It all comes down to Sunday for the New England Patriots as they control their own playoff destiny. Sunday’s game may not be as easy as they come though as the Buffalo Bills are fighting for the top spot in the AFC, although the Bills Bengals game from last Monday has been cancelled, at best the Bills could finish in the second spot in the AFC. New England is fighting for the final spot in the AFC, competing with Pittsburgh and Miami.
Patriots Playoff Scenario
All the Patriots need to do is win and they’re in. They also could advance if Pittsburgh and Miami both lose. Miami will be playing rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson against the Jets, who have the best pass defense in football (PFF), while the Steelers are at home against the Cleveland Browns. Both those games could go either way so the Patriots do not want their destiny in the hands of the Jets and Brown both winning.
Run The Ball
Buffalo could potentially bench some key players as they will end up either the two or three seed in the AFC but the Patriots cannot rely on that. The Patriots are going to need to focus on feeding the ball to their two headed monster in the backfield. Buffalo is ranked 26th in the NFL at defending the run and the Patriots surely cannot rely on Mac Jones, at least from what we have seen so far this year, to throw them to victory.
Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson both average over 4.5 yards per attempt this year. Although Buffalo only allows 104 yards per game on the ground, they give up over 5.5 yards per carry. On the surface the Bills look like one of the better defenses against the run but it’s quite opposite because they control the ball on average for 65% of the game. Having a fresh Damien Harris can be huge for the Patriots playoff chances as having a fresh and proven running back is essential January.
Protect Mac Jones, Receivers Are Banged Up
The Patriot’s passing attack must do two things. Be able to provide relief for the run game by making plays and not relying solely on the run to move the ball; secondly, the offensive line must protect Mac Jones and keep him upright. Jones has been sacked seven times in the past two weeks, which leads the NFL. Jones has also been sacked 33 times in 13 games, which is the third highest amount of sack per game on a quarterback in the NFL this season.
Leading receiver Jakobi Meyers is questionable with a shoulder injury which could damper the Patriots passing attack. Wide receiver DeVante Parker is back though for New England which is big. Parker is another big body the Patriots can utilize outside the number as he leads the team in 20 plus yard receptions with seven.
Both Patriots tight ends are banged up to as Hunter Henry has been dealing with knee soreness and Jonnu Smith is in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
Patriots Defense Needs To Slow Down Bills Offense
Defensively the Patriots just need to do what they have doing all season, limit points and create chaos. The Patriots are among the elite defenses in football regarding yards allowed on the ground and in the air, and points per game at 19.5. The Patriots have found a knack for getting after the quarterback this year with 52 sacks, good enough for second in the NFL. The Patriots 18 interceptions leads the NFL. The Patriots also lead the NFL in defensive touchdowns with seven. In recent memory, regardless of how Sunday plays out, this has been one of the best Patriots defenses in recent memory.
Seven 👏 Defensive 👏 Touchdowns 👏 pic.twitter.com/oAhUZRnIen
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 6, 2023
The Patriots are going to have to focus their attention on two key players, Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. As obvious as that may seem, the Patriots got toasted by Diggs in their last matchup and cannot allow him to have a similar day if they want any chance of securing a playoff spot. Josh Allen’s production as a passer has significantly dropped since his elbow injury but his ability as a runner is even more scary. With their inability to push the ball downfield due his arm, the Bills have employed a lot more designed quarterback runs and RPO’s for Allen to utilize his unique skillset.
The Patriots held him (Allen) to 20 yards on eight attempts, but they have struggled against running quarterbacks for most of the season. If the Patriots can limit Allen’s ability as a runner, then they should have a decent chance of completing the upset in Buffalo.
Buffalo’s Mental State
In regards to the mental state of the Bills, that it up in the air. Obviously one of the most tragic incidents in football history happened on Monday night with Damar Hamlin needing CPR and many of the Bills players were visibly emotional, and rightfully so. With Damar Hamlin now conscious and breathing on his own the Bills now have a sense of security on their teammate’s health, which is by far the most important thing on everyone’s mind. Hamlin also face timed his team in a meeting from his hospital bed letting them know how he is doing and how much he loves them.
Damar Hamlin FaceTimed into our team meeting today to talk to players and coaches.
What he said to the team: “Love you boys.” ❤️ pic.twitter.com/8dorrWNaxt
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) January 6, 2023
The only question is can the Bills be in the right mindset to come out and compete or are they just looking past this game to the playoffs. Everyone on the Bills is expected to play and rightfully should go out and play for their teammate Damar Hamlin. The Bills can stomp on the Patriots and could easily do so by stopping them from doing so, how they control their emotions.
The Bills are seven-point favorites at home this weekend with a score of 42.5. The Patriots are very well capable of covering a seven-point spread and can even win this game if they can protect the ball. New England is 2-3 ATS as road underdogs this season while Buffalo is 2-4 as a home favorite. I like the Pats covering and the over as Sunday is going to be sunny and in the mid-thirties. New England must come out and fight from the first whistle to the last and I believe Bill Belichick will have his team prepared.