Two weeks ago, the New England Patriots faced the NFL’s best offense in a primetime matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.
On Monday night, they’ll see the league’s worst in the form of the 2-5 Buffalo Bills, who are averaging fewer points per game this season (11.3) than any other team.
How bad have things been for Buffalo’s offense? They’ve failed to score a touchdown in three of their seven games and have surpassed 20 points just once, while their quarterbacks collectively have posted the worst stats in the NFL.
Here’s what to watch for as the 5-2 Patriots make their annual trip to western New York:
Time: Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Location: New Era Field, Buffalo
The Patriots have dominated the Bills throughout quarterback Tom Brady’s tenure, winning 28 of Brady’s 31 career starts against their AFC East rivals. Vegas fully expects that trend to continue, as the Pats currently are pegged as massive 13 1/2-point favorites in this matchup.
Buffalo, which defeated a Jacoby Brissett-led New England squad in 2016, hasn’t won a game Brady started and finished since 2011. The Patriots easily took both meetings last season, winning 23-3 in Buffalo in Week 13 and 37-16 at Gillette Stadium three weeks later.
Running back Sony Michel (knee), offensive tackle Marcus Cannon (concussion), tight end Jacob Hollister (hamstring), cornerback Eric Rowe (groin), offensive lineman Brian Schwenke (foot) and defensive end Geneo Grissom (ankle) all have been ruled out for New England.
Six other Patriots players are listed as questionable: star tight end Rob Gronkowski (ankle/back), top linebacker Dont’a Hightower (knee), starting left tackle Trent Brown (ankle), wide receiver Josh Gordon (hamstring) and defensive ends Deatrich Wise (ankle/knee) and John Simon (shoulder).
The Bills will be without quarterback Josh Allen (right elbow), running back Taiwan Jones (neck) and defensive end Trent Murphy (knee). Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy cleared concussion protocol Saturday and is expected to play for Buffalo.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots tight end
Rarely have the Bills been able to slow down Gronkowski, who takes immense pleasure in beating up on his hometown team. The Williamsville, N.Y., native has more catches (66), receiving yards (1,074) and touchdowns (12) against Buffalo than against any other team. He’s not guaranteed to play after missing last week’s game and being limited in practice, but he seemed to be trending toward a return to action this week.
James White, Patriots running back
With Michel unavailable Monday, expect another heavy workload for White, who set a career high with 11 carries against Chicago to go along with eight catches on 10 targets for 57 yards and two touchdowns. White and Kenjon Barner currently are the only healthy running backs on the Patriots’ roster, though they still could promote Kenneth Farrow from the practice squad if they feel the need for some extra depth.
J.C. Jackson, Patriots cornerback
After playing just 29 defensive snaps over the first six weeks of the season, Jackson was on the field for 31 verus Chicago, rotating with veteran Jason McCourty for much of that game. The undrafted rookie committed three penalties — upping his season total to a team-high six — but redeemed himself by snaring a highlight-reel interception late in the third quarter. The Maryland product will need to clean up his play if he hopes to take on an even larger role in the coming weeks, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him pull down another pick against a Bills team that leads the NFL in interceptions thrown this season (12).
LeSean McCoy, Bills running back
Despite his underwhelming start (63 carries, 244 rushing yards, zero touchdowns in six games), McCoy easily is the Bills’ best offensive weapon. He surpassed 100 yards from scrimmage in both of these teams’ meetings in 2017, averaging 6.2 yards per carry in Buffalo’s 23-3 home loss to New England last December. He was knocked out of last week’s game with a concussion but should be good to Monday night.
Derek Anderson, Bills quarterback
Anderson hadn’t started a game since 2016 before the Bills signed him off the street earlier this month and gave him the nod over the woeful Nathan Peterman last week. The 35-year-old, who will be at the helm again Monday night, couldn’t resurrect Buffalo’s punchless passing game in Week 7, throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble in a 37-5 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Bills quarterbacks this season rank dead last in the NFL in nearly every passing category.
Tre’Davious White, Bills cornerback
White was one of the NFL’s top rookie cornerbacks last season, though most Patriots fans likely remember him as the recipient of the cheap shot that got Gronkowski suspended for a game. Head coach Bill Belichick said this week White typically shadows the opponent’s No. 1 receiver, so it’ll be interesting to see what his assignment is Monday night. Josh Gordon, perhaps?
Thumbnail photo via Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports Images