Bills vs. Patriots preview: Everything you need to know in Week 13

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Written by John Sparaco

Whenever the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots meet, there is a different feeling in the air for the fans. For the players, it is a different story.

“It’s a game week for us. It’s the same game that we’ve been playing this whole time. We’re just trying to go 1-0,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen said on Kyle Brandt’s Basement. “For the fans, it means more. Absolutely. And I understand that, but we understand that it’s a division game and we gotta win these.”

Despite sitting atop the AFC East in each of the previous two seasons, Bills fans still have a bitter taste in their mouths from two decades of dominance from New England. Last season, the Bills dropped their first game against the Patriots by a score of 14-10. As 50 MPH winds howled in Highmark Stadium, the Patriots controlled the line of scrimmage, running the ball on 32 consecutive plays at one point. Both teams met two more times after that, once in late December and again in the playoffs. Those games were a much different story.

In both games, the Patriots forced a grand total of zero punts. In the Wild Card playoff game, the Bills scored a touchdown on every single possession, advancing to the next round with a 47-17 blowout win. When asked if he takes it personally that the Bills did not punt in two straight meetings, former Patriots linebacker and current inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo said, “I think you have to.”

Mayo added that his players are extra motivated coming off their 33-26 loss against the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday. Both Buffalo and New England played on Thanksgiving, giving each team the same amount of rest. 

The Bills secured a hard-fought road victory against another NFC North opponent, the Detroit Lions. Buffalo’s recent offensive slump persisted for most of the game until they trailed 22-19 in the fourth quarter. In the game’s biggest moments, Allen found Stefon Diggs. The duo connected four times for 29 yards on the go-ahead drive, which was capped off with a five-yard touchdown by Diggs.

Detroit responded with a 10-play drive that resulted in a game-tying field goal with 23 seconds on the clock. Instead of settling for overtime, Allen took a shot. On their first play, Allen fired a 36-yard pass on a rope to Diggs, moving the Bills from their own 25-yard line into field goal range. Tyler Bass narrowly squeezed a 45-yard kick inside the left upright to seal a 28-25 victory. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver also played a huge role in the win, tallying six tackles, one sack, two QB hits, two tackles for a loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and a safety. He was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for the first time in his career.

November was not an easy month for the Bills, similar to last season. Moving into the cold month of December, the offense will try to recapture the heat they possessed against New England last year.

Top storylines

  • Tre White is back: 364 days after his ACL injury, Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White surprised fans by making his long-awaited return during another Thanksgiving game. The All-Pro started and got his feet wet with 16 snaps before taking a seat. He appeared comfortable in his limited snaps on a pitch count, despite not getting tested in the passing game. The team plans to ramp up his workload in the coming weeks. Now that rookie corner Christian Benford was placed on injured reserve, White will likely share snaps with Kaiir Elam and Xavier Rhodes opposite Dane Jackson until he is ready for a full-time role again.
  • Von Miller’s injury: As the theme has been all year long – when the Bills get someone back from injury, another is sacrificed. Star pass rusher Von Miller got rolled up with a few minutes left in the first half against the Lions and was carted into the locker room with a knee injury. While Miller avoided the worst-case scenario, an ACL tear, the initial diagnosis was still not great. NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport reported that Miller has a lateral meniscus tear. The current plan is to wait 7-10 days for the swelling to go down. From there, Miller and the staff can determine whether or not he can play through the injury with a brace before ultimately getting surgery. Miller, who was already ruled out for Thursday, sounds optimistic that he can return in time for next week’s game against the Jets. “I do feel like I can play through that…hopefully right before the Jets game, I will be back,” Miller stated on his podcast. In the meantime, Miller can focus on both his recovery and recruiting his close friend, Odell Beckham Jr., who is visiting the Bills on Friday.
  • Another old friend returns: This season has been filled with reunions for the Bills. It began when Matt Barkley, Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson returned in free agency. Next, the team brought back safety Dean Marlowe at the trade deadline. When Tremaine Edmunds got hurt, the team claimed linebacker A.J. Klein, who was in Buffalo the previous two seasons. He played 100% of the snaps defensively against Detroit. Now, with injuries plaguing the wide receiver corps, the organization brought back John Brown. The 32-year-old wideout began his first stint with Buffalo in 2019, where he emerged as Josh Allen’s favorite target and helped the young quarterback take the next step in his development. “Smoke” finished the 2019 campaign with 72 receptions for 1,060 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns. A year later, Brown was paired with Stefon Diggs as a formidable 1-2 punch with Cole Beasley manning the slot position. Injuries hampered Brown all year, and he was released in the offseason as a cost-saving move. Since then, he has been signed and released by four different NFL franchises. Brown stayed in shape and found a new physical therapy spot, Infinity Sports Institute in Miami, which identified muscles he was favoring and not working evenly due to past injuries. “To be able to come back and just to be part of it is a great thing because I watch every game. Since I left, I’ve been rooting the guys on. I still stayed in contact with a lot of people,” Brown said. With just four healthy receivers on the active roster and Tanner Gentry out of call-ups, it would not be shocking to see Brown play tomorrow.
  • AFC East woes: The Bills are 0-2 in divisional matchups this season. They lost their first one back in Week 3 against the Miami Dolphins, falling just short in spite of multiple injuries and cases of heat sickness. In Week 9, they lost 20-17 to the Jets in a defensive slugfest. While the AFC East is much tougher than it has been in the past, these are games that the Bills cannot afford to lose if they want to come out on top of the division. Divisional record factors into tiebreakers in the standings, and as of now, the Bills trail the Dolphins for the division lead despite sharing the same 8-3 record.

Impact matchups to watch

Ken Dorsey vs. Bill Belichick

This matchup differs from the player matchups that typically appear in this section, but it is equally impactful. First-year play caller and Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey has experienced his share of highs and lows this season.

Buffalo’s offense ranks second in the NFL in yards per game (415.9) and points per game (28.1), which is promising. However, following a hot start to the season, turnovers began piling up.

Currently, the unit leads the league in turnovers (19), nine of which have occurred since Week 9. A good chunk of these giveaways have taken place in the red zone, killing drives that were destined for points. Obviously, factors such as Allen’s injury and decision-making are out of Dorsey’s control, but some blame is warranted for odd playcalling inside the 20 and the lack of addressing these poor habits.

Growing pains are not unusual for anyone adjusting to a new role, but if there is any coach capable of attacking those weaknesses, it is Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. One of the brightest defensive minds in NFL history, Belichick has built another stout unit headlined by leading sack artist Matthew Judon, who has 13 on the season. Dorsey needs to be prepared for any curveball Belichick throws at him if he wants to repeat the success of Buffalo’s previous offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll.

Greg Rousseau vs. Yodny Cajuste

After missing the last three games with an ankle injury, Bills defensive end Greg Rousseau is set to return for this Week 13 matchup. Rousseau has totaled five sacks through eight games played this year, proving to be a force under the tutelage of Miller. During Miller’s absence, Buffalo needs Rousseau to spark their pass rush, which has been quiet of late. 

Pass protection has been a weakness for the Patriots’ struggling offense. In just their last four games, quarterback Mac Jones has been sacked 19 times. That is an average of just under five sacks per game. Starting right tackle Isaiah Wynn has already been ruled out with a foot injury, so Rousseau will likely get to line up against their backup, Yodny Cajuste, who is dealing with a calf injury himself. A potential mismatch.

How to watch

Kickoff is scheduled for Thursday at 8:15 p.m. EST on Amazon Prime Video. The game will only air on local TV in Buffalo (WKBW, Ch. 7) and Boston (25 News). Everywhere else, including Rochester, is not permitted to buy rights to show the game. Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit will be on the call with Kaylee Hartung reporting from the sidelines. The Bills will be wearing white jerseys and white pants while the Patriots will sport their red minutemen throwback uniforms. The weather will be clear with temperatures in the low 30s.

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