If the Bills are playoff contenders this year, and they’re in position for that, there will be more big games this season. But for now, in the first quarter of the 2019 campaign, Sunday’s matchup with New England is the biggest of the season thus far.
As we move into the weekend, he’s a look at some of the themes and issues about this game and the NFL weekend:
1. WIN OR LOSE – FOUNDATION IS IN PLACE
Both the Bills and the Patriots have 75 percent of their season remaining to play when the final gun sounds Sunday. So, it’s difficult to put too much emphasis on the outcome of the game.
NFL Network reporter Mike Giardi spent part of the week in Orchard Park, reporting on the Bills. And he likes what he saw.
“The Bills are positioned, the way the AFC looks this year, to be a playoff team,” Giardi told One Bills Live.
And he says regardless of Sunday’s outcome, the Bills have already succeeded in putting a winning foundation in place.
“No matter what happens on Sunday,” Giardi said, “whether they win, whether they lose, whether it’s close or one-sided, what you’re seeing is a strong foundation now. And Sean McDermott, and the way they built the program, is the reason why.”
2. TWO DIFFERENT PATHS
The Bills-Patriots matchup is the only game between two 3-0 teams in the NFL this week. But the two teams have taken dramatically different paths to get to 3-0 this year. The Patriots have dominated while Buffalo has just squeaked by.
New England has beaten its three opponents by a point differential of 89 so far, the best point differential in the league. The Bills have outscored their victims by just 19 points in three games, the worst differential among 3-0 teams.
New England has never trailed in its first three games. The Bills have trailed 36 percent of the time, trailing in each of their three games. In fact, the Bills have come from behind in all three of their games so far, albeit they trailed the Giants for only nine minutes.
3. TIME FOR A SIGNATURE WIN?
He’s 8-6 as a Bills starter, so clearly Josh Allen has demonstrated he can win in Buffalo. But at least one national observer thinks Allen needs a “signature” win, like a victory over the Patriots, to get the national attention he deserves.
NFL Network’s Kyle Brandt, the co-host of ‘Good Morning Football,’ says Allen’s strong play and his propensity for fourth quarter comebacks have not yet captured the imagination of America.
“He’s not getting talked about enough,” Brandt said Tuesday, in an appearance on One Bills Live. “But the thing that gets you talked about is not beating the Bengals at home. It’s signature wins”
“If Josh Allen can pull off the shocker this weekend, his whole life will be changed. He’ll be the star. The first segment of the radio shows Monday will be, ‘Oh my gosh, Josh Allen beat Tom Brady,’” Brandt continued. “That’s what does it. You can run, you have highlights, you can be great with the fans —signature wins are it. He’s gets a chance on Sunday.”
4. THE BAR IS HIGH FOR SECOND-YEAR QUARTERBACKS
Allen is part of the quarterback class of 2018, when five were drafted in the first round. So, he’ll always be compared to Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson and the others in that class.
But this year, he’s also been compared to others and what they did in their second season under center. For instance, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, the league’s new gold-standard at the quarterback spot, a MVP in his second year in 2018.
ESPN Insider Field Yates says that’s a tough standard for Allen and the others to match.
“All of a sudden people are grading the other second year quarterbacks against Patrick Mahomes. That feels somewhat like chasing a ghost to me. I think you’d be much better served grading them to where most quarterbacks are in their age 23 season,” Yates said.
And the ESPN analyst says he sees significant improvement in Allen’s second year.
“Josh Allen has made strides in completion percentage but he’s not perfect yet. It’s trending in the right direction. There are plenty of areas for him to improve, and he would be the first to tell you that – maybe Sean McDermott would be the first to tell you that. Usually, in year one to year two, you have a pretty good feel as to whether a guy is arrow-pointing-up, or arrow-pointing-down. I think it’s pretty clear that Josh Allen is an arrow-pointing-up quarterback.”
5. NO PASS ZONE?
The Bills led the league in pass defense last year, and they’re right near the top again this season. In fact, Buffalo and New England are two of the top three teams in fewest opponent passing yards per attempt so far.
The Patriots give up 5.19 yards per attempt, best in the NFL. The Bills are third, giving up 5.52 yards per attempt. And the Patriots and Bills are two of the four teams in the league that have allowed fewer touchdown passes than they’ve grabbed interceptions this year. New England has allowed zero touchdown passes and their defense has six picks. The Bills have allowed three touchdown passes, and they have four interceptions.
6. SURE TACKLERS
It’s hard to find any superstars on New England’s incredibly dominant defense at this point of the season. The best candidate may be former Bills first rounder Stephon Gilmore, who was named first team All-Pro for the first-time last year.
And maybe the Patriots defense is so good, because they tackle so well.
Pro Football Focus stats show a marked increase in missed tackles over the years throughout the league, the Patriots haven’t followed suit.
Since the current CBA went into effect in 2012, New England has the league’s lowest missed tackle rate: 10.4 percent. League wide over the same period, defenders miss tackles on 12.3 percent of the plays.
This year, the Patriots have a six-percent missed tackle rate, by far the lowest in the league.
7. ANOTHER UNBEATEN MATCHUP
One other NFL game this weekend features a couple of unbeaten teams, an inter-conference game between Kansas City (3-0) and Detroit (2-0-1). The Lions have beaten Kansas City two of the last three times they’ve played.
The winless Dolphins are home at 1 pm Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers. It’s a matchup of a top-five offense (LA) against the league’s worst defense (Miami). The Jets catch a break with an early bye.