Thousands of rowdy, lubed-up, table-smashing Bills Mafia members await the New England Patriots this Sunday as they make their annual visit to Buffalo’s New Era Field.
Here are four things to know about New England’s Week 4 opponent, the Bills, who enter this early-season matchup tied with the Patriots for first place in the AFC East:
1. They’re undefeated
The Bills are off to their first 3-0 start since 2011, which also happens to be the last time they defeated a Tom Brady-led Patriots team. They rallied from 16 points down to beat the New York Jets 17-16 in Week 1, took down the New York Giants 28-14 in Week 2 to bring about the end of the Eli Manning era and got a late touchdown from Frank Gore last Sunday to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals 21-17 after blowing a 14-point second-half lead.
Buffalo’s quality of competition hasn’t been particularly strong thus far — the Giants are 1-2; the Jets and Bengals both are winless — but the same can be said about the Patriots, whose three wins have come against teams that currently are a combined 0-9.
2. Their defense is legit
While it lacks star power, Buffalo’s D has to be considered one of the NFL’s very best.
The Bills have allowed the fifth-fewest yards (299.7 per game) and points (15.7) through three weeks, trailing only the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and NFL-leading Patriots in the latter. They also boast the sixth-best unit by Football Outsiders’ DVOA after finishing second in that metric last season.
“This is certainly one of the best defenses in the league, and it has been for a while,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Tuesday. “… They don’t make mistakes, they challenge you for every yard and they’re not going to give it up in one play.”
Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer form one of the league’s top safety duos — they’re currently the seventh- and eighth-highest-graded players at their position by Pro Football Focus — and Tre’Davious White is a top-flight cornerback. White pulled in two interceptions against the Bengals, including one in the red zone in the final minute that iced the game.
Losing emerging second-year defensive tackle Harrison Phillips to a torn ACL hurts — he graded out as PFF’s 11th-best interior defender so far this season — but the Bills have enough talent at all three levels to keep their offense in the game.
It is worth noting, though, that the Bengals were able to move the ball with relative ease during their second-half comeback last week. Cincinnati averaged 7.1 yards per play over its three scoring drives, including completions of 14, 15, 18, 26 and 33 yards.
The Patriots gashed the Bills for 273 rushing yards when these teams met last December, but New England has struggled to run the ball effectively this season and will be without fullback James Develin, who was placed on injured reserve Monday.
3. Josh Allen is on the rise
Allen’s 64.1 percent completion rate this season only is good for 17th among NFL quarterbacks, but it’s a whole heck of a lot better than the dismal 52.8 mark he posted as a rookie in 2018. Last year’s seventh overall draft pick has looked like a smarter, more seasoned signal-caller early in his second pro campaign, and his ability to make plays with his legs will test a Patriots defense that spent the last two weeks devouring the comparatively immobile Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen and Luke Falk.
“He’s a very good player,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday. “He has a lot of physical talent, but you can see he’s catching up with the game in terms of his control at the line of scrimmage, recognizing defenses, reading coverages, making decisions.
“I think all of that has certainly improved over the last year, as it does with most all players, especially ones at that position. But he’s a very talented player, and he continues to get better. … He’ll be a very challenging player for us to defend this week.”
Allen has been the league’s second-most prolific rushing QB this season, trailing only Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson in both carries (26) and yards (105). Three of the Bills’ final five plays on their winning drive last week were Allen runs of 6, 8 and 7 yards, including a remarkable backfield escape that can be seen at the 4:23 mark of this video:
That’s not to say Allen’s game now is flawless. It’s not. The young QB still has a penchant for making erratic and unwise throws while under heavy pressure. He did this twice against the Bengals, receiving an intentional grounding penalty for one pass and throwing an interception on the other. Cincinnati turned that pick into seven points to kick-start their ill-fated comeback.
4. Their offense looks a whole lot different
The Bills overhauled their crop of offensive weapons this past offseason, replacing the likes of LeSean McCoy and Kelvin Benjamin with smaller, quicker wideouts John Brown and Cole Beasley and ageless running back Frank Gore.
The lion’s share of Allen’s completions this season have gone to Brown or Beasley (35 of 66, to be exact), and Gore continues to be a rugged and reliable ball-carrier even at age 36. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry against the Bengals, gaining 8-plus yards on six of his 14 rushing attempts.
Buffalo also has received contributions from two promising third-round draft picks: running back Devin Singletary and tight end Dawson Knox. Singletary averaged a gaudy 12.7 yards per carry in Weeks 1 and 2 before missing the Cincinnati game with a hamstring injury. Knox caught a touchdown pass last week and added an eye-popping 49-yard catch-and-run that helped set up Gore’s game-winning score.
The O-line is all-new, too. Left tackle Dion Dawkins is the lone holdover from 2018, with veteran center Mitch Morse and rookie right tackle Cody Ford headlining a long list of offseason additions up front.