The Bills won the AFC East last season, as ascending quarterback Josh Allen took the final step in his development, knocking off the Patriots and leading his team in the playoffs all the way to the AFC Championship. Buffalo returned most of their offense, and for much of the year, they've continued their aerial domination of the league, coming in as the third-best DVOA passing offense while ranking in the top 10 of all significant offense passing stats, including yards (seventh) and touchdowns (third).
Not since Week 6 against the Cowboys have the Patriots faced a passing offense with so many threats that will need to be accounted for. That game was a clear outlier for the Patriots defense, as they allowed a season-high 445 passing yards and 35 points. Since then, the Patriots have allowed over 300 yards just once, to another good passing team, the LA Chargers.
Now, in Week 13, we'll see exactly how the Pats passing defense, currently ranked second in the NFL in DVOA, stacks up. The key piece is Allen and how well he plays will go a long way toward determining the outcome.
"Offensively, it really starts with [Josh] Allen, he can do it all," said Bill Belichick on Wednesday morning. "His improvement has just been tremendous. Where it was three years ago, completion percentage, passer rating, decision making, production, it has just gone [up]. It's risen at a really remarkable rate. It's just remarkable how good he has become."
"He's really impressive," said linebacker Kyle Van Noy. "I think he's always had confidence but now it's on another level.
"He's doing a great job of quarterbacking, from sitting in the pocket throwing to scrambling to running, just picking his spots, he really is a game-changer now."
As Van Noy points out, it's more than just Allen's passing ability that poses a problem, as he's one of the Bills' leaders in rushing and is especially deadly on third down with his legs, averaging 7.71 yards-per-attempt while picking up 17 first downs on 24 third-down attempts.
"It's tough anytime you have a big, fast, strong guy that can run and also has a cannon for an arm, he definitely poses a threat to the defense," said inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo. "I wish I could sit here and say that one person could stop him but honestly, I haven't seen anyone do it yet. It's going to take all 11 guys on the field as well as a good game plan to keep this guy contained in the pocket."
Mac ready to face the Bills Mafia
Though Mac Jones already had plenty of experience on a much-hyped game by playing both Tampa Bay and Dallas earlier this season, he's in for something new playing in Buffalo on Monday Night Football. With the division and playoffs on the line, it might just be his most intense matchup yet.
"I think people who love football want to get a chance to play in games like these," said Jones on Wednesday afternoon. "I know all the guys on both teams want to play in games like this. It'll be a great experience. I know they have a bunch of great fans, and it's football, so you've just got to go out there and play the game that we've all played since we were little kids."
Mac seemed well aware of what he was in for in Orchard Park.
"They bring a lot of energy, and they have a great fanbase," said Jones. "They love football. It's two great franchises going against each other. A lot of football history. This game coming up, like I said, both teams are going to be excited, and there's going to be energy, so we've just got to be ready to go."
The Patriots took to the field on Wednesday as they began preparations for their Monday night tilt with the Bills. J.J. Taylor was not spotted, as expected after landing on the COVID list earlier this week, but one surprise absence was safety Kyle Dugger.
According to ESPN's Field Yates, Dugger is likely to end up on the COVID-19 Reserve list though he has not been ruled out yet for Monday Night Football. His potential absence against the Bills would be a significant blow, as Dugger's versatility and physicality have been big elements for the Patriots defense and he would undoubtedly play a big part of the gameplan against Buffalo.
The first Injury Report is due on Thursday with the team playing on Monday.