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Top 7 storylines for Bills at Patriots | Week 16

Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips ranks second among NFL defensive tackles with 9.5 sacks.
Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips ranks second among NFL defensive tackles with 9.5 sacks.

With an AFC playoff berth in their back pocket, the Bills take to the road this week for a matchup with the Patriots in New England. The division title is still in play for Buffalo with two regular season games remaining.

Here's a look at some of the top storylines this week as the Bills and the Patriots gear up for Saturday's nationally televised showdown in Foxboro on NFL Network (WKBW in Buffalo) at 4:30 pm:


It will take a lot, but it starts with a Buffalo victory in New England this weekend. If the Bills do that, all they have to do is beat the Jets at home in the regular season finale, and root for Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins to knock off New England in their Week 17 matchup.

That would mean an AFC East title for Buffalo, its first since 1995. Already, this is the latest into a season the AFC East has been up for grabs since 2008. The Patriots have won 10 straight division titles.

The Bills are feeling good about clinching a playoff spot and happy about what lies ahead. But head coach Sean McDermott is emphasizing his "humble and hungry" mindset for his players.

"Listen, we've got a lot of work to do still," McDermott said this week. "This league is funny, once you think you've arrived, you get your butt kicked. With all due respect, honestly, to the work that has been put in, we just have to continue to grind and continue to work and stay with that humble and hungry approach."


Get ready for another defensive slog-fest for the Bills. The Bills have held their opponents to an average of 16 points per game in the last seven games, winning five of them.

And New England is even better. These are the NFL's top two defenses in points allowed this season—New England is giving up 13.6 points per game, the Bills allow 15.8 points per game. They're two of the top three defenses overall—New England is number one, the Bills third (San Francisco is second).

Points will be at a premium.


The Bills and the Patriots defenses feature elite level cornerbacks. New England's Stephon Gilmore, with his two Pro Bowl appearances and Super Bowl trophy, has been regarded as one of the league's best for years now.

Gilmore was Buffalo's first round pick in 2012, and the 29-year old shutdown specialist has spent the last three years with New England.

Five years after Gilmore was drafted by Buffalo, the Bills chose Tre'Davious White in the first round. This year, his third in the league, White has emerged as the next-best corner in the NFL. He and Gilmore each have six interceptions this season, the most in the NFL.

White had two of his picks last Sunday in Pittsburgh. He's got as many interceptions this year as he had in his first two seasons combined.

"He has worked so hard this season and going back to the spring as well, on taking the football away," says Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "It was one of his goals coming into the season, worked extremely hard on it during the preseason and in the spring, but he's carried that over throughout the season. Every single day he's staying after work, doing ball drills, doing a little bit, some extra things that are necessary to develop your ball skills. So, to see the fruits of his labor, it's just great to see."


It's a cottage industry in New England — reading the tea leaves to try to determine if this is Tom Brady's last year as the Patriots quarterback. He's 42-years old, and he's shown signs of frustration with New England's offensive struggles.

So, let's just say it COULD be Buffalo's last crack at Brady. He's made a career out of tormenting the Bills: 31 wins, just three losses. Sixty-nine touchdown passes, only 25 interceptions.

Brady's 2019 stats are slightly down. He's completing 60 percent of his passes (career mark: 64%); his TD percentage rate is 3.8% (career 5.4%).

Nevertheless, the Bills won't be taking him lightly.

"We're talking about a first ballot Hall of Famer now and that hasn't changed, even at this point of his career," Leslie Frazier said this week. "He's a terrific player, arguably the greatest competitor that has ever played the game. We'll have our hands full going up there to try and get a win."


Brady's biggest problem this season may be a lack of viable passing targets. They've had trouble keeping wide receiver Julian Edelman healthy and on the field, and he leads the team with 92 catches.

Last week, Edelman played his second-lowest snap count of the season against the Bengals and only caught two passes. His knee issues and practice participation are worth following this week leading up to the game.

So, New England looks for answers at wide receiver, and first round draft pick N'Keal Harry may have some. He's been making up for lost time all year since a training camp ankle injury kept him out of the Patriots' first half of the season. But he got extensive work for New England last Sunday and caught two passes-- one of them for a touchdown. The Patriots have also used him as a rusher and a decoy in jet-sweep action.

"He's fighting," his quarterback Tom Brady said Sunday. "He's working hard every week to learn and he's a very hard-working guy. It's fun to see him make those plays."


In 25 NFL starts, Bills quarterback Josh Allen has checked a lot of boxes, most notably leading a team into the playoffs.

One big box left unchecked — a win against the Patriots.

Allen is 0-2 against New England. He's completed only 48 percent of his passes against the Patriots defense with one touchdown pass and five interceptions. Four of those picks came in Buffalo's struggle with New England three months ago in Orchard Park, a game that saw Allen leave early with a head injury.


Along with the more important repercussions of a Bills win at Foxboro Saturday, they could also set a franchise record for road wins. The Bills have never gone 7-1 on the road in the regular season.

Last Sunday's win in Pittsburgh gave the team a 6-1 record away from home this year, the first time the team has won six of its first seven road games since 1964 (AFL Championship year). It's only the fourth time the Bills have had six road wins in history (also 1991 and 1993).

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