Skip to main content

Weekend Look Ahead

Presented by

5 things to watch for in Bills vs. Patriots | Week 17


1. Big playoff swing

The Bills have been in playoff mode for the better part of the last three weeks as they had to climb back into playoff contention from where they stood three weeks ago at 6-6. This week's contest, however, represents the largest swing in AFC playoff leverage thus far.

If Buffalo can post a victory over the Patriots on Sunday, their probability of reaching the postseason increases to 97 percent, which is the highest among the teams in AFC playoff contention. A loss, however, would see their playoff probability sink to 46 percent, a drop of 51 percent.

"Frankly, it's a game that we need to win, and they know that," said Josh Allen of the Patriots. "We know that. If I'm in the New England Patriot locker room, I'm looking to ruin their season. An opponent's playoff hopes are on the line, division rival. So, they're going to be ready to go. I can guarantee you that. So that in turn means we need to be ready to go as well. And with the guys that we have in this locker room, I doubt that we won't be ready to go. We're going to have to rely on our vet leadership and our coaching staff and put together a good game plan to have a good week of practice. But we've got to be ready to go."

New England has already played the role of playoff spoiler severely damaging the playoff hopes of the Denver Broncos last week beating them on a last-second field goal to drop them to 7-8 on the season. Two weeks prior they handed Pittsburgh a loss to drop them to 7-6 on the year.

"I think we understand that we have to do," said TE Dalton Kincaid in an appearance on ‘One Bills Live’ this week. "I think it'll be a little more helpful playing at home. Everyone loves playing at home in front of Bills Mafia, and they're awesome. Everyone is a lot more juiced up for it having the fans out there. We do understand it's been playoff football for us the last couple of weeks.

"More than anything it's about what we do and not as much what they do. If we do what we're capable of and do it pretty well everything should take care of itself."

2. A Zappe attack

The Patriots have a new starting quarterback since Buffalo last faced them in New England back in Week 7. Former fourth-round pick, Bailey Zappe, has started each of the last four games and has brought a measure of functionality to the New England offense.

In an appearance on the ‘Bills by the Numbers’ podcast this week, Patriots play-by-play broadcaster, Bob Socci, believes Zappe has instilled some much-needed confidence and energy into New England offense.

"What he's done more than anything is play with a better feel, movement in the pocket and an ability to make plays when the structure of the play breaks down. And there's an energy that he provides that was missing with the offense," said Socci. "Mac Jones was a quarterback who was broken mentally. Turnovers compounding one another week after week in key spots, tight games and in the red zone. He became a quarterback who was afraid to make mistakes and became easily rattled. What Zappe has done more than anything is play with a sense of calm and confidence that has now carried over to his teammates."

In his four starts thus far, Zappe has completed better than 68 percent of his passes for more than 800 yards with six touchdowns against two interceptions and a passer rating of 98.1. He's posted two wins and two losses.

"I think what we're seeing from this particular quarterback is he's taking care of the football," said Bills Assistant head coach/Defensive line coach, Eric Washington of Zappe. "They have an offensive philosophy that has persisted, and this young man is doing a little bit better job of taking care of the football and not giving the defense opportunities to take the ball away. I don't see a lot of variation offensively but I'm sure there are some things with his skillset that may be unique to him. I know one thing. He's much more elusive. He can extend plays. He probably runs a little bit more than what we've seen, so we have to be aware of that and we have to make sure that he can't extend plays."

One peculiar stat concerning Zappe's play is how it deteriorates in the second half of games. In his four starts, Zappe has a passer rating of 111.6 in the first half, good for third best in the NFL. Come the second half, however, it plummets to 62.8, the third-worst rating in the league.

3. Red zone finishers

Coming into Sunday's game, the Bills offense sits atop the league in red zone touchdown efficiency with a success rate of 67.3 percent. Over the last four weeks, Buffalo has cashed in with touchdowns after cracking the red zone on 10 of their last 14 red zone possessions.

Bills rookie TE Dalton Kincaid believes the recent success running the football inside the opponent's 20-yard line has been critical.

"I think we've established the run game," Kincaid said. "That's been pretty evident the last couple of weeks. I think that's opened up a couple of things. Teams have to respect the run. So just kind of having those two dimensions to our offense has been pretty good and Josh can run the ball too. So that's the third dimension."

Allen now has 13 rushing touchdowns on the season making him the third quarterback in NFL history with 13 or more in a single season. With one more rushing touchdown, Allen can tie Cam Newton (14 in 2011) for the second-most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season. Philadelphia's Jalen Hurts set the NFL record with his 15th rushing touchdown last week.

4. Run defeaters

Even though Buffalo's run game has demonstrated an ability to make the Bills offense two-dimensional of late, they're facing a stiff test in the Patriots. New England ranks second in the league against the run allowing less than 85 yards rushing per game (84.8). Even better, the Patriots are tops in the league in yards per carry allowed at a miniscule 3.2 per carry.

"They do such a unique job and have a clear vision of how to utilize each player, regardless of injuries," said Bills offensive coordinator Joe Brady. "Their guys have defined roles. They understand going into a given week what they need to stop, and they do a great job at it. It's as good a defense as we've faced all year. They're going to make you earn every single yard."

After a season-high 266 rushing yards in Week 15 against Dallas, Buffalo managed just 105 against the Chargers, their lowest total since a Week 9 loss at Cincinnati (68).

One hundred rushing yards would seem to be a goal of sorts for the Bills against the Patriots. That's because they're 55-12 when rushing for 100 yards or more since 2018 with Josh Allen as their starting quarterback. When they rush for less than 100, their record over that stretch is 6-18.

5. Diggs resurgence?

Stefon Diggs is far and away Buffalo's leading receiver, but he has not cracked 75 yards receiving over the Bills' last six games and has just a single touchdown over that span. In five of his last six games Diggs has fewer than 50 receiving yards, something that did not happen in any of Buffalo's first nine games this season.

Josh Allen admits he and Diggs have been talking through the lack of opportunity and production between the two of them in the passing game.

"I think just having that open line of communication -- like on the deep shot on the interception last week," said Allen. "If I would have just sat on my feet and just chucked it up to let him run under it, it's a different story right now. We're just trying to win football games at the end of day, no matter how we do it. And obviously we've paid more attention to the run game. But it's Stefon Diggs. We've got to get him the ball, I've got to get him the ball and allow him to make plays for us. And I haven't done a great job of that in the last few games. So, looking forward to getting back on track this week."

This might be a good week for that to come to fruition. Diggs has had a great deal of success against the Patriots in his time with the Bills. In seven games against New England while with the Bills, Diggs has eclipsed 50 receiving yards every time and has seven receiving touchdowns.

"Any given time you get the ball to Stef Diggs, good things happen," said Bills offensive coordinator Joe Brady. "We're just trying to win a football game however it is. If that means he's getting 10 catches, and we win the football game, or he gets two catches, and we win the football game he's going to be the same way. Obviously, he's our best receiver and you want to get him involved because it makes him better and allows us to continue to move the chains. But whatever we have to do to win that football game we're going to do our best to figure that out."

With 118 receiving yards Sunday, Diggs would reach 10,000 career receiving yards, and with one receiving touchdown would mark his third season with nine touchdowns or more setting a new team record.

Scroll to see photos from the Buffalo Bills Week 17 practice as the team prepares to take on the New England Patriots.

Related Content