The Patriots are en route to Buffalo for a divisional matchup with the Bills, where they'll be down at least one key starter on Sunday.
New England has downgraded starting safety Jabrill Peppers (hamstring) and WR Kayshon Boutte (illness) to out on Saturday. Peppers, who missed last week's win in Denver, is not a surprising downgrade after he only participated in practice this past week on Friday. Boutte also missed Thursday's practice, but it was listed as a non-injury related absence.
The Patriots also placed WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (ankle) on injured reserve, signed S Joshuah Bledsoe to the 53-man roster, and elevated tight end Matt Sokol and OT Andrew Stueber from the practice squad. With Bledsoe signing to the active roster, safety Kyle Dugger's status is worth monitoring. After sitting out practice on Friday, Dugger is officially questionable due to an illness, with many players under the weather. Sokol is also up from the practice squad in case Henry can't play.
On defense, the Patriots must contain Buffalo's high-powered offense without impact defender Jabrill Peppers. The Bills rank second overall in DVOA offensively, with the second-ranked passing attack and sixth-ranked rushing offense. Along with losing his tone-setting presence, the Patriots played a season-high 34.8% of their defensive snaps in dime packages vs. the Bills in Week 7. Peppers's absence might make it tough to hold up against the run while playing six DBs, where Peppers excels, ranking third among safeties with 17 run stops this season.
Despite mainly playing lighter personnel in Week 7, the Pats held the Bills to a modest 38% rushing success rate. Lately, Buffalo has re-emphasized the run game under interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady. New England's ability to hold up against the run sans Peppers while playing as many defensive backs as possible might decide Sunday's game. Playing standard nickel or base defense versus Bills star QB Josh Allen isn't a great option. The Patriots will likely have safeties Jalen Mills, LB/S Marte Mapu, veteran Adrian Phillips, and hopefully Dugger available. Plus, do-it-all DB Myles Bryant also plays some safety.
Moving over to the offense, Patriots tight end Hunter Henry (knee, questionable) made the trip to Buffalo. Henry was developing great chemistry with second-year QB Bailey Zappe, catching three touchdown passes in his last two games played with Zappe under center.
The Pats won in Denver without Henry, thanks to Mike Gesicki's and Pharaoh Brown's contributions. Gesicki caught an 11-yard touchdown pass in a 20-point third quarter for the Pats, while Brown had a 20-yard reception up the seam for a big play. Still, it would be huge for an offense already down WR JuJu Smith-Schuster to get Henry back this week. With Brown and Gesicki carrying most of the workload, New England also elevated Sokol from the practice squad last week. Sokol's ten offensive snaps were all on run plays, and he also contributed on special teams (seven snaps).
As for wide receiver, the Patriots will be down Boutte and Smith-Schuster this week. New England's available wide receivers will be DeVante Parker, DeMario Douglas, Tyquan Thornton, and Jalen Reagor. Smith-Schuster's season ends with 29 catches for 260 yards and a touchdown in 11 games. Certainly, a disappointing first season in New England.
Some fans would prefer a loss for draft pick purposes, but the Patriots look to continue playing spoiler in Buffalo on Sunday. The Bills are currently the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs with a 9-6 record, but the Colts, Texans, Steelers, and Bengals aren't far behind at 8-7. Sunday's contest is a big game for the Bills, who are trying to rally to make the playoffs after hovering around .500 until a recent win streak.
The Patriots and Bills meet at Highmark Stadium in Buffalo for an AFC East matchup at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.