- New England sent cornerback Stephon Gilmore to IR
The Bills head to New England having clinched the division for the first time since before Bill Belichick was with the Patriots. In fact, the last time the Bills won the division, Marv Levy was still the head coach, and the Indianapolis Colts finished runners up — they were still in the AFC East before realignment into four-team divisions. That year was 1995; the Patriots have won it 19 times in the interim, including 17 times in 21 Belichick seasons.
I’m sure for many Bills fans, this moment was supposed to feel different, vanquishing the mighty Patriots rather than watching them crumble on their own. New England has struggled all season, as new quarterback Cam Newton has been hit-or-miss, never seeming to get back into an early-season rhythm after he missed time due to a positive COVID-19 test. The last time these teams met was just Newton’s second game back, and he played well enough to put New England in position to win before fumbling at the Bills’ 19-yard-line with 37 seconds left. A field goal would have forced overtime in what was a 24-21 Bills win in extremely windy conditions back in Week 8.
Both teams kept the ball largely on the ground in that November meeting, with Buffalo notably running 38 times against just 18 pass attempts. One of the most forward-thinking organizations in the league that has prioritized early down pass rate all season in a way that has unlocked Allen and propelled him into the MVP discussion, the Bills instead turned that game over to their running back tandem of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, who both rushed for over 80 yards.
Now the Bills head to New England, but this Patriots team is not the same as the one they faced earlier this season. Already lacking playmakers on the defensive side since the preseason, when several key players opted out of the season, New England will now be without Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was sent to IR after a quad injury last week. This Week 16 matchup should have surprisingly great weather for a December contest in Foxboro, with temperatures expected to be a few degrees above freezing with clear skies and little to no wind or precipitation.
My expectation is we’ll see a different gameplan from Buffalo this time around. The Bills still have plenty to play for with the Steelers winning yesterday, as they’d like to keep pace in a race for the No. 2 seed in the AFC that could determine home-field advantage in the second round of the playoffs. Buffalo has already beaten Pittsburgh head to head, so they control their own destiny in that regard.
John Brown won’t be back for this game, but the Bills receiving corps has been cruising of late. Cole Beasley has been on a tear out of the slot, second-year tight end Dawson Knox has provided a red zone presence with touchdowns in three of the past four games, and rookie Gabriel Davis has been solid as the downfield option in Brown’s stead. All three are capable complementary pieces to No. 1 Stefon Diggs, who is enjoying a monster first season with Buffalo.
The Bills overcame the Patriots’ two-decade dominance to win the division this season, but now they get an opportunity to face New England head to head in a game that has to have extra meaning. One can question whether extra motivation is a dubious reason to back a team, and a case could also be made that they are in for a let down after locking things up last week. But I think the Bills are going to come out attacking through the air, and really letting Allen shine against a depleted secondary in his last best chance to make a case for MVP honors.
We know the Patriots tend to kill the pace of games, but the Bills like to push things, and the team that leads tends to pull their opposition along with them. If Buffalo does get out ahead, New England will likely play faster, and the over looks like the sharp bet. The inverse is also true — New England on the spread likely correlates well with the under in this one.
I’m taking Buffalo -6.5 and the over, and I expect the well-coached Bills to win going away as they continue to tune up for what they hope will be a long postseason run.
NFL Expert Picks
Bills -6.5 @ +100
Over 45.5 @ -110
NFL Free Picks
Monday night caps off Week 16 with an AFC East clash for the final Monday Night Football game of the season. The Patriots are playing for pride, while the Bills are looking to improve their playoff seed and gear up for a deep Super Bowl run.
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