I began writing these previews in 2019 as a way to be more realistic about the outcome of Bills games and to pre-emptively cope with what may be a negative outcome. To me that negative outcome has always been the Buffalo Bills losing a game, but that changed on Monday night. What everyone watching that game witnessed wasn’t just a negative outcome it was just about the worst outcome, and one that has made the this game feel simply inconsequential.
Below is the 72nd Bills Preview I have written and it’s by far my least important one. I completed the same exercise I have done every week for the past 4 seasons culminating in a way to detailed write up of why the Bills could lose or win their game against the Patriots. That being said, a victory off the field for one person trumps anything the Bills do on the field this weekend in Orchard Park.
The Game Matchups Preview series is dedicated to breaking down how the Buffalo Bills match up with their opponent in each game of the 2022 NFL Season. This series will look at five key matchups; Bills Pass Offense vs. Opponent Pass Defense, Bills Rush Offense vs. Opponent Rush Defense, Bills Pass Defense vs. Opponent Pass Offense, Bills Rush Defense vs. Opponent Rush Offense, and Bills Special Teams vs. Opponent Special Teams. This entire analysis will conclude with three sections; “Why Buffalo Will Lose”, “Why Buffalo Will Win”, and a score prediction for the game.
Below I present 2022’s 17th iteration of this analysis for the Bills’ Week 18 home game versus the New England Patriots. Included is a scale ranking the advantage in each matchup from 👏 (Minimal Advantage) to 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage).
Bills Pass Offense vs. Patriots Pass Defense
Bills fans have a founded belief that the most dangerous version of Josh Allen is the Angry version of Josh Allen. What if it isn’t anger though that drives Allen in these moments, but instead it’s simply Emotion? 2020 versus the Seahawks, 2021 Divisional Round versus the Chiefs, 2022 versus the Lions, and any game versus the Dolphins have all featured Allen at peak emotion. Now rewind to Monday night where one of the lasting images forever will be a clearly distraught Allen reacting to one of the most terrifying moments in sports history. Football ceased to matter in that moment but moving forward it will go unquestioned that when Allen takes the field, he will be playing with emotion the likes of which we have not seen before. If this proves true for the remainder of the season you would be hard pressed to find any mortal capable of slowing the Bills’ Quarterback down.
The first that will attempt to slow down Allen will be Bill Belichick and his overachieving defense. To date, the Patriots hold the #2 DVOA Pass Defense (-13.5%) and this week will be playing a win-and-in game. In his last 5 matchups with Allen though, Belichick’s defense has been abused, giving up a 15:0 Pass TD:INT Ratio to go along with a Passer Rating against of 119.3. New England will undoubtedly throw some new wrinkles at Buffalo this week, but their success will hinge on whether or not a banged-up secondary can contain Allen and his receivers. With Jack Jones (CB) on IR, Marcus Jones (CB) working through concussion protocol, and Jalen Mills (CB) struggling to return from a groin injury the Patriots’ top three corners may struggle to see the field Sunday. That means backups Myles Bryant (CB), Shaun Wade (CB), and/or Tae Hayes (CB) may all see significant time and be tasked with stopping Allen from getting the ball to the likes of Stefon Diggs (WR), Gabe Davis (WR), and Dawson Knox (TE) among others.
New England will need to rely on their Pass Rush if they want to compete on the defensive side of the ball. Massive games from Matt Judon and Josh Uche will be paramount, a duo that just so happens to be the only twosome in the NFL each with 11.5+ sacks, 15.5 and 11.5 respectively. This will present a test for the Bills tackles, Dion Dawkins (LT) and Spencer Brown (RT), who have given up a combined 7 sacks on the season. The result will likely be Allen moving in and out of the pocket at a heightened rate in order to buy time for his receivers to get open down field. New England will likely need to push his pressure rate north of 25% as anything south of that spells disaster for a team which projects to struggle in the back end. Buffalo has a very clear advantage here and one that they will look to attack over and over again on Sunday.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Bills Rush Offense vs. Patriots Rush Defense
The Bills rushing attack has quietly become a dominant force in the NFL the past four weeks. Over that span the combination of Devin Singletary (RB) and James Cook (RB) are averaging 110.3 Rushing Yards on 20.0 Carries per Game. For context, on the season, the league’s leading rusher is the Raiders Josh Jacobs who is producing 100.5 Rushing Yards on 20.2 Carries per Game. Since the beginning of the season, the narrative has been that Buffalo has a one-dimensional offense that is way too reliant on their Franchise Quarterback making plays through the air. In the back quarter of the season, that narrative hasn’t just been proven wrong, it’s been shattered. With the playoffs on the horizon and likely poor weather conditions included, the Bills’ ground game may be just the boon they need to take their season just a little further.
The Patriots present a unique challenge when running the ball with one of the better all-around interior defensive lines. Lawrence Guy and Davon Godchaux are each behemoths that played in the last contest between these two, but this time around they will be joined by Christian Barmore. Barmore has missed 7 games this season but at times has flashed game wrecking abilities. At 6’4″ 310lb, Barmore can move like a Defensive End but suck up blockers like a Defensive Tackle, making him a feasible difference-maker on Sunday. His presence in the Defensive Line rotation should provide MLB Ja’Whaun Bentley more room to operate and in turn, a greater ability to slow down opposing running backs. On the season as a whole, the Patriots have held opposing teams to the 5th lowest Y/A at 4.1, with Barmore on the field their play should only be better.
The Bills will have an edge on the ground even before considering their best runner, but when you add Josh Allen to the equation it pushes Buffalo over the top. On the season Allen has the league’s 3rd highest Y/A at 6.5 and in his last 5 games against the Patriots has racked up 224 rushing yards. It has been theorized that as his career progresses, Allen’s propensity to run the ball would lower, but this season has proved that false. In fact, Allen’s 7.7 Carries per game in 2022 represents a new career high. This week, there is no reason to see that number dip, and no one should be surprised if the Bills sprinkle in even more designed runs or boots that set up scrambles in order to keep the Patriots Defensive Line on their heels. The Patriots cannot afford to lose this particular matchup but if Motor, Cook, and Allen continue to do what they have been doing then the Patriots may have no choice.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Bills Pass Defense vs. Patriots Pass Offense
The Bills are going to have to mix and match their way to a competent Pass Defense the remainder of the season. All-Pro Safety Jordan Poyer is still playing excellent football while All-Pro Corner Tre White seems to be getting better and better each week. Outside of those two though, a lot of questions remain for Buffalo. Who steps up opposite Jordan Poyer? Will it be Jaquan Johnson, Cam Lewis, or even Jared Mayden? Who takes control of CB2? Does that job belong to Dane Jackson, Kaiir Elam, or Christian Benford? Will Taron Johnson be healthy come playoff time, or will Siran Neal see more action on defense? That’s an awful lot of questions for a team which is going to be asked to stop some of the best Quarterbacks in the NFL on their quest for a Lombardi trophy.
The Patriots don’t posses one of those elite Quarterbacks, though, as Mac Jones has struggled in his second season in the NFL. In a somewhat impressive Rookie Season, Jones was able to cobble together a QuBeR of 45.62 but in his sophomore season, where improvements are expected, his QuBeR has fallen to 41.23. The largest area of regression for Jones has been his Touchdown Frequency which went from 3.71% to 2.51% coinciding directly with the Patriots going from 27.2 Points per Game (NFL-6) to 21.3 Points per Game (NFL-17). The Matt Patricia experiment as Offensive Play Caller has proven disastrous for the Patriots, who arguably have more offensive talent this season than they did a year ago. Jakobi Meyers (WR), DeVante Parker (WR), Kendrick Bourne (WR), and Hunter Henry (TE) make up a fairly solid receiving corps which in most environments should succeed. If those four, and this offense as a whole, do not take off this week, it’s going to be difficult for the Patriots to find any further success this season.
While the Patriots have historically been weak at the skill position they are often strong on the Offensive Line. Much like the rest of their offense this season even that has struggled though as Mac Jones is seeing a Sack Percentage of 7.6% which ranks 22nd in the league. An injury to Isaiah Wynn (OL) plays into this but all-in-all the Offensive Line simply hasn’t been great. Trent Brown (LT), David Andrews (C), and Mike Onwenu (RG) have been solid in their roles but inconsistency from rookie Cole Strange (LG) and reserve starter Conor McDermott (RT) have resulted in struggles up front. The Bills will attack this front with their typical 4-man rush buffeted by the occasional pass rush from Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds, or a DB off the edge. This won’t be a 4+ sack performance from Buffalo but any consistent pressure should result in even more dominance in an already dominated matchup.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏👏
Bills Rush Defense vs. Patriots Rush Offense
This season, the Bills have faced 5 of the Top-10 players by Rushing Yards. The combination of Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry, Justin Fields, Dalvin Cook, and Aaron Jones have averaged 79.9 Rushing Yards per Game Played this season. Against the Bills those 5 players averaged 63.4 Rushing Yards per Game with 82.6% of those yards coming from Cook and Jones. The Bills ability to at times be dominant against the run is far removed from their consistent struggles in seasons past. This sometimes does come at the detriment of their pass defense, which can also be attributed to injuries, but the result is a more well-rounded defense all together. Teams will pick and choose how to attack the Bills moving forward, but both through the air and on the ground is now a grind.
The Patriots will likely try to ground this game out with the duo of Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris. In the first matchup between these teams the Patriots rushed for just 60 yards but were without Harris. The addition of Harris this time around should provide New England with a more fresh and more talented rushing attack. Stevenson will play the role of Bruiser this week against the Bills and look to attack their linebackers downhill, while Harris should do most of his work outside the tackles. In the past two seasons, this pair has combined for 632 Carries for 2935 Yards and 28 Touchdowns in 53 combined Games Played. They will need to be as successful, if not more so, this week if the Patriots have any chance of continuing their season.
Buffalo is going to look to win this battle up front via the likes of Ed Oliver (DT), Jordan Phillips (DT), DaQuan Jones (DT), and Tim Settle (DT). This revamped interior Defensive Lines has been pivotal in leading the Bills to the 3rd ranked Rush Defense by DVOA (-20.1%). Their ability to not only make contact with runners in the backfield, but to also keep blockers off of Tremaine Edmunds (LB) and Matt Milano (LB) has turned what has been historically a weakness for the Bills into a strength. The Bills are going to gameplan to stop the run and in the rare occurrences where they have done that (See Browns, Titans) the Bills have dominated opponents on the ground. The Patriots do have a slight edge in this regard, but there is a chance that the Bills could win this matchup, one that if they win likely ends the game.
EDGE: Patriots 👏👏
Bills Special Teams vs. Patriots Special Teams
Tyler Bass may not earn an All-Pro nomination this season but he has still been fairly remarkable. He is 70/76 on kicks this season for a make rate of 92.1% while consistently placing the ball just short of the goal line in the corner on purpose. If Bass did one thing this season it’s prove he’s a Top-5 Kicker in the NFL. Kicking with him is Bills Punter, Sam Martin, who has been one of the Bills more underrated offseason signing. Though rarely called upon, with just 42 Punts, he has shown the consistent ability to either flip the field or pin opponents deep in their own territory. Last for the Bills is Nyheim Hines who ranks 12th in NFL history for Yards per Punt Return (11.5). He has yet to really break one in Buffalo but looks poised to do so while his ball security provides some relief for both the fans and coaching staff on kicks.
Kicking for the Patriots is another good one in Nick Folk. Folk also has a respectable make rate at 88.4% by drilling 61/69 kicks. Over the past two weeks though he has attempted 5 Extra Points and missed 3 of them which will be something to monitor on Sunday. As for Punter the Patriots continue to roll with Micahel Palardy who is struggling to say the least. His 42.6 Yards per Punt is well below average while his 36.9 Net Yards per Punt is abysmal. If there was ever a week to take advantage of a punter, this week is Nyheim Hines’ week. At return the Patriots usually role with the uber dangerous Marcus Jones but with his availability up in the air may turn to Myles Bryant at PR and Pierre Strong at KR. Neither has exactly exceled in the role with Bryant a 5.6 Y/PR and Strong a 23.0 Y/KR but caution must always be taken on Special Teams as an area where the game can easily be turned on its head.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Why Buffalo Will Lose
The Patriots will take the field Sunday in a win and in game against a team emotionally drained from the last week. New England should be able to find some success on the ground against Buffalo and play directly into an exhaustive mentality. With Buffalo likely loading the box downfield attacks to Parker or intermediate throws to Henry and Bourne may prove fruitful. There is a path for New England to a well rounded offense this week which should allow them to put up points.
On the defensive side of the ball it will be all about forcing turnovers. The Patriots are clearly overmatched here and Belichick has been unable to slow down the freight train that is Josh Allen, but a few untimely mistakes by Buffalo will keep this on close. Look for both Kyle Dugger (S) and Devin McCourty (S) to focus on jumping passes more than normal in order to level the playing field. New England needs to win the turnover battle by 2+ which isn’t impossible when playing this Bills team.
Why Buffalo Will Win
Emotion has the ability to work against you, but it also has the ability to work for you. This Bills team has been described as galvanized by the news that Damar Hamlin’s condition is improving and a galvanized Bills team is a scary Bills team. Do you really want to face a worked up Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, Dawson Knox, Spencer Brown, etc? The Bills have been one of, if not the best team in football this season but at times it’s looked like they were going through the motions. There isn’t any going through the motions anymore.
On the defensive side of the ball the same sentiment is echoed as the 11 players on the field each and every down will look to play for Damar. In particular Jordan Poyer, Dane Jackson, Tre White, Siran Neal, Taron Johnson, and Jaquan Johnson who have each spent two years in the same room as Damar can be expected to play with their hair on fire. Look for Buffalo to try and jump more passes and make more big plays this week than they normally do. This defense isn’t just on a football mission on Sunday, they are on a family one.
Prediction: Bills 35 – Patriots 17
The line this week for the Buffalo Bills could be 100 points, and I’d still take the over. There is undoubtedly some concern that the Bills emotions could be in such overdrive that they struggle on Sunday, but I don’t think that’s a case. With a team lead by Sean McDermott and Josh Allen Buffalo has the perfect leadership to be fueled by their emotions. The Bills are going to look to make a statement on Sunday but not to the NFL, instead for Damar Hamlin.