The Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots have both already punched tickets to the playoffs in 2019. But what remains in question is seeding, as well as the AFC East title. The Patriots have all but wrapped up their 11th straight AFC East division crown, and they can clinch with a win on Saturday. If Buffalo wins out, and the Patriots lose to the Dolphins in Week 17, the Bills would be AFC East champions.
Losing to the Dolphins may sound like a ridiculous outcome to even consider, but stranger things have happened in the NFL. Regardless of how likely it is that the Bills could end the Patriots incredible run of division championships, both teams will be going all out on Saturday afternoon.
Patriots Offense vs. Bills Defense
To say the Patriots are struggling on offense is a massive understatement. In what should have been a “get right” game last week against the Bengals, Tom Brady managed to go just 15-29 for 128 yards. That was good for a measly 4.4 yards per attempt. The only time Brady had lower yards per attempt this year, it came against the Bills in Week 4 with just 3.8 YPA on 18-39 for 150 yards. Overall, Brady is 28th in the league with 6.5 yards per attempt on the season.
It’s no surprise then, that the Patriots are 10th in the league in rushing attempts per game at 27.5. They haven’t been particularly effective at using those rushing attempts though, as they rank 19th in rushing yards per game at 101.8. Lead back Sony Michel is the most to blame for those numbers, as he’s averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, totaling 742 yards on the season. Primarily a pass-catching back, James White has been more effective on the ground averaging 4.1 yards per carry, albeit for just 254 yards.
The rest of the receiving game is led by Julian Edelman who is fourth in the league with 92 receptions, and 14th with 1019 yards. Edelman is officially questionable with knee and shoulder issues that have kept him as a limited participant in practice. I would fully expect Edelman to play in this game, but he may be less than 100%. If so, Mohamed Sanu, Philip Dorsett, and rookie N’Keal Harry must step up for the Patriots to have any semblance of an effective passing game. Dorsett is the deep threat, averaging 12.4 yards per catch, while Sanu is averaging just 8.7 yards per catch and Harry is at just 7.9 YPC.
Overall, Buffalo is elite on defense ranking #4 in efficiency behind just the Patriots, 49ers and Steelers. The Bills excel at pass defense, ranking #3 in passing DVOA. But Buffalo is more susceptible to the run ranking #19 overall. The Patriots game plan will assuredly include a multitude of running plays, which could result in a very low-scoring game.
Bills Offense vs. Patriots Defense
While the Patriots offense has been nothing to write home about, they still rank 14th in offensive efficiency, compared to Buffalo at #22. The Bills rank 14th in rushing success, and 20th in passing efficiency. Making matters worse for Buffalo is the Patriots pass defense, which ranks #1 in the league.
Those numbers should lead the Bills to a similar conclusion as the Patriots as far as offensive game plans: run, run, run. Although the Patriots are also great at defending the run, ranking 7th in rushing DVOA, the Bills will have little chance of moving the ball if they get into second or third and long situations. Josh Allen was terrorized the first time these two teams played and Bill Belichick has historically been at his best against first and second-year quarterbacks.
The first time these two teams met, the Bills were held to just 10 points, as Allen threw three interceptions and was sacked four times. The one player who did have a good game for the Bills offense the first time around was running back Frank Gore. In that Week 4 matchup, Gore ran for 109 yards on 17 carries. While he’s been surpassed on the depth chart by rookie Devin Singletary, expect to see a lot of both running backs this time around.
Despite not have a consistently reliable kicker all year, the Patriots still get the edge in special teams, ranking 13th overall. Buffalo has had kicking problems of their own and rank #22 in special teams. But overall, the Bills kicking game has resulted in 3.2 points above average, while the Patriots are third to last in the league at 11.5 points below average.
The Spread and Total
The look-ahead line on this game was Patriots -6.5 points. That’s exactly where it re-opened after the Patriots covered the 10-point spread at Cincinnati and the Bills covered the +1 at Pittsburgh. Early money came in on Buffalo to drop the spread down to Patriots -6, but it has bounced back to -6.5 with -110 juice on both sides. Overall, 64% of the bets have been placed on Buffalo, accounting for 68% of the money wagered on the spread.
The first time these two teams met, a total of 26 points was scored. A total of 37 is about as low as you’ll ever see a game in the NFL open at and this game opened slightly higher, at 38.5. Unsurprisingly that has been bet down to 38 or 37.5 depending on where you look.
It would be hard to take Buffalo in a game at Foxborough this late in the season, but these two teams may be closer than this spread suggests. While unders are never fun, going under this total may be the best way to get at this Saturday afternoon game.
Buying the half-point and getting the Bills up to +7 may also not be a bad idea.
By Kyle Johansen