Set up your folding tables and pack your foreign objects. The New England Patriots are headed to Buffalo this weekend.
Here’s what to watch for when the Patriots and Bills square off in a Week 4 battle of AFC East unbeatens:
Time: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Location: New Era Field, Orchard Park, N.Y.
The 3-0 Patriots easily handled the New York Jets 30-14 at Gillette Stadium, with two late Jets touchdowns — one on a muffed punt and another on a pick-six — making the final score a bit more respectable for the visitors. New England’s top-ranked defense still has not allowed a touchdown since the AFC Championship Game and has surrendered just three total points this season.
The Bills blew a 14-point lead at home against the Cincinnati Bengals but rallied to win 21-17 on a Frank Gore touchdown in the final minutes, boosting their record to 3-0 for the first time since 2011.
The Patriots aren’t double-digit favorites this week like they were against the Jets and Miami Dolphins, but oddsmakers still like their chances. The Pats currently are favored by seven points.
Quarterback Tom Brady is 30-2 in his career against the Bills — not including the 2014 regular-season finale, in which he took the second half off with New England’s postseason positioning secure — and has not lost to them since 2011.
Brady’s numbers aren’t great against the Sean McDermott’s Buffalo teams, though. In four meetings since McDermott took over as head coach in 2017, Brady has three touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer rating of 82.5, and the Patriots have scored more than 25 points just once.
The most remarkable stat, though, is this: Since 2001, Brady has won more games in Buffalo (15) than any Bills quarterback. Drew Bledsoe and Tyrod Taylor are tied for second on that list with 14 wins apiece.
Seven Patriots players are listed as questionable for this game, including several notable names:
WR Julian Edelman (chest)
LB Dont’a Hightower (shoulder)
RB Rex Burkhead (foot)
DE Michael Bennett (shoulder)
OT Marshall Newhouse (illness)
TE Matt LaCosse (ankle)
S Nate Ebner (groin)
New England had perfect attendance at practice Friday, with Newhouse, the team’s starting left tackle, returning after sitting out Thursday’s session.
The Bills have ruled out tight end Tyler Kroft and linebacker Corey Thompson and listed seven players as questionable:
RB Devin Singletary
WR Robert Foster
WR Isaiah McKenzie
LB Maurice Alexander
OL Jon Feliciano
OL Spencer Long
CB Taron Jones
Singletary, the Bills’ promising third-round draft pick, is the most notable name on that list. He averaged 12.7 yards per carry on 10 attempts over Buffalo’s first two games before sitting out the Bengals game with a hamstring issue.
Foster was excellent down the stretch in 2018 but has yet to catch a pass this season. Feliciano is Buffalo’s starting right guard.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sony Michel, Patriots running back
This season has been a bit of a slog for Michel, who’s averaging just 2.4 yards per carry and ranks last in Pro Football Focus’s elusiveness rating. Some of the blame for this can be placed on the men in front of him — New England’s run-blocking was especially suspect against the Jets — but Michel hasn’t done much to create yards on his own, either. And now he’ll be asked to do so without the help of Develin, his reliable battering ram.
Can Michel find his footing against a Bills defense that, while ranked near the top of the league in most categories, hasn’t been great against the run (19th in yards allowed per carry, 21st in Football Outsiders’ run defense DVOA)? If he can’t, the Patriots could look to shift more of the rushing burden to James White and Rex Burkhead, both of whom are far more versatile.
Josh Allen, Bills quarterback
Allen’s accuracy has improved by leaps and bounds this season, thanks in large part to the steady dose of quick, short passes coordinator Brian Daboll has dialed up for him. The 2018 first-rounder also is the first rushing-threat QB the Patriots will face this season — he ranks second in carries and yards behind Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson — after teeing off on the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen and Luke Falk.
Allen’s game still has flaws, however, most notably his tendency to make panicky, ill-advised throws while under heavy pressure. He made two of these against the Bengals, with one drawing an intentional grounding penalty and the other resulting in a momentum-shifting interception. Mistakes like these against a savvy, opportunistic defense like the Patriots’ can cripple a team.
Jamie Collins, Patriots linebacker
What more can we say about Collins at this point? He’s playing the best football of his career here in his second stint with the Patriots. Pass rush? 2 1/2 sacks. Pass coverage? Two interceptions, including a pick-six, plus an additional pass breakup. Run defense? Six of his tackles have resulted in no gain or a loss of yardage.
Collins is PFF’s highest-graded linebacker both overall and against the run, and he has been vital to New England’s defensive dominance thus far.
Ed Oliver, Bills defensive tackle
The Bills lost one promising D-tackle when Harrison Phillips landed on IR this week but they have another in Oliver, who was viewed as one of the biggest steals of the 2019 NFL Draft, where Buffalo snatched him up at No. 9 overall. Small for his position at 6-foot-1, 287 pounds but ultra-quick, the Houston product ranks 17th in pass-rush productivity on PFF among interior defenders with 50-plus pass-rush snaps. He’ll be a handful for center Ted Karras and guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason.
Of that group, Mason has been the least effective pass protection this season, allowing 10 total pressures (tied for fifth-most among guards) through three games, per PFF. Thuney and Karras have surrendered two and three pressures, respectively, though the latter was beaten for a sack last week.
Jonathan Jones, Patriots cornerback/safety
Stephon Gilmore might be the best cornerback in all of football, but Jones is off to an excellent start to the season, as well. He’s PFF’s top-graded corner entering Week 4 — closely followed by Jason McCourty at No. 2 and Gilmore at No. 9 — and also has played a significant number of snaps at safety, a position he debuted at in Super Bowl LIII. Jones still spends the bulk of his time in the slot, though, meaning he’ll likely see a lot of Cole Beasley on Sunday.
Beasley, who said he considered signing with the Patriots this past spring before choosing Buffalo, has been Allen’s version of Edelman this season, catching 17 passes on 23 targets for 171 yards.