Patriots vs. Bills: 3 keys to game, fun facts, prediction

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When ESPN and the NFL put together this year’s schedule, the thought (and hope) was this Week 16 matchup would have big AFC East implications.

Unfortunately, the Patriots are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and the Bills have already clinched their first division title since 1995.

Buffalo is 11-3 on the year and is currently the No. 3 seed in the upcoming playoffs, but there’s still plenty to play for in terms of seeding. Meanwhile, the Patriots are 6-8 and just trying to finish .500 on the season.

While many thought the Patriots would turn to Jarrett Stidham, it will be Cam Newton under center once again.

Bills vs. Patriots
Monday, December 28, 2020
8:15 p.m., ESPN
Bills -7, over/under 46.5

3 keys to game (a little different than usual)

Try and get N’Keal Harry some confidence

The Patriots’ wide receiver situation would look a lot better in 2021 if Harry could be counted on to be a WR2/3 and not really much of anything like he is now. The second-year player has 30 receptions for 289 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games this season. There was some optimism following the Rams game a few weeks ago as he made a few plays down the field with contested catches. The Patriots should look for more of these plays in the final two games of the year to try and figure out how to best use Harry and get him some momentum heading into his third NFL season.

Get rookie tight ends going

Rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene have one combined catch all season. Granted injuries and time on injured reserve have played a role, a lot more was expected from them given where they were selected and the Patriots not having much else at the position. Like Harry, it would be a huge help if one of them or both could be counted on for 2021. Facing Buffalo this week could be a good opportunity to try and get them some targets, as the Bills defense has allowed 83 catches to opposing tight ends, the most in the NFL.

See what’s there with younger players

While it doesn’t seem to be happening at the quarterback position, it could happen at some other positions. Running back could be one of them, as it would make sense to give undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor some carries to see if he could potentially be part of the mix next season with Rex Burkhead and James White scheduled to be free agents. Defensively, it could be worth expanding the roles of Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings to see where they best fit at the linebacker position. This seems to make a lot of sense to do with a number of positions given the team being eliminated from the playoffs.

Fun Facts

1. The Patriots haven't been swept by a division opponent in 19 seasons, an NFL record that’s easily ahead of the previous record of 11 by the 1971-81 Cowboys and the '70-80 Rams (Buffalo beat New England back in Week 8).

2. With one more rushing touchdown, Newton will tie Steve Grogan for the Patriots team record for the most rushing touchdowns in a season by a QB. Newton currently has 11.

3. Jake Bailey’s punts have allowed just 46 return yards, second to the 38 yards allowed by New Orleans. The Patriots record for fewest punt return yards allowed in a season is 75 in 2007.

4. Since the Week 8 game, the Bills have averaged 34.8 points per game.

5. Through 14 games, the Patriots have allowed 1,862 yards — the most in the Bill Belichick era through 14 games.

Prediction

Bills 30, Patriots 17

The Bills are playing arguably the best in the AFC right now and the Patriots, well aren’t. This was a close game the last time the two teams met, but the Bills are playing much better and the Patriots aren’t. We expect the Patriots to play hard, but the Bills are simply the better team and the Patriots’ streak of not being swept by a division opponent seems likely to come to an end.