With this week's matchup against the Bills landing on Monday night, it gives head coach Bill Belichick an extra day to prepare his squad for what is shaping up to be a classic kind of Buffalo game, with wet and windy weather expected.
As usual, the coach kept an open mind when it came to the conditions his team might face.
"Usually we talk about it once we know for sure when it is, which, a lot of times, that's when we get to the stadium," said Belichick. "It's hard to really hang your hat on one of the predictions here. We'll go with the known information understanding, obviously, what it could be."
The bigger problem that Belichick knows he and his team will definitely need to be prepared for is a Buffalo Bills team that made it to the AFC Championship last season and has won seven games this season. Behind quarterback Josh Allen and one of the best defenses in the league, the Bills have emerged as Super Bowl contenders.
Buffalo's offense attack is run by a familiar face in Brian Daboll, who spent 11 seasons with the Patriots in two different stints. Daboll has taken plenty from his time under Belichick and employs similar gameplan-specific tactics.
"[Brian]'s a good coach," said Belichick. "He's well-prepared. As a game plan coach, he attacks what you do and does a good job of it. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense. I'm sure we'll see that again Monday night."
Buffalo's defense presents an equal sort of challenge for the Patriots offense, with coordinator Leslie Frazier putting together a fast and cohesive unit, led by a pair of interchangeable veteran safeties as well as a pair of mobile, playmaking linebackers. Even after losing star cornerback Tre'Davious White, this is still an excellent squad with all the pieces to challenge the Patriots offense.
"They're one of the best defenses in the league," said Belichick. "They're good at everything. They've got a good front. They have good linebackers, and they have a good secondary. They're experienced. They play together. They certainly know how to execute the defense, make adjustments, and it's hard to fool them. You've got to earn it. They don't make many bad plays. They're very well-coached."
And not to be forgotten, special teams can also be expected to play a significant role and might be the most impacted phase of the game if it's as windy as some forecasts predict.
"Buffalo's always a challenging place to play because the wind will affect the kicking game more than it will the passing game as it relates to field position, ball handling, field goal range, direction of the kicks, so forth," said Belichick. "Obviously, it's a big, key factor in the game, depending on what it is. It's part of the challenge of playing there. It'll be the same for both teams. We'll see how everybody handles it, but it'll definitely be a factor."
Belichick's team will be prepared to play in whatever conditions are presented to them, with the coach downplaying any anticipation.
"We practice in wind. We practice on sunny days, cloudy days, windy days, calm days, hot days, cold days, wet days, dry days. What's it going to be? Whatever it is, it is, and if we haven't done it, then we'll adjust to it.
"Put everything we have into this one, go up to Buffalo, and try to be as competitive as we can against a good football team that's well-coached, that plays well, that competes well and is tough. We're going to need our best game. That's what we're striving for each week."
Five Points of Emphasis vs. Bills
- Make Allen Press: The book on how defenses have had some success this season slowing Buffalo's offense down is more two high shells that take away the explosive play element from Josh Allen and his weaponry. Defenses were daring Allen to take the short, underneath stuff and put together sustained drives, aka a Belichick Bend-Don't-Break special, and it had some success. Last week against the Saints, Allen and Brian Daboll adjusted their approach and put up 31 points. If Kyle Dugger can't go, it hampers the Patriots' defensive flexibility a bit, but a potential return by Jamie Collins could help. After playing a lot of 3-4 defense last week, it would seem like this will be an approach heavy in defensive backs, but their most played package (three safeties, 36 percent) might be off the table. Still, it feels like daring the Bills to run and throw short makes the most sense, but they'll have to do it from sub packages with lighter boxes. However, there's a major caveat and that is...
- Weather: It looks like this game is going to be Buffalo weather at its worst -- wind, rain, maybe some snow -- and that could have a major impact on how both teams choose to attack each other. The easiest place to start is with the rushing attacks and if the weather affects the passing game it could help the Patriots, though Buffalo's run defense is 5th in yards allowed they did give up significant rushing yards to the Chiefs (120), Titans (146) and Colts (264) which could illustrate an area to exploit. Although Allen has far more experience in these kinds of games than Mac Jones, who's never played in these kinds of conditions, the weather could be an equalizer that makes this a unique game where most game planning is out the window. But if it does devolve into a pure weather game, the Patriots should adjust their approach accordingly and go with a pure power attack, with a heavy set featuring maulers like Michael Onwenu, Trent Brown, and Jakob Johnson prominently featured. Who knows, that very well could be the plan regardless of the conditions.
- Mental Toughness: Add up the conditions, what's on the line as far as conference and division standings, as well as the home-field advantage that the Bills have in front of their passionate fans, and this will be one of the most mentally challenging games of the season for the Patriots. Yes, they're undefeated on the road this season, but this is a different situation for the mentioned variety of reasons. And yes, a lot of this is about rookie Mac Jones, as this is easily the biggest game of his young career and it's sizing up to be the most difficult circumstances he's faced. But the entire team will need a heavy dose of mental toughness in Buffalo to deal with it all. We should learn a lot about this Patriots team.
- Ball Security: This feeds into the mental toughness aspect of the game but the turnover battle is always a huge key, especially when wet conditions could stress ball security. The Bills are undefeated this season when they win the turnover battle, last week was the first time they won despite having two giveaways to the Saints' zero. Meanwhile, the Patriots have won the turnover battle in each of their six-straight wins with a whopping 17 takeaways to just four giveaways during the six-game stretch. Turnovers will be a huge deciding factor.
- Win: Bottom line, this is the kind of game that defines the season, two divisional rivals that are evenly matched in a game that will have huge playoff implications. Throw all the weather concerns out, all that matters is getting the win and turning the page to the bye week and then the final four games of the season. The Bills have all the pieces to attack the Patriots on both sides of the ball, but the Patriots are very much reloaded from the team that lost two games to Buffalo last season. With a rematch looming in three weeks, there will be a chance for the loser of the first game to respond, but for the Patriots to get a win on the road and then have the home-field advantage in the second game would be a major boost to the season and have team hopes through the roof.
After a mild day on Thursday, the Patriots had chilly and windy conditions at Friday's practice as they continued their prep for Monday night. Once again, Kyle Dugger (Reserve/COVID-19) and J.J. Taylor (Reserve/COVID-19) were absent but the rest of the 53-man roster was intact. The team will have one more practice on Saturday, with Dugger getting an extra day to potentially return.