The last time Buffalo has punted against New England is last year’s super windy game in Highmark Stadium. Since then: two games, no punts forced, two blowouts. This one doesn’t look so straightforward for the Bills in a showdown of AFC East teams that have both been somewhat inconsistent so far. Here’s why this game, regardless of outcome, won’t be the same as the others.
This Isn’t The Same Patriots Defense As Last Year
My featured image is a manifestation of sorts. The last taste the Patriots have in their mouth is seven Bills drives that led to seven touchdowns in the Wild Card Game. However, this is a much more complete group, a deeper and faster group that won’t look overmatched. It’s rare that Patriots fans can look at every position on the defense and feel good about it, but that’s what has happened.
The linebackers are a rounded group with a potent pass rusher in Uche, a great coverage backer in Mack Wilson, a jack-of-all trades and phenomenal tackler in JaWhaun Bentley, and plenty of depth otherwise. The defensive line is as good as they’ve been since 2019, with a fearsome edge of Judon and Wise, and a good interior who (without Christian Barmore) will be leaning on Davon Godchaux and Lawrence Guy. They’ve been relentless this season, both in terms of putting opponents behind the sticks and taking the ball away, with 37 sacks, 49 tackles for loss, and a total of 18 takeaways, with six recovered fumbles and 12 receptions.
Bottom line, it’s a ferocious group, and the Bills won’t have their way with them despite their talent and versatility on offense. The biggest concern for the Patriots’ defense will be Josh Allen’s running threat, as defending dynamic quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson and Justin Fields has been the biggest issue for that defense. However, the group overall is capable of handling high-level offenses. Sam Martin will be on the field this Thursday, hopefully more often than Tyler Bass.
Mac Comes In Much More Battle-Tested
Mac has had three games against Buffalo, and none have been conventional for someone with his inexperience. One was a windy game where the conditions allowed him to throw only three passes. The second was a game that essentially decided the AFC East and a high-pressure situation. The third was his first ever playoff game in which the Patriots played in a hostile road environment.
Mac now comes having faced adversity with his job and a QB “controversy”, with a bunch more games under his belt, and off a career performance where he had 382 yards and two touchdowns. He hasn’t given a proper hello to this Bills yet, and I expect him to give them a thorough greeting on Thursday. Whether he can sustain the level over four quarters, and whether his offensive line and playcallers can help him and learn from last year’s games will be a big factor in whether they can win.
The Patriots Ride In With Some Positive Momentum
They may be coming in off a loss, but in a way it’s an encouraging one, leading a lot of the way, and only losing by seven in an away game against the best team in the NFC currently. Mac Jones’ form is on the uptick, and has now gone 3.5 games without an interception, and is coming off his first multi-touchdown game since… the last time these two teams met. The Patriots overall have won four of six rather, where last year they came into the playoff games having lost four of five and seeing a dip in production from both Mac and the defense.
In divisonal showdowns that are already unpredictable, momentum can play a big role, and the Bills have actually been playing some of their more mediocre football, following up a two-game losing streak with two close wins, and all four of these games have been against common opponents versus whom the Patriots have either been more or equally dominant as the Bills.
The Bottom Line
It’s hard to say exactly what will happen on Thursday night, but it’s not going to be any sort of a blowout in a pivotal game for the Patriots’ playoff chances.
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