New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

  • After a tough, emotional week, the Patriots and Bills will get together to play a game of football on Sunday in Orchard Park. The league as a whole is still dealing with the shock of seeing Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s horrific injury on Monday night football last week, but the current plan is to play on in Week 18.

    From a football standpoint, the Patriots have a chance to clinch a playoff spot for the second year in a row with a win on Sunday. To do so, they’ll have to overcome a Bills team that has beat them head-to-head in five of their last six meetings, with that lone win coming in extreme wind in Buffalo last season.

    In those games, the Patriots’ defense has been put to the test. They’ve allowed just under 30 points per game over the six contests, and 33.2 points per game in the five losses.

    If the Patriots want to get back in the win column against the Bills and back in the playoffs, it all starts with the defense. That’s also where we begin this week’s What to Watch For…

  • Taking advantage of the right opportunities

    The New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones in a second half huddle. (Kris Craig/USA TODAY Network)

    The New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones in a second half huddle. (Kris Craig/USA TODAY Network)

    Last time the Patriots played the Bills, their biggest offensive play came on a 48-yard catch-and-run from Marcus Jones, in his first game playing on the offensive side of the ball. Outside of that tough, the Patriots’ struggled to sustain any offense. They averaged only 3.9 yards per play on their other 50 snaps, and failed to pick up a first down on four of their first five drives.

    A big part of the issue was the Patriots struggling to get into position to sustain drives. On their first four, their average distance to go on third down was 19 yards. They need to be able to move the ball incrementally – something they’ve struggled to do – to both work the ball into scoring range and keep Buffalo’s offense off the field.

    If and when the Patriots can establish a consistent offense, the next step is to take advantage of situational opportunities. For much of this season, the team has been very conservative on 2nd & short – a down conducive to taking shots down the field given the fact the defense needs to defend so much space to prevent both a first down and a big play. Last week that trend seemed to break, as the Patriots took deep shots on two of their first three 2nd & short situations. If they can get themselves into similar situations against the Bills, and notice Buffalo playing up to take away the first down, they need to be ready to take advantage.

  • Spin the dial

    Dec 1, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots safety Kyle Dugger (23) and cornerback Jack Jones (13) defend against Buffalo Bills wide receiver Gabe Davis (13) in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 1, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots safety Kyle Dugger (23) and cornerback Jack Jones (13) defend against Buffalo Bills wide receiver Gabe Davis (13) in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    In recent weeks, the Patriots have really increased the complexity of their defense on the back end. They’ve starting mixing and matching different coverage schemes, and pairing those in-game changes with coverage disguises as well.

    With those adjustments, the Patriots have really started to overload opposing offenses mentally. They’ve forced eight total turnovers in the last four games, and allowed over 250 passing yards just once despite playing three teams that rank in the top 10 in passing this year.

    It’s not just this year that the Patriots have turned to these kinds of defensive schemes. They’ve done so in the past with some of their higher-level defenses, and made life tough for some of the league’s best quarterbacks. This year’s team is really getting into a rhythm with it, and such disguises helped lead to Kyle Dugger’s pick six last week.

    While there’s a lot of things Josh Allen does that can be a headache for defenses, he is also one of the most turnover-prone quarterbacks in the NFL. His 18 giveaways – including 13 interceptions, are tied with Matt Ryan for the most turnovers by a QB this season.

    If the Patriots want a chance to win this game, they’re going to need to do what they’ve done more than any other team in the NFL through 17 weeks this season – force turnovers and score points on defense. In their last two regular season games against the Bills, they’ve had potentially key interceptions dropped. Their back-end looks should create more chances on Sunday, but will they take advantage?

  • Around the league

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 22:  Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks to pass during the 1st quarter of the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on December 22, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – DECEMBER 22: Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks to pass during the 1st quarter of the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on December 22, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

    So this is a list of what Patriots fans should watch for on Sunday, right? Well, this week the focus for Patriots fans goes beyond their own team’s game. The Patriots can still get in the playoffs if they lose, pending three other results elsewhere. Here’s a quick look at the results the Patriots need note on each of those three matchups.

    Jaguars beat TitansThis game will take place on Saturday night, so we’ll know Sunday by kickoff if this whole scenario is still alive for the Patriots. Things seem to be trending towards outcome New England needs. The Jaguars have won four games in a row, and second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence is playing some great football. On the other side, the Titans have lost six in a row and are expected to start third-string quarterback Josh Dobbs. In their first meeting this year, the Jaguars beat the Titans 36-22 to start this four-game winning streak in Week 14.

    Jets beat Dolphins: The other two matchups the Patriots need will take place simultaneously to their game. Both teams will be down to their third-string quarterbacks. That’s Joe Flacco for the Jets and rookie Skylar Thompson for the Dolphins. The Patriots got a good look at Thompson last week, when he threw for 104 yards with a touchdown and a pick on 21 pass attempts. Back in Week 5, the Jets blew by the Dolphins 40-17.

    Browns beat Steelers: Of the three matchups the Patriots need, this one feels like the least likely. The Steelers have won three games in a row, five of their last six, and six of their last eight going back to their bye week. T.J. Watt is back off IR and has knocked off the rust, with 3.5 sacks in the last four games. Meanwhile, the Browns are just 3-2 since Deshaun Watson returned from his suspension, and Watson himself has struggled at times. The Browns did already beat the Steelers once this year though, with a 29-17 win in Week 3.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected].

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