The Buffalo Bills are coming off a long weekend after Thursday's Thanksgiving win. The team had a few days off to get healthy and relax. Now all eyes are on Monday night.
Week 13 presents a game with huge implications for the division and the playoffs so here are five storylines to follow for the NFL"s biggest game in Week 13.
1. Playing for 1st place in the AFC East
Monday night marks a battle for first place in the AFC East. The Patriots currently lead the division (8-4) and the Bills are in second place (7-4). With a win, the Bills will take the lead and stay remain undefeated in the division. With a loss, the Patriots will gain a two-game lead over the Bills in the AFC East.
Unlike the Bills, the Patriots haven't won every game against division teams this season. They are 2-1 and lost to the Dolphins 17 to 16 in Week 1. They swept the Jets and won't see Miami again until Week 18. New England also hasn't had their bye week yet and will get that in Week 14.The division could come down to how the Bills perform against the Patriots on Monday and in Week 16.
Buffalo swept the division last year, has won nine straight against AFC East teams and has a chance to tie the team record of 10 straight wins against the division with a win on Monday.
Regardless of the race to first place, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said games like this are always going to matter.
"It's a huge challenge," Belichick said to media on Monday. "We know that. When the schedule comes out it's always going to be tough in New York, Miami, Buffalo. Division games on the road are always challenging."
2. The top 2 defenses
Implications aside, this game should be a great one to watch because it features two teams who rank side-by-side in several statistics, especially on defense.
This could be a low scoring affair because New England allows the fewest points a game (15.83) and the Bills are right next to them in second place (16.55). The Patriots have won the last six games and over that span they've allowed only 10.5 points per game. Over the last six games, the Bills are 3-3 and have allowed 19.7 points per game.
These two teams are loaded with talent in their secondaries, and that translates to taking the ball away at a high rate. The Patriots have the most interceptions (19) in the NFL and the Bills have the second most (16). They are tied with 25 takeaways each, which is the second-best in the league. New England cornerback J.C. Jackson has the second-most interceptions (7) and Bills safety Jordan Poyer ties for the third-most (5) in the NFL.
The Bills and the Patriots also make it hard for quarterbacks to have a good day on the stat sheet. They rank first and second in passer rating allowed. Buffalo is allowing quarterbacks to post a 62.8 passer rating and New England is allowing a 70.6 rating.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott knows the Patriots defense limits offenses in a lot of ways.
"They're very smart," McDermott said. "They've got smart players. I think they can do a lot because of it. They can profile different defenses and game plan different defenses every week because of that. They've got a lot of guys back that had maybe left and now have returned. I think that has helped them as well from a continuity standpoint."
3. What will the Bills do without Tre'Davious White?
One of the Bills most important players to the team on and off the field, Tre'Davious White, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Thursday's game against the Saints. White had an MRI on Friday morning that determined the severity of the injury.
White has 41 total tackles, 0.5 sack, one interception, six passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 11 games played this season.
The All-Pro cornerback's play has been a cornerstone of the defense since coming into the league in 2017 and has started in 72 of 72 games. With White unable to play for the rest of the season, it's a next man up mentality in the cornerbacks room and defensive coordinator is looking for second-year cornerback Dane Jackson to step in in White's absence.
"We obviously believe in Dane," Frazier shared. "He competed in training camp for a starting job. So we have confidence in him. But we do have to be mindful of the fact that Tre'Davious is Pro Bowl corner. So we'll be conscious of the fact that Dane is replacing Tre'Davious, and we'll do the things that are necessary to help him and really help our defense."
Jackson has played in 16 games and recorded 25 tackles, one interception, five passes defensed and one fumble recovery since the 2020 season.
4. Two different offenses
The Bills and Patriots move the ball in two different ways on offense, which could make for an interesting game with how points are scored. Buffalo is known for its passing game, while New England is known for its prolific run game.
The Patriots have the 12th-best rushing offense averaging 115.3 rushing yards per game. The Bills rank one place higher in rushing yards per game but over the last six games, New England has taken off in that category.
Since Week 7, the Patriots are averaging 144 rushing yards per game (5th) and have 31 rushes of at least 10 yards (2nd). Running back Damien Harris has been doing the damage for New England in the run game as he has totaled 643 rushing yards (13th) and has eight rushing touchdowns (tied for 5th).
The Bills have the seventh-best passing offense averaging 271 passing yards per game. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs leads the team in receiving yards with 847 yards (9th) and seven touchdown receptions (tied for 7th) this season.
The two teams rank next to each other in point differential with the Patriots being first in the NFL at +146 and the Bills being second at +144. They are also within less than two points of each other in terms of the points they average per game—Buffalo is averaging 29.64 points per game (2nd) and New England is averaging 28 points per game (7th). Over the last six games, the Patriots have been averaging 35.17 points per game (1st).
While both teams will play against one of the best defenses in the NFL, they each have very efficient offenses. The Patriots score on 49.6% (1st) of their drives and the Bills score on 47.5% (2nd) of their drives. Sean McDermott calls Patriots quarterback Mac Jones a talented young player.
"Mac is off to a phenomenal start and he's as good as advertised," McDermott said. "There's a lot of talk out there about him and he does a great job executing their offense. So it'll be a big challenge for us."
5. MNF in Buffalo
Monday Night Football in Buffalo in December for first place in the AFC East.
Do I need to say more?
There's also a chance of snow in the forecast with a low of 27 degrees. As Bills legend Steve Tasker would say, 'It might be chilly.'
This all has the making for an epic game. It's a big stage for Buffalo and Bills Mafia will certainly show out. The Bills haven't played in a primetime game at home with a full stadium since 2018.
Let that sink in. It's been a while.
The last time that happened was in Week 8 when Buffalo lost to New England 25-6 on Monday Night Football.
The Bills can set the record straight with a win on Monday. So just how big is this game?
The last time Buffalo and New England were battling for first place was in 2019 when the Bills were one game behind the Patriots. The two met in Week 16, where the Bills were hoping to share the division lead, but lost to the Patriots 24-17. The same thing happened in 2002 when New England was tied for first with Miami and the Bills were in second place. The Bills had the opportunity to share first place in Week 14 but dropped the game 27-17.
So the odds haven't been in Buffalo's favor in recent history but that doesn't mean it can't change come Monday. Plus, we've got a quarterback who could set the record for most touchdown passes in his first four games on Monday Night Football. Josh Allen has 11 passing touchdowns in his first three starts on Monday night and needs three more to tie Dan Marino (14) for the most in a quarterback's first four starts.
"We have a lot of respect for Buffalo and what they've accomplished, what they are, how they play," Belichick said. "We're going to have to play our best, we know that and that's what we're going to prepare to do."