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Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots Week 18 preview

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© Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

 

Starting off with the elephant in the room, this is, by far, the strangest game preview we’ve ever produced here at Bills Fans. How does one prepare for the next game when we’re all waiting to hear positive news regarding Damar Hamlin? 

 

This isn’t about us; it’s about the 24-year-old’s health and his family. 

 

More so, how can the Buffalo Bills as an organization quickly move on and act like everything is back to normal just six days after the scariest moment in their football lives? 

 

If the games must continue to be played, there is really only one way. Dedicate this effort to No. 3. This one is for Hamlin.

 

In most cases, would it be acceptable to see a player not going 100% when running full steam into a pile, expecting a major collision? Absolutely not. Yet, I wouldn’t be shocked if we see players on both sides appearing a bit hesitant to go full-steam, whether it’s making a tackle, lowering their shoulder to pick up a few extra yards, or getting alligator arms when trying to make a contested catch.

 

While we get so caught up in the game of football, a sport we all cherish, we have to take the time to remember that these are not just million-dollar athletes. They are putting their bodies on the line for our entertainment. They have families too, just like you and I. 

 

Instead of seeing players deliver that final blow just before reaching the boundary, don’t be surprised if we see athletes simply choose to see another down, heading out of bounds instead of trying to gain that extra inch or two. 

 

Oh yeah, the Bills are playing the heavily hated New England Patriots, but somehow, this game doesn’t feel like there will be as much vitriol between the sides. But, while the Bills Mafia have their playoff spot secured, Bill Belichick’s crew does not, meaning a win against the Rumbling Herd could be just what they need to reach the postseason. Buffalo may be able to improve their chances at securing the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but they don’t have nearly as much on the line. 

Buffalo Bills vs. Patriots game details, where to watch

  • Sunday, January 8, 2023
  • Start time: 1 PM ET
  • TV channel - CBS
  • Location - Highmark Stadium, Orchard Park, NY

 

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© Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Keys to the game

  • Embarrassing Mac Jones

 

While he’s in his second season, and somehow made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Mac Jones is still looking to prove himself as an NFL starting quarterback. The 15th overall pick from the 2021 NFL Draft has taken a large step back this season. Maybe it’s due to the Patriots trying to make Matt Patricia and Joe Judge into key offensive coaches despite having little to no experience working with that side of the ball. 

 

Maybe it’s due to the Patriots having few offensive weapons. After all, there’s no one like Stefon Diggs on their roster. Jones doesn’t have many playmakers who can break a game wide open. His leading receiver is Jakobi Meyers, who has 771 yards, which would rank third among Bills players this season. 

 

Whatever the reason for their slump, Jones is on pace to throw just 12 touchdowns this season after throwing for 22 as a rookie. He’s also reduced his completion rate by just over two points while also seeing his yards per attempt dwindle as well. 

 

But here’s the thing, Jones has committed just one turnover since Week 9 and is playing much better as of late as he prepares for a matchup against the NFL’s eighth-best pass defense

 

Jones has thrown four touchdowns in his past two games, averaging 221 YPG, while completing 62% of his passes in that same span. These numbers aren’t great; certainly nothing worthy of a Pro Bowl selection or anything close, but he’s giving his team a chance. 

 

Yet he’s also vulnerable to taking sacks, having averaged 2.5 sacks per game in his 13 starts this season. If the Rumbling Herd can chase Jones out of the pocket, they can make him panic and hopefully force the 24-year-old QB into making mistakes on the fly. 

 

  • James Cook takes on a top-ten rush defense

 

It wouldn’t surprise us to see the Bills continue to lean more on rookie tailback James Cook in this matchup. While the Patriots once again have an elite defense, led by the sixth-best rush defense in the NFL, passing against them is much riskier. Having picked off 18 passes this season, the Pats lead the NFL in interceptions. 

 

It’s possible we see offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey opt to see how hot Cook’s hand is on Sunday, giving the first-year pro a chance to further establish himself as the future of the Buffalo backfield with Devin Singletary’s pending free agency decision this offseason. 

 

If Cook had enough attempts to qualify, his 5.8 YPC would lead all other NFL running backs this season. He deserves more opportunities, especially in a game that wouldn’t be the end of the world if he struggles. Better to learn from his mistakes now than during a big moment in the playoffs.

 

  • Escaping Week 18 relatively healthy

 

As far as we know right now, with the Bills/Bengals game potentially canceled altogether, all Buffalo needs to do to keep their hopes alive of securing the top seed in the AFC is a win over the Patriots. But they will also need some help by way of the Kansas City Chiefs losing. 

 

Being that the Chiefs play the Las Vegas Raiders, we’re not expecting Patrick Mahomes to falter. With the KC-LV matchup set for Saturday, we’ll know for sure by Sunday whether the Bills have any chance of securing the one seed.

 

In light of everything that’s transpired, this could, in turn, mean coach Sean McDermott opts to give his starters some rest in the regular season finale. Yet, that’s not what we anticipate. Our guess is that the Bills won’t want to roll over to help their division rival reach the playoffs. Especially knowing that all the Patriots need to clinch a playoff spot is a win over Buffalo. 

 

First and foremost, the Bills’ top priority should be emerging from Week 18 as healthy as one can reasonably hope. While improving playoff seeding is important, it’s not as crucial as ensuring you have your playmakers ready to go for the postseason. We’ll see what the coaching staff opts for on Sunday. 

 

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© JAMIE GERMANO/USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Bills vs. Patriots game prediction

  • This season’s record: Buffalo Bills - 12-3, 1st in AFC East
  • New England Patriots: 8-8, 2nd in AFC East

 

Even though the Patriots have far more to play for, it doesn’t mean they’re the better team. We know this. They know this, heck, everyone knows. Even Vegas views the Bills as big winners, listing Buffalo as -7.5-point favorites

 

But we never know what to expect. Depending on the outcome of the Chiefs game on Saturday, in addition to the recent scare for the entire Bills team, maybe we see the Bills take a less-serious approach to Sunday’s slate. 

 

Then again, maybe Buffalo wants nothing more than to go get another win for Damar Hamlin, and if that’s the case, New England better watch out. 

 

Game prediction: Bills 24, Patriots 13 - Bills victory

 

Go Bills!!

 

Related:

Buffalo Bills vs. Cincinnati Bengals Week 17 preview

Buffalo Bills vs. Chicago Bears Week 16 preview

Buffalo Bills vs. Miami Dolphins Week 15 preview

Buffalo Bills vs. New York Jets Week 14 preview

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