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Game Preview: Patriots at Bills

The New England Patriots travel to Buffalo to face the Bills on Sunday, December 31 at 1 PM.

2023-GamePreview-wk17-bills-16x9

WEEK 17 · Sun 12/31 · 1:00 PM EST

Patriots

New England Patriots

AT

Bills

Buffalo Bills

CBS / WBZ
98.5 FM The Sports Hub
HIGHMARK STADIUM

The New England Patriots will travel to Buffalo for their final road trip of the season. Following the Bills game, the Patriots will close out the season at home against the New York Jets. The Patriots beat Buffalo, 29-25, at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 22 in the first meeting of the 2023 season and will be looking for a series sweep of the Bills for the first time since the 2019 season.

SERIES HISTORY

New England and Buffalo will meet for the second of two contests in 2023 this week in Buffalo. The Patriots took the first meeting at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 22 with a 29-25 victory. The Patriots will be looking for their first season sweep of the annual series since the 2019 season and the 28th series sweep overall.

This week's game will be the 129th meeting between the two teams. New England holds a 78-49-1 edge in the series and has won 37 of the last 47 regular season games between the clubs, dating back to 2000. The Patriots are 38-25-1 all-time in games played in Buffalo, including a 31-19 record at Highmark Stadium.

The series between the AFC East rivals began in 1960. The Patriots 78 wins over the Bills are their highest victory total over any opponent, four higher than their next highest win total against the New York Jets (74).

After seven straight series sweeps and 15 consecutive Patriots wins from 2003-10, Buffalo ended the streak with a 34-31 victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium in the first meeting between the teams in 2011. The 15-game win streak is tied for the longest streak over a single opponent in team history with 15 straight wins over the New York Jets.

The teams have had many memorable matchups over the years, including a span from 1999 to 2001, where four-of-five contests were decided in overtime.

SERIES BREAKDOWN

Home Record: 40-24

  • Record in Foxboro: 34-19
  • Foxboro Stadium: 18-14
  • Gillette Stadium: 17-5
  • Record in Boston: 6-5

Road Record: 38-25-1

  • War Memorial Stadium: 7-6-1
  • Ralph Wilson/Rich Stadium/New Era/Highmark: 31-19

Largest Margin of Victory: 46 points (2007)

Largest Margin of Defeat: 35 points (1970)

Longest Win Streak: 15 games (2003-2010)

Bill Belichick vs. Buffalo: 37-12 (37-11 with NE)

Sean McDermott vs. New England: 6-8

SCOUTING THE MATCHUPS

By Paul Perillo

When the Patriots run - Edge: Bills

Buffalo has not been great when it comes to stopping the run. Injuries along the front seven have impacted the performance, but even at full strength it's not something the Bills have been known for. This season Buffalo sits in the middle of the pack in run defense, allowing a shade over 111 yards per game. But on a per-carry basis the number plummets to just under 4.6 yards per attempt, which ranks near the bottom at 27th. The problem for the Patriots is their ground game hasn't been effective much at all this season. Even before Rhamondre Stevenson went down with an ankle injury against the Chargers, New England wasn't able to generate much in the running game. Ezekiel Elliott has run hard between the tackles but hasn't found enough openings to put much pressure on the defense. The Patriots injury problems up front haven't helped the cause either. As for the Bills, things could be improving soon as defensive tackle Daquan Jones has returned to practice and is eligible to come off injured reserve. That would help offset the loss of Jordan Phillips, who will be on IR for the rest of the regular season. Jones is a space eater in the middle and should take some of the heat off undersized middle linebacker Terrel Bernard and make life easier on the Bills front seven.

When the Patriots pass - Edge: Bills

Bailey Zappe will get his first opportunity to go against a Bills secondary that has struggled at times playing against the Patriots. Otherwise, Buffalo's pass defense sits in the top 10 of the league, even after losing star corner Tre'Davious White. The Bills brought in veteran Rasul Douglas and he has helped solidify the unit. Douglas joins Taron Johnson, Dane Jackson and Christian Benford along with safeties Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde and Taylor Rapp. That group has been effective taking the ball away and also benefits from an emerging pass rush – led by Leonard Floyd, Ed Oliver, A.J. Epenesa and Greg Rousseau. That group can get after the passer, particularly when playing with the lead. Zappe will try to offset that by using quick passes and spreading the ball around to whichever healthy receivers he can find. He's been without DeVante Parker, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Demario Douglas and Hunter Henry at times over the past several weeks so it's been difficult finding a rapport with any of his targets. Parker and Douglas stepped up in Denver and could be the top options this week as well. But it won't be easy on the road against what has been one of the stingiest secondaries in football.

When the Bills run - Edge: Patriots

Buffalo's ground game has taken off since Joe Brady replaced Ken Dorsey as offensive coordinator five games ago. Since then James Cook has emerged as a key cog in the attack, which was particularly true in Buffalo's blowout win over Dallas that saw Cook pile up 179 yards on the ground. Cook, Latavius Murray, Ty Johnson and recently Leonard Fournette have formed a dynamic backfield that has produced some impressive numbers under Brady, and the entire Bills offense has taken off as a result. However, the Patriots run defense hasn't sprung many leaks all season and remains one of the best units in all of football. No one has consistently been able to produce on the ground against New England, largely due to the strong play of the front seven. Christian Barmore has been the best player in that group but he hasn't been alone. Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Anfernee Jennings, Deatrich Wise, Ja'Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai have all played with toughness and physicality even as the losses have continued to pile up. Even though Buffalo has transformed into a more physical offense, don't expect the Patriots run defense to suddenly stop shutting things down on the ground.

When the Bills pass - Edge: Bills

One of the benefits of the Bills renewed commitment to running the ball has been allowing Josh Allen to take some easy underneath throws. Cook has been a huge part of the passing game under Brady, and Allen has used him effectively underneath instead of having to constantly push the ball downfield in search of big plays. Allen has been much sharper as of late and the offense has piled up the points in bunches as a result. Stefon Diggs remains the key weapon but as opponents continue to give him extra attention Allen has been more willing to spread it around. Gabe Davis, Khalil Shakir and Trent Sherfield have been more involved, as have tight ends Dawson Knox and Dalton Kincaid. That group, along with Cook, has been active as the Bills have resurrected their season. The Patriots continue to compete with an undermanned secondary that has included Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, Alex Austin and Shaun Wade in recent weeks. That group will be tested by a Bills attack that is hitting its stride after several weeks of mistake-prone play in the middle of the season – and Buffalo is still desperately trying to get itself into the playoffs.

Special Teams - Edge: Bills

Both teams come into the game with some questions at kicker. The normally reliable Tyler Bass has hit a bit of a rough patch and has missed five field goals on the season. Chad Ryland has been dealing with those struggles all season and has misfired on some short ones in recent weeks. But Ryland's 56-yard game-winner might be the perfect way for the rookie to work past those struggles. Neither side has been especially productive in the return game. Deonte Harty handled punts and averages a healthy 10 yards per return while Ty Johnson takes care of kicks. Bryant has been used on punts for the Patriots while Jalen Reagor recently assumed kick return duties following the release of Ty Montgomery. But it's the Patriots propensity for mistakes in the kicking game that give the Bills the edge. Penalties and poor coverage have dominated the Patriots special teams this season and it's been that way in virtually every game. Until those errors get cleaned up on a consistent basis it's hard to give New England the edge.

QUICK HITS

  • The Patriots have recorded 78 wins over the Bills, the most by the Patriots against any one opponent. The Jets are second on that list with 74 wins by the Patriots.
  • The Buffalo Bills snapped a streak of 13 straight road losses to the Patriots, including 12 straight wins by the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, with their 17-9 win in the 2014 regular season finale on Dec. 28, 2014.
  • Bill Belichick has a 104-42 (.712) all-time regular season record against the AFC East as head coach of the Patriots.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Table inside Article
2023 REGULAR SEASON NEW ENGLAND BUFFALO
Record 4-11 9-6
Divisional Standings 4th 2nd
Total Yards Gained 4,283 5,612
Total Offense (Rank) 285.5 (28) 374.1 (4)
Rush Offense 95.7 (25) 130.5 (7)
Pass Offense 189.8 (24) 243.7 (9)
Points Per Game 14.1 (32) 26.9 (6)
Total Yards Allowed 4,592 4,653
Total Defense (Rank) 306.1 (8) 310.2 (10)
Rush Defense 84.8 (2) 111.3 (16)
Pass Defense 221.3 (15) 198.9 (9)
Points Allowed/Game 21.5 (16) 18.4 (4)
Possession Avg. 28:13 31:17
Sacks Allowed/Yards Lost 38/248 20/123
Sacks Made/Yards 34/232 50/310
Total Touchdowns Scored 24 48
Penalties Against/Yards 83/621 96/10
Punts/Avg. 85/47.1 44/45.5
Turnover Differential -7 (26T) 0 (15T)

CONNECTIONS

FORMER PATRIOTS

  • RB Damien Harris, 2017-19

FORMER BILLS

  • OL Conor McDermott, 2017-19
  • DB Alex Austin, 2023
Patriots defensive lineman Christian Barmore sacks Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17).
Patriots defensive lineman Christian Barmore sacks Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17).

WHAT TO LOOK FOR...

PATRIOT TO WATCH: CHRISTIAN BARMORE

  • DL Christian Barmore had a career-high with a 3-sack performance last week at Denver. The only Patriots player in team history with back-to-back games with 3 sacks was Andre Tippett with 3 sacks in 1987 - vs. Dallas on Nov. 15 and vs. Indianapolis on Nov. 22.
  • Barmore increased his season totals to 8 ½ sacks. He needs 1 ½ sacks for his first 10-sack season. He can become the 7th Patriots defensive lineman to register 10 sacks in a season.

STOPPING THE RUN

  • The Patriots have held their opponents to under 3.0 yards per carry (ypc) six times in 2023. The team record for most games in a season holding the opponent under 3 yards per carry is eight in 1961 and 1968. The Patriots can match that total if they hold Buffalo and the Jets under 3 yards per carry in the final two games of the 2023 season.
  • The Patriots enter this week leading the NFL, allowing just 3.2-yards per rush. If that pace holds, it will be the lowest by a team since the 2014 Detroit Lions when they allowed 3.17 yards per rush. Since the 1970 merger, only 23 teams have held their opponent to a 3.2-yards per rush or less. If the Patriots hold, it will be the lowest in team history since the 1970 merger. The current best is 3.4-yard per carry by the 1974 team.
  • The Patriots defense is second in the NFL in 2023 to Chicago (80.7 yards per game), allowing 84.8 yards rushing per game. If that holds it will be the third time in team history since the 1970 merger that the Patriots have finished a season allowing under 90 yards rushing per game. The 84.9 yards rushing per game if it holds will be the lowest in team history since the merger. The Patriots allowed a team-best 88.6 yards rushing per game in 2016 and 89.6 yards rushing per game in 2003.

DEFENSIVE EXCELLENCE

  • The Patriots enter the week's game with the 8th-ranked total defense. The team has finished in the top 10 for defense 10 times during Bill Belichick's reign as head coach of the Patriots.

ZEKE'S SCORES

  • RB Ezekiel Elliott has four total touchdowns with two rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns. He needs four total touchdowns in the final two games to reach eight total touchdowns in a season for his 8th straight season.

SEARCHING FOR A SWEEP

  • The Patriots will be looking for their first season sweep of the annual series since the 2019 season and the 28th series sweep overall. The Patriots won the first meeting of the 2023 season, 29-25, at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 22.

DOUGLAS CATCHING ON

  • Rookie WR DeMario Douglas finished with five receptions for 74 yards last week at Denver to increase his season totals to 44 receptions for 517 yards. He now has the most receptions by a rookie wide receiver under Bill Belichick. WR Deion Branch had 43 receptions for 489 yards as a rookie in 2002. Douglas needs two receiving yards to match the 519 receiving yards by WR Aaron Dobson for the most receiving yards by a rookie receiver under Belichick. Dobson had 37 receptions for 519 yards as a rookie in 2013. Douglas needs two more receptions to have the most receptions by a rookie under Belichick.

BACK-TO-BACK FORCED TURNOVERS

  • Jahlani Tavai and Marte Mapu have each had a forced turnover in the last two games, with both recording a pick vs. Kansas City and a forced fumble at Denver. The last Patriots player with a forced turnover in at least three straight games was when J.C. Jackson had a streak of five straight games with an interception in 2020.

BROADCAST INFORMATION

TELEVISION: This week's game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Kevin Harlan will handle play-by-play duties with Trent Green as the color analyst. Melanie Collins will provide analysis from the sidelines. The game will be produced by Ken Mack and directed by Jim Cornell.

LOCAL RADIO: 98.5 The Sports Hub is the flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network. A complete listing of the network's 33 stations can be found here. Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci will call the action along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who will provide color analysis. The games are produced by Marc Cappello.

For information on how to stream the game please visit our Ways to Watch guide.

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