Six things to watch for in Patriots-Bills on 'MNF'
The world is often unjust.
When the league’s gaggle of schedule-makers huddled in an air-tight room piecing together this year’s prime-time slate, they came to the conclusion that Buffalo would be a thing of relevance in late October.
Instead, the Bills are a two-win trifle being asked to do battle with the predictably superior Patriots on national television. Who would have guessed?
It’s not exactly Ali vs. Frazier, but there’s still a game to play. After filing early season upsets over the Vikings and Titans, does Buffalo stand a chance of toppling Bill Belichick and his army of near-perfect minions?
Here’s what we’ll be watching for on Monday Night Football:
1. The humble people of New England luxuriate this morning in the afterglow of another championship after the Boston Red Sox toppled the ill-fated Dodgers for baseball’s biggest glory. The good times feel bound to roll on as Tom Brady serves up the nightcap against a Bills team he’s fully owned since 2001. The Patriots quarterback is 28-3 facing Buffalo, the highest winning percentage by a quarterback against any team in the league since the 1970 merger. This season alone, Brady has flung 16 touchdown passes, while the offensively inept Bills have thrown just three as a squad all year.
It doesn’t stop there. Buffalo is averaging a league-worst 11.6 points per game, while the Patriots are pumping out 17.1 points in the first half alone with another 13.4 in the second. New England is also throwing more yards in each individual half than the Bills average over four quarters.
2. We could prattle on and on with these numbers, but anyone who watches the NFL gets the point. The Patriots have been a model of ultra-consistency and success. The Bills have shifted through a thousand coaching changes and failed to find anything resembling a franchise quarterback in a post-Jim Kelly universe.
Buffalo hopes it might have an answer in Josh Allen, but the rookie won’t be on the field against New England as he recovers from a UCL injury in his throwing elbow. In his absence, the Bills will roll out 35-year-old Derek Anderson, a journeyman passer who unfurled three picks against the Colts in his first start of the year in Week 7. As the 13th Buffalo quarterback to face Brady, Anderson is being asked to lift an attack that ranks last in the league in scoring, last in passing, and 31st in third-down percentage with more turnovers than all but three other clubs. On the year, Buffalo has posted fewer points (81) than Rams running back Todd Gurley (88).
3. The issue in Buffalo is a dearth of manpower. While running back LeSean McCoy has cleared concussion protocol and is expected to play, he hasn’t been able to save this offense while rushing for just 244 yards over six starts. Chris Ivory is bound to see a smattering of touches against the Patriots, while Anderson will attempt to connect with a cast of wideouts missing a true leader. Kelvin Benjamin has just 14 grabs on the year, putting the former Panthers target behind Zay Jones (19) and tight end Charles Clay (16). Anderson has familiarity with Benjamin from their days in Carolina, but the wideout will be dealing with New England cover man Stephon Gilmore.
4. It’s up to the Bills defense to make this a tough night on Brady and friends. Buffalo quarterback-disruptor Jerry Hughes has been a force all season, but the Bills were lashed a week ago by the surging Colts and now face a New England offense beginning to catch fire.
With receivers Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon in the lineup, the Patriots have put up 39.7 points per game over the past three outings after averaging 23.8 over their first four tilts. Yardage is hiked up over that span (from 337.3 to 439.7) along with Brady’s passing yards (from 220.3 to 313.7).
Tommy has zoned in on Gordon, throwing to the wideout 16 times over the past two tilts and finding the former Browns star for 100 receiving yards last week against Chicago. Gordon gives New England a legitimate presence downfield and Brady’s numbers show it. How nice of Cleveland to ship one of the game’s most naturally talented receivers to the finest franchise in football for a bag of soiled plastic forks.
5. The hope is that star tight end Rob Gronkowski (back) will suit up, but the Patriots have already ruled out rookie runner Sony Michel with a knee injury. That means a major workload for the versatile James White, who came into Week 8 leading all backs in targets (61) and receiving touchdowns (6), while sitting second in receptions (45) and yardage (380).
As the only runner all year to post at least seven scrimmage touchdowns on fewer than 100 touches, White is the ideal weapon for this offense and the likely candidate for a huge Monday night.
6. History tells us Buffalo has no shot — not against a Patriots team that systematically drills the Bills year after year. These prime-time games are often strange affairs, though, and Western New York will be fired up for their first Monday night appearance since 2008. The best hope for a tight tilt is Buffalo’s defense generating a few early turnovers and keeping Brady at bay — recalling what happened in a Week 3 stunner over the Vikings.
The sunny autumn days are turning colder, though, and the Patriots don’t often stumble. This is typically when Belichick’s cadre of robots flip the switch and run off 12 mega-lashings in a row, leaving this pampered fan base to casually/vicariously credit themselves for each and every success.
It’s not a pretty setup for the Bills, but fingers crossed for something other than a predictable, heavy-handed romp on Monday night.
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