The final “Monday Night Football” game of the 2020 season features the team that has run the AFC East for the last two decades squaring off against the team that would surely like to emulate that dominance over the next two.
The New England Patriots ruled the division for a long time, but the Buffalo Bills have already locked up the division crown for this season. New England isn’t even going to the playoffs, but has an opportunity to spoil Buffalo’s chances at the No. 2 seed by pulling off an upset.
Let’s break down the matchup of these two rivals.
How to watch
Date: Monday, Dec. 28 | Time: 8:15 p.m. ETLocation: Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, MA) TV: ESPN | Stream: fuboTV (try for free)Follow: CBS Sports App
When the Bills have the ball
After a few weeks around midseason where he was definitely in a lull, Josh Allen has gotten back into a rhythm against three strong defenses over the past few weeks. Against the 49ers, Steelers, and Broncos, Allen completed 84 of 123 passes (68.3 percent) for 972 yards (7.9 per attempt), eight touchdowns, one interception, and a 110.2 passer rating, while taking only three sacks and rushing 15 times for 72 yards and two more scores. So, he should be in a much better place when taking on this New England defense than he was last time around, when he was coming off of back-to-back struggle-filled performances against the Chiefs and Jets.
But does being in a better rhythm really help you against a Bill Belichick-led defense. Justin Herbert was in one heck of a rhythm before facing the Pats a few weeks back, and New England embarrassed him. Allen had also just been dreadful against New England in his previous starts: in four games, he’s 57 of 113 (50.4 percent) for 732 yards (6.5 per attempt), with three touchdowns against six interceptions. He has not been able to solve them yet. Of course, he’s a far better player this year than he was during his first or second NFL seasons, and this Bills offense is far better than it was during those seasons as well.
Perhaps the biggest reason why is the presence of Stefon Diggs, who will not have to deal with shadow coverage from Stephon Gilmore in this matchup, because Gilmore went on injured reserve after suffering a partially torn quadriceps. Might he see shadow coverage from “No. 2” corner J.C. Jackson, assuming he suits up despite the knee injury he dealt with throughout the week? Will Belichick decide to bracket Diggs, let Jackson try to erase John Brown (or Gabriel Davis, if Brown does not return from his own injury), and stick Jonathan Jones on Cole Beasley in the slot? Or might the Patriots try something different altogether, like just playing sides with the corners or using Jason McCourty on Diggs and trying to get more physical with him?
The key to containing Allen will be to get pressure while also not allowing him to escape to the outside — especially to his right. Allen has thrown for 366 yards, six touchdowns, and no interceptions when escaping pressure to the right side of the field, per Pro Football Focus and Tru Media. Going to his left, it’s 160 yards, two touchdowns, and one pick. Getting into his line of vision without allowing him to roll right and load up that cannon on his arm is key to stopping the Buffalo passing attack. The Patriots have been below-average at generating pressure this year, though, per PFF and Tru Media, notching a sack, hit, or hurry on 32.8 percent of opponent dropbacks against a league average of 37.6 percent.
Given the Bills’ inclination toward passing, the Patriots might actually want to try to force them into running the ball, despite the fact that New England’s own defense ranks 32nd in the league in Football Outsiders’ rush defense DVOA. Neither Devin Singletary nor Zack Moss has distinguished himself all that much this season, and both players have looked ineffective more often than they’ve shown flashes of being able to carry the offense for any length of time. Playing light boxes and daring Buffalo to run while loading up against Allen’s ability to throw downfield might be a smart play for the Pats, but it requires a lot of discipline. That’s normally a staple of Belichick defenses, but this year’s unit has not been quite as solid as past versions.
When the Patriots have the ball
New England’s offense is not in a good place right now.
Cam Newton has five passing touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the year, and has taken a sack on more than 7 percent of his dropbacks. (He does have 11 rushing scores.) Jakobi Meyers is the only receiver who has done anything all year, and the significant majority of his production has come in two games. Damien Harris is injured and listed as questionable. Sony Michel has broken one big run this year and done pretty much nothing else. Passing-down back James White has his worst yards per reception mark since his rookie year.
Making matters even worse, the Buffalo defense has been rounding into form of late. Since returning from their bye, the Bills have held three of their four opponents below 20 points. They’ve forced six turnovers in four games and have seen their yards allowed per game average drop from 373.7 to just 312. Some of that obviously has to do with playing against Nick Mullens, Ben Roethlisberger, and Drew Lock over the last three weeks, but it’s a good sign nonetheless.
Really, though, it’s very simple. Unless the Patriots can get their power running game going and grind out yards against Buffalo’s defensive front, they are unlikely to see much in the way of offensive success. We have not seen their passing game figure anything out since all the way back in Week 2, and there’s no reason to believe they will do so here against a quality opponent.
Prediction: Bills 24, Patriots 13
Published: 2020-12-28 22:06:36
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