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What to Watch For: Bills vs Patriots

Sunday, December 23, 2018

 

Patriots host the Bills on Sunday

Just a few days after losing their leading wide receiver Josh Gordon to suspension, the New England Patriots return to Gillette Stadium with a chance to clinch the AFC East against the Buffalo Bills.

In 11 games, Gordon hauled in 40 catches for 720 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Patriots offense.

"That’s just part of the nature of playing a long time, is you realize that things happen very quickly and they change very quickly. We lost Jeremy Hill the first game of the year. You think you’ve got all this running back depth, next thing you know, guys get hurt. It’s two weeks in, you’re like, “Holy cow, what happened?” And that’s just part of playing and being mentally tough,” said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during his press conference on Friday.

Despite the loss of Gordon and two straight losses on the road, the Patriots still have a chance to sneak into the second seed in the AFC.

If the Texans lose one of their final two games and the Patriots win out, New England would get a first-round bye.

“Obviously, we still have to finish these final two games versus two division opponents that know us very well. It’s going to be tough every time we play those guys. We’ve got to focus on these final two games and like I said, it’s going to be tough. It’s not going to be easy so we’ve got to be at our best and definitely better than what we’ve been,” said running back James White during his press conference on Wednesday.

Game time is set for 1 p.m.

See What to Watch for Below

Patriots vs Bills

Sunday’s game will be the 118th meeting all-time between the two franchises with the Patriots leading the series 73-43-1.

Earlier this season, the Patriots went to Buffalo and beat the Bills 25-6, only scoring one offensive touchdown in the process.

“It’s been a few weeks since we’ve seen Buffalo, but this is a lot different team than we saw up there. Offensively, they’ve got a lot of explosive weapons. We didn’t see [Josh] Allen. He’s been impressive; [Robert] Foster. They have a lot of big plays,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during his press conference on Wednesday.

The last Buffalo win was in October of 2016 when they shut out the Patriots 16-0 at Gillette Stadium.

See What to Watch for in the Slideshow Below

 

Related Slideshow: 5 Things to Watch For: Bills vs Patriots - December 2018

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Wide Receivers

With Josh Gordon getting suspended by the NFL earlier this week, the focus shifts to the rest of the Patriots wide receivers.

Who will step up for the Patriots in the final regular season games?

Julian Edelman has 63 catches on 92 targets in ten games, but has had numerous drops over the last several weeks.

After Edelman, there are some questions.

Cordarrelle Patterson has 20 catches on 26 targets this season, but is not a great route runner. He has been used for deep passes or short passes out of the backfield.

Then there is Chris Hogan and Philip Dorsett.

Since the arrival of Gordon, they have both become nearly invisible in the Patriots offense.

Hogan has 29 catches on 44 targets in 14 games, while Dorsett has 27 catches on 32 targets in 14 games.

“You know, the guys that have been here have been working hard. I think like every position, they try to make improvements over the course of the week. Different guys have been in there at different times. I just have a lot of confidence in the guys that are in there. Jules [Julian Edelman], Phillip [Dorsett], Hoges [Chris Hogan], CP [Cordarrelle Patterson] – they all do a good job. They all have different roles. We’re going to have to go out and play a great game,” said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during his press conference on Friday.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was asked about both Dorsett and Hogan during his Friday press conference.

On Dorsett, Belichick said, “Phil’s tremendous. He’s a tremendous kid, great teammate. I think he has everybody’s total respect in the locker room on everything – his preparation, the way he treats other people, how unselfish he is, how he’s always ready for his role. You saw that in the Super Bowl last year. So, I don’t think you could ask for any more than what he gives the team.”

On Hogan, Belichick said, “Yeah, he’s been healthy all year, so that’s a good thing.”

The receivers should be helped by the fact that the Bills will be without starting cornerback Ryan Lewis.

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Run Defense

The Patriots run defense has given up 189 yards and 158 yards respectively over the last two weeks.

They are ranked 31st in the NFL in average gain per run and have held opposites under four yards per carry just two times this season.

This week, the Patriots face rookie quarterback Josh Allen, who leads the Bills with 506 yards rushing in just ten games played.

“Allen adds a little problem to their offense. He can run the ball. He’s fast. He’s strong, so it’s like a running back back there. So, we’ve got to do our best to kind of contain him a little bit,” said Patriots safety Patrick Chung during his press conference on Wednesday.

Allen has averaged at least 88 yards rushing in each of Buffalo’s last four games.

“He’s a hard guy to defend. I mean, he had almost three-quarters of their total offense against the Jets [Dec. 9]. It’s a lot,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during his press conference on Wednesday.

The other running backs on the Bills roster include LeSean McCoy, who is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry and Chris Ivory, who is questionable with a knee injury.

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Tom Brady

NFL Network’s Mike Giardi reported earlier this week that quarterback Tom Brady is playing on a torn or partially torn MCL.

In a radio appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub, Giardi said, “His lower half has been off, dating back to Tennessee. I would not be surprised when it’s all said and done that we hear, I’m guessing it’s an MCL...I’m saying he has a tear or a partial tear of the MCL.”

The Tennessee game is the game where Brady caught a pass from Edelman and then awkwardly stumbled to the ground.

So far this season Brady’s completion percentage is just 65.9, his lowest since 2015, and his interception percentage of 1.8, is his highest since 2013.

Over the last couple of games, Brady has made some uncharacteristic mistakes.

Against Pittsburgh, he threw an interception in the red zone off his back foot to Joe Haden on a play where Brady says he was trying to throw the ball out of bounds.

“Yeah, I was just trying to flick it out of bounds. I didn't want to take the sack. It shouldn't happen,” said Brady after the game.

On New England’s final drive, Brady had second and 15, third and 15 and fourth and 15 from the Steelers 21-yard line, but failed to get the Patriots into the end zone to tie the game.

On second and third down, Brady threw the ball out of the back of the end zone and on fourth down, he tried to find Edelman in the front of the end zone, but the pass was knocked down.

In the week prior against Miami, Brady mismanaged the clock prior to the half costing the Patriots at least three points.

“That was a terrible play by me. That should never happen. I lost track. I thought we had one timeout. We called the one, and we ran a couple plays, and I was just not thinking on third down. So it was just a play that should never happen,” said Brady after the game.

Earlier in that drive, he overthrew a wide-open Chris Hogan in the back of the end zone.

When the replay was shown, it appeared that Brady spun out of the throw to avoid getting hit.

Playing with a knee injury could have been the reason for it. 

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James White

Will we see the re-emergence of James White in the Patriots offense this week?

In the Patriots last two games, White has just eight and nine targets/carries respectively. Both games the Patriots lost.

In fact, three of White’s four worst games by snap count have come over the last three weeks, in part due to Rex Burkhead rejoining the team in Week 13. 

“He gets plenty of attention from other people, and sometimes that means the ball needs to go somewhere else, and sometimes we can still find a way to get him the football and let him have the opportunity to make plays,” said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in a conference call on Tuesday.

The Patriots have nine wins this season, and in all of them, White averages at least 16.7 carries and targets per game.

In all five of the Patriots losses, White had 12 or fewer targets and carries. 

“We have guys, lots of different role players – I just try and play my role each and every week. You can play 10 snaps, you can play 60 snaps. It just kind of depends on how the defense is matching up against us and the flow of the game,” said White during his press conference on Wednesday.

White leads the Patriots with 81 catches, a franchise record at the running back positions.

In New England’s last matchup with Buffalo, White had ten catches.

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Playoff Picture

The current AFC playoff picture is as follows: 

*1. Chiefs 11-3
2. Texans 10-4
3. Patriots 9-5
4. Steelers 8-5-1
*5. Chargers 11-3
6. Ravens 8-6
*Clinched postseason berth

Clinching Scenarios for Pats

The Patriots can clinch the AFC East and a playoff berth with a win on Sunday.

First Round Bye 

Despite dropping two straight games, the Patriots could still get a first-round bye. 

If New England beats the Bills and the Jets in their final two home games and the Houston loses one of their final two games, the Patriots would get the second seed and a bye. 

The Patriots own the tiebreaker with Houston due to a victory in the first game of the season. 

The Texans play at Philadelphia on Sunday and then home against Jacksonville next week. 

 
 

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