For the first time in 25 years, the Buffalo Bills have won the AFC East. Not only have they won the AFC East but they did it in week 15 clinching their playoff birth two whole weeks before the playoffs start. The Bills have the opportunity to sweep the Patriots this season which has not been done in the Bill Belichick Era. The Bills can almost essentially lock up the #2 seed with a win against the Patriots which would mean they play every playoff game at home unless they faced the Kansas City Chiefs. Many teams would look at this matchup and think about resting starters because of the division already being clinched. Not with this Bills team though. While that may be a possibility in week 17 against Miami Sean McDermott will not rest anyone against the New England Patriots. While the Patriots have been torturing the Bills and their fans for over twenty years it was not until this season that even McDermott could get their number. Here are 3 things to watch for against the Patriots this week.
1. Run, Run, Run, Run
Both defenses in tonight's game have struggled mightily against the run. The Patriots allowed a poor running Miami team to run for over 200 yards against them in week 15 and Buffalo has struggled with the run all season. In the last meeting, neither Josh Allen nor Cam Newton had a good game throwing the ball. The Bills could use this meeting just like the last to get the run game in a good grove before playoff time. It will be Zack Moss and Devin Singletary sharing carries as usual and expect at least one of those backs to eclipse 100 yards. Bill Belichick and co could be so focused on how to stop the current MVP caliber play of Josh Allen that their defense will not be able to adjust to a potentially surprising run-heavy game from Buffalo. On the other side of the ball, this is a big test for Buffalo's defense. Damien Harris, Sony Michel, and Cam Newton are all dangerous runners. Harris had a nice outing against the Bills in week 8 and nearly helped the Patriots run their way to victory before a Cam Newton fumble forced by Justin Zimmer ended the game. It is a big game for Tremaine Edmunds and A.J. Klein who have had their healthy shares of great and bad games this season. Many people have been skeptical of Edmunds' Pro Bowl selection however this game is certainly one where he should prove his worth and his selection by helping Buffalos run defense to stop the Patriot's running attack.
2. Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs Breaking Records
Josh Allen is having a historic year. If Aaron Rodgers was not having such a historic year himself then Josh Allen would seriously have to be considered for the MVP award this season. With the season coming to a close Josh is closing in on several Bills records set by Jim Kelly. Stefon Diggs his main target has also reached an even higher level of his game and leads the NFL in receptions while being 5th in yards. Below I will list some potential records that Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs have either already broken or have the potential to break this year. *=Already Broken
Season Passing TDs: Jim Kelly (33), Josh Allen (30)
Season Passing Yards: Drew Bledsoe (4,359), Josh Allen (4,000)
Season Total TDs: Josh Allen (39), Jim Kelly (34) *
Season Receiving Yards: Eric Moulds (1,364), Stefon Diggs (1,314)
Season Receptions: Stefon Diggs (111), Eric Moulds (100) *
Josh Allen is currently sitting 6th all-time in Passing Yards for the Bills at 9,163 yards and is 3rd all-time in Total TDs for Buffalo with 87. Quite the start for a guy still on his rookie deal. Allen has shown this year that he is the real deal. Along with Diggs, they are on pace to shatter records of some Buffalo greats. You can make a case that Allen and Diggs are the second-best QB/WR duo in the NFL right behind Davante Adams and likely MVP Aaron Rodgers.
3. Rookie Report
The Buffalo Bills are a good enough team where rookies do not need to contribute right away. With the lack of preseason games, we saw many rookies not get much playing time early on. Now that we are at the tail end of the season I will grade every rookie and their contributions this season. In addition, give an outlook to how they could contribute in the playoffs.
A.J. Epenesa (2nd Round, pick 54) Grade: C+
Epenesa was inactive during the first several games for Buffalo. The lack of an offseason program and preseason games made the adjustment from college to the NFL hard for Epenesa. However, as of late he has found his role as a rotational Defensive End for Leslie Frazier's defense. 3 QB hits, 3 TFL, and 1 sack are the rookie's stats through the 12 games he has been apart of this season. Although we have seen improvement over the season Apenesa gets a C+ due to the fact that there were several players later in the 2nd round who have had a better impact on their team than Epenesa. Also, many would expect a 2nd round pick to get more playing time where A.J. only averages 22% of Buffalo's defensive snaps.
Playoff outlook: Epenesa will continue to be a
rotational D-end for Buffalo through the rest of the season and the playoffs making occasional contributions while also playing a small role on special teams.
Zack Moss (3rd Round, pick 86) Grade: B+
Zack Moss has been good for Buffalo this season. If you take away his goal-line fumble against the 49ers where he got benched Moss has had a positive impact in nearly every game. With over 400 yards and 3 touchdowns averaging over 4 yards per carry, Zack Moss has been impressive while splitting duties with Devin Singletary. One area that Moss has excelled is his Pass blocking. Moss is often in the game in obvious pass situations to give an inconsistent Buffalo O-line a hand in pass blocking duties to keep Josh Allen standing.
Playoff outlook: Moss will continue to split carries with Singletary. Moss has had a couple of weeks where he has looked better than Singletary so I would expect Moss to take over the lead spot in their rotation come playoff time and end up out snapping Singletary 60%/40%.
Gabe Davis (4th Round, pick 128) Grade: B
Gabe Davis has been a quiet surprise for Buffalo's offense. In a year that not anyone expected from Josh Allen Gabe Davis has been Buffalo's third-best receiver this year because of the time John Brown has missed from Injury. Davis currently leads the Bills team with 6 receiving touchdowns and averages over 15 yards per catch. Davis has shown he can be a quality NFL receiver making several impressive catches in the end zone for Allen. If you were to knock Davis and this is why he got a B instead of a B+ or A- is that he has the second-lowest catch rate on the Bills at 57.5% just in front of pass blocking TE Lee Smith. While not always the WR's fault this number is below par for an NFL receiver.
Playoff outlook: With the return of John Brown, Gabe Davis's role will be reduced slightly. He will go from playing 60+ snaps a game and return to his usual count in the 30s because of the Bill's health at receiver. However, just because he has fewer snaps does not mean he will have less of an impact. Don't be surprised if Davis has a quality game or two from the Playoffs as teams focus more on stopping Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley than they do Davis.
Jake Fromm (5th Round, pick 167) Grade: N/A
Fromm has been the quarantined QB for Buffalo. No snaps, No grade.
Tyler Bass (6th Round, pick 188) Grade: A-
Tyler Bass had a rough start missing a couple of field goals in his first game. If you take away his two first game misses Bass has been making 89% of his field goals and has 4 makes over 50 yards. Bass has also kicked two field goals at the end of a half this season that has been extremely long and unlikely makes so if you take those two kicks out, Bass really has been fantastic for Buffalo this season. One area Bass does not get enough credit is on kickoffs. His ability to keep the ball away from dangerous return men and kick high and short balls to expose bad ones has helped Buffalo with field position many times this season.
Playoff outlook: Hopefully Bass continues his strong play. He has yet to kick a game-winning field goal with seconds left so I hope the Bills do not have to put him in that situation for the first time in the playoffs. Other than that Bass has been a pleasant surprise for Buffalo.
Isaiah Hodgins (6th Round, 207) Grade: N/A
Hodgins has been on the IR all season and will finish the season there.
Dane Jackson (7th Round, 239) Grade B-
Dane Jackson has been impressive in his limited time. He has produced more than you would expect from a 7th rounder. In 4 games Jackson has 1INT, 1FR, 3PD, and 12 Tackles. Jackson is an exciting prospect going forward. Currently on the practice squad.
Playoff outlook: Barring injuries Jackson is unlikely to play in the playoffs.
Reggie Gilliam (undrafted) Grade: B
Reggie Gilliam was a surprise to make the team over Fullback and former captain Patrick Dimarco. However, he has transitioned into a TE, FB, Special Teams player. Gilliam's impact goes beyond the stat sheet. Great pickup by Buffalo as an Undrafted Free Agent.
Playoff outlook: Should continue his role as primarily a special team playing getting occasional offensive snaps. He is a goal-line threat on the offensive side but besides that makes his money on special teams.
Buffalo Bills -- 36
New England Patriots -- 18
via Buffalo Bills Twitter Account