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Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots Week 16 game preview

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© Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

 

That’s more like it. What a difference a week can make. After losing back-to-back games, a concept such as the playoffs seemed farfetched. Now that Mac Jones has reminded everyone he’s still a rookie, the Patriots have proved they’re vulnerable, which opens the AFC East back up. And somehow, the Dolphins have reeled off seven straight wins to place them within a game of the Bills.

 

Meanwhile, the Rumbling Herd took care of business at home, beating the Panthers convincingly. Unfortunately, like many of their other victories this season, taking down a pathetic Panthers squad isn’t all that impressive in its own right. It was expected.

 

Now, with a chance to get revenge against the Patriots, few expect the Bills to come out ahead, which is ridiculous considering it was just a four-point game at the final whistle in Week 13. Not to mention the atypical weather conditions producing 40 mph winds. I’ve already looked, there is a chance of snow in Foxboro on gameday, but temperatures are forecasted to be in the high 30’s to low 40’s.

 

On the bright side, the Bills are coming off their best rushing performance of the season. While they didn’t post gaudy numbers, it at least exemplified how sticking with the run can lead to prosperous results. Hopefully, it’s a message Brian Daboll and coach Sean McDermott take to heart. It was also nice to see Josh Allen get a break for once and not carry the team with both his arm and his legs.

 

Last week’s effort provided hope and built confidence, which the Bills can carry with them into their biggest matchup of the year for a game that, if won, should essentially lock up the playoffs for the Bills Mafia. The Bills will treat the Patriots game as a true playoff preview with their final two games against winnable opponents in the Jets and Falcons.

Buffalo Bills Week 16 game details, where to watch

  • Sunday, December 26, 2021
  • Start time: 1:00 PM ET
  • TV channel - CBS
  • Location - Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts

 

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© Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

What happened the last time the Bills played the New England Patriots?

Bills 10

Patriots 14

 

Buffalo essentially lost this game from not being able to run the ball at all, while the Patriots ran it down their throats, making Bills defenders look like a JV squad to borrow one of Mike Tomlin’s apt descriptions. While it worked, they got the win. There’s no way in hell the Patriots have the same game plan this time around. Mac Jones will throw more than three passes, which isn’t a very bold claim.

 

The main culprit was Damien Harris going off for 111 yards on just ten carries, with most of the damage done on one play, a 64-yard dash to the endzone. Without that, it could have been an entirely different outcome. Harris was out with a hamstring injury last week, there’s no guarantee he’s ready for Sunday, but it appears more likely he’s available as of Monday.

Matchups to watch

  • Bills’ run-stoppers vs. Damien Harries, Rhamondre Stevenson

The Patriots employ a couple of tanks in their backfield. Both running backs are stocky runners who prefer to run through you rather than make you miss. And they both weigh north of 213 pounds, which may be why the Bills struggled to bring them down.

 

More importantly, the Rumbling Herd needs to be more physical at the point of attack. They can’t afford to continue letting the Pats blow up the line of scrimmage, sending defenders seven yards back (rough estimate) within a few seconds of the snap. That’s on the defensive line, and to a lesser extent, the linebackers. If they’re not shooting the correct gaps, they’re going to get run over again.

 

Luckily, the Bills have a lot of wise, experienced defensive minds on the coaching staff. We saw McDermott make in-game adjustments, communicating to his defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier during the second half of the Pats game, in which they largely held them in check. They’ve only had more time to practice, more film to study, and more time to employ a new strategy. 

 

Honestly, I’m stoked to see the results. It’s a direct reflection on your coaching staff, how they make not only in-game adjustments but how they re-approach the rest of the season. It’s what helps make divisional games so impactful and, thus, must-see TV.

 

  • Josh Allen vs. Mac Jones

I know they don’t face off with one another, but how they lead their respective (not so much respect for the Pats, actually) offenses directly affects the other quarterback. Should the Patriots decide to go with the same game plan that saw them run the ball 46 times compared to three pass attempts, Josh Allen won’t see nearly as many opportunities to put his fingerprint on the game.

 

We need to get Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis those opportunities downfield. They may not always work, that’s part of the gamble, but it helps set up the rest of the offense, including the ability to run the ball.

 

We still haven’t seen Mac Jones unleashed against the Bills. Is Bill Belichick scared of letting his rookie try and actually win the game against a top-notch pass defense? It appears so, but we’ll get a better look on Sunday. 

 

Jones dropped back to throw 46 times in Week 15, completing just 26 passes and getting sacked once. Look for something more like 25-30 pass attempts against the Bills while playing a primarily conservative game plan, led by their preference to stick with the rushing attack. Keep in mind, the longest pass completion of Jones’ young career is just 43 yards, a far cry from the downfield bombs Allen routinely makes.

 

  • Stefon Diggs vs. J.C. Jackson

It’s almost unfair. The Patriots always seem to have an elite, lockdown cornerback. Stephon Gilmore was shown the door, but that’s mainly because J.C. Jackson has taken over as their No. 1 corner. Prior to Week 15, quarterbacks targeting Jackson have just a 39.5 passer rating when throwing his way. It’s the best among all NFL players in 2021.

 

While he leads the NFL with 20 pass deflections, Jackson is also a ballhawk. This season, the 6-foot-1 corner has seven interceptions, which ranks second in the league.

 

Expect to see Jackson shadowing Diggs. Everywhere No. 14 goes, No. 27 will follow. This likely means the Bills will look to get Diggs involved in other ways. Maybe we’ll see more sweeps and end-arounds allowing Diggs to carry the ball instead of catch it. The Bills can use all the help they can get on the ground. Getting Diggs more involved may do the trick.

 

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© Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Bills Week 16 game prediction

  • Last season’s record: Buffalo Bills 13-3, reached AFC Conference Championship
  • New England Patriots 7-9, third place in AFC East

 

Last week I wrote, “The Bills need to go 3-1 or better to make the playoffs in their final four games.” This still seems accurate, though it’s down to 2-1 now last week’s win. The AFC playoff race is extremely tight, with five teams sitting precisely at 8-6 and three teams above that pack. Only seven will move on to the postseason. 

 

As of today, the only, what I will say “guaranteed team” to make the playoffs, is the 10-4 Kansas City Chiefs. All other teams could either sink or swim, including the Bills. 

 

Simply put, the best way for Buffalo to improve their playoff chances is by winning this game against the Patriots. As of now, after Sunday’s slate, but before Monday’s, the Bills have a 73% chance to make the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight’s model. With a win against the Patriots, it moves to 97%. Let’s go get it done.

 

As far as predictions, Vegas doesn’t think as highly of the Bills. Oddsmakers have set the betting line, and they view the Patriots as 1.5-2.5 point favorites. The last time they faced off, the Bills started as three-point favorites, playing at home.

 

Going to Foxboro, the Bills are the team that’s been here before. Buffalo has made the playoffs each of the past two seasons. They won’t settle for a year at home, watching the postseason from their couch. 

 

The Patriots are well-coached, he’s been everywhere, including the biggest games, but their quarterback has not. When they need clutch throw after clutch throw, Jones is bound to show some of his flaws. Belichick can only do so much. Players play and coaches coach. For the Bills, they have the better players, which should be the deciding factor on Sunday.

 

Game prediction: 24-20 Bills victory

 

 

Go Bills!!

 

 

 

BillsFans.com - Andrew Buller-Russ 

 

 

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