% with a win over the New England Patriots at home on Sunday. If the Bills were to earn another shot at the postseason, it would be the fifth straight year making the playoffs, their best streak since the early 1990s when they made it from 1988 to 1993. If you look at the mega-resorts in Nevada, Buffalo is a near guarantee to get that win, sitting as 13-point favorites with an implied score of 27-14. That makes sense, with the Pats averaging 14 points per game and Buffalo’s offense finding a rhythm under Joe Brady. So, how do the Bills take care of business versus a divisional rival that was a nightmare for two decades? I’m glad you asked. Here are my five keys to a Buffalo victory when the Bills host the Patriots on Sunday at 1:00 in Orchard Park.
The difference between the Bills blowing the Patriots out like they did the Cowboys or the game being a nail-biter like it was vs the Chargers could be whether or not Buffalo can score early. The Pats are averaging a league-worst 14.1 points per game, so getting even a 10-point advantage in the first quarter could spell doom for New England.
James Cook has become the Bills’ best offensive player NOT named Josh Allen since Joe Brady took over as the interim offensive coordinator. Cook was also one of the few Bills that played well in the loss to New England 29-25 back in Week 7 when he had 102 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. Keeping Cook on high heat should go a long way in a Buffalo win.
The Jabrill Peppers we have seen this year from the Patriots is the one we remember being an All-American for the Michigan Wolverines. The former first-round pick has two interceptions, a forced fumbler, a fumble recovery, 76 tackles, and five QB hits. He has been making plays all over the field for New England. Keying on the safety/linebacker hybrid will be important for Allen, as Peppers could be spying on Allen or in coverage on Cook.
Sean McDermott announced on Friday that he expects defensive tackle DaQuan Jones and safety Micah Hyde to play on Sunday. The Bills have still been solid upfront without Jones, but getting a guy who was playing like an All-Pro back is never a bad thing. In the secondary, the Bills have missed Hyde as Taylor Rapp hasn’t lived up to expectations. Hyde is a former All-Pro and will be a welcome sight in the secondary.
5 for Fighting
While researching this matchup, one stat shocked me. That was the number of penalties and penalty yards the Patriots defense has given away this season. Entering Week 17, New England’s D was 32nd (last) in penalty yards per game at almost 34. They’re 30th in both penalty yards per play and penalties per game. Giving Allen free yards sounds like a terrible idea, but one the Bills will gladly accept.