By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — What a weird season. And it’s about to get a lot weirder for the Patriots on Monday night.
That’s when the Buffalo Bills — that is, the AFC East champion Buffalo Bills to you — will look to sweep their season series with the Patriots. Yeah, it’s that bad in New England.
The Patriots haven’t been swept by a division opponent in 19 seasons, which is an NFL record. The Patriots could keep that record streak going if they can pull off a upset victory over the 11-3 Bills. But Buffalo is firing on all cylinders lately, winners of four straight, while the Patriots are not.
The Patriots are scratching and clawing just to finish the season at .500, a goal that would go out the window with another loss on Monday night. Do the Patriots have what it takes to pull off an upset? Probably not. But here’s what we’ll be watching for in New England’s penultimate game of the 2020 season.
Young Guys On Offense
The Patriots drafted a pair of tight ends in April, but we still don’t have any idea what either of them has to offer. So tonight, let’s get Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene into the mix and give them something to build on heading into next season.
The duo has just one catch between the two of them this season, which is incredible considering what the Patriots have at the position. Injuries have kept both rookies out of the lineup for stretches, but they’re healthy now and it’d be nice to see them do something with the football. They’ll have a chance on Monday night, as Buffalo has given up 83 receptions to tight ends this season — the most in the NFL.
And while we’re talking about pass-catchers, let’s beat the drum one more time and beg for N’Keal Harry to have a big role in the offensive game plan. The second-year receiver has 30 receptions for 289 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his 12 games this season, and we have no clue if he can be counted on as a reliable No. 2 or 3 option at wideout. He has shown a few flashes here and there, including some contested catches against the Rams two weeks ago. But then he went out and had one catch off two targets against the Dolphins last week.
It’d be nice to see a few more opportunities for Harry downfield over the final two games of the season, something for him to build off heading into his third NFL season.
There’s also a second-year quarterback on the roster that everyone is itching to see. If the Bills get up by a silly margin, expect another relief appearance from Jarrett Stidham.
Newton Chasing Patriots History
Since Newton is starting, we may as well mention that he is in the running for some Patriots team history. With 11 rushing touchdowns on the season, Newton needs just one more rushing score to tie Steve Grogan’s team record for the most rushing touchdowns in a season by a QB.
It makes sense, since we know that Newton hasn’t been throwing touchdowns this season.
Cam Newton has 5 TD passes on 328 attempts (1.5% of attempts). That equates to the 5th-lowest pass TD rate by any QB with 300+ pass attempts in a single season in NFL history and is the lowest since TB's Trent Dilfer in 1995 (1%). #Patriots @nflnetwork @AroundTheNFL
— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) December 28, 2020
New England’s Front 7
The New England run defense has been abhorrent over the last two weeks, allowing a total of 436 yards on the ground to the L.A. Rams (186 yards in Week 14) and Miami Dolphins (250 yards in Week 15). Miami owned the 22nd rushing offense heading into last weekend’s game, but averaged 6.0 yards per carry against New England.
The Bills aren’t a great running team either, ranking 21st in the NFL with 108.2 yards per game and 19th at 4.3 yards per carry, but they had their best running game of the season back in Week 8 against New England. Buffalo fan for 190 yards and averaged 5.0 yards per carry in Orchard Park back in November, as the Patriots loaded up the secondary on almost every snap.
We’ll see if Bill Belichick elects to do the same this week, given Buffalo’s explosive passing game. But if they do that, New England’s front seven is going to have to play smart and play disciplined, two aspects that have been greatly lacking for large stretches this season.
The MVP Candidate
There are no longer any questions at quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. Josh Allen is an absolute stud. And now the Patriots have to try to slow him down for a second time this season.
The New England D was somewhat effective against Allen back in Week 8, holding him to just 154 passing yards and no touchdowns. J.C. Jackson picked him off in that 24-21 loss, with Allen turning in a 65.6 QB rating — his worst rating of the season.
But Stephon Gilmore won’t be in the New England secondary this time around, and Allen has been on fire in his six games since his last meeting with the Patriots. He’s completed 70 percent of his passes and racked up over 300 yards per game, all while tossing 14 touchdowns and four interceptions in that span. He also has four rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown over that stretch, leading the Bills to five wins in those six games.
The Bills offense was unstoppable against the Denver Broncos last weekend, racking up a season-high 534 total yards. Allen had 359 yards through the air, two passing touchdowns, and two rushing touchdowns as the Bills scored a season-high 48 points. It’s hard to imagine the Patriots slowing down Buffalo’s offensive train on Monday night.
Get full reaction and analysis of Monday night’s Patriots-Bills clash after the game on Patriots 5th Quarter on TV38!