New England @ Buffalo
Power Rankings: Buffalo 2, New England 6
When New England has the ball:
The Patriots on offense are 9th in DVOA and 10th in EPA/play. Mac Jones had a fantastic rookie season, finishing 10th in PFF passing grades (79.3), completed 67.6% of his passes, and gained 7.3 YPA. It's worth noting that Jones struggled down the stretch, supported by his 59.6 passing grade from week 12 on. As always, we're far more interested in larger samples, but it's possible Jones is burned out a bit transitioning to the longer season. The recent trend is not necessarily predictive, but that doesn't mean it's completely meaningless either. Jones prefers to get rid of the ball quickly, averaging 2.6 seconds to throw on average (9th fastest in the league). He has an aDOT of 8.3 yards, putting him smack dab in the middle at 15th highest in the league. Jones plays behind a fringe top 10 line that doesn't have any weaknesses -- though they could be without LT Isaiah Wynn (ankle), who was injured last week and is questionable this week while missing practices Wednesday and Thursday. The line ranks 11th in ESPN's pass block win rate and 16th in run block win rate. The top receivers by projected targets: Jakobi Meyes, TE Hunter Henry, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor. It's a group of average receivers, all of whom can win individual matchups but none of whom will take over the game. Henry is the preference as they get close to the goal line -- he had the 8th most end zone targets in the NFL with 13, finishing the season with 8 touchdowns. On the ground, Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson will split carries, with both having standout seasons. Harris finished 1st among all running backs in PFF offensive grades while gaining 4.6 YPA (2.75 after contact). Stevenson finished 13th while gaining 4.6 YPA (3.26 after contact). The Patriots were 9th in DVOA throwing the ball and 7th rushing, but are a run first team -- they ranked 27th in situation neutral early-down pass rate. On the defense, the Bills were 1st in both DVOA and EPA/play. The defensive line generated pressure at a rate of 30.8%, best in the league, despite only blitzing 13th most (26%). They also ranked 6th in ESPN's pass rush win rate metric, but were a far worse 16th in run stop win rate. The pass rush primarily comes from DE Jerry Hughes (45 pressures), DT Ed Oliver (40), DE Mario Addison (35), and DE Greg Rousseau (30). DT Harrison Phillips is strong against the run, and LB Matt Milano has played well as a situational blitzer and in run defense. The secondary is led by safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, arguably the strongest safety tandem in all of football. After CB Tre'Davious White (ACL) was injured, the cornerback room was left with Levi Wallace as their top corner, who frankly has no business being labeled as such. Their linebackers have also struggled in coverage this season. Even still, the Bills have shown zero weaknesses covering any part of the field, though they have been worse covering tight ends and running backs (13th in DVOA vs tight ends, 16th vs running backs). They are the best defense in the league against the pass by DVOA, and rank 13th against the run. The Patriots will need to utilize the run and their tight ends, but nothing will be easy for Jones -- particularly in a game that projects to be, meteorologically speaking, fucking freezing.
When Buffalo has the ball:
Buffalo on offense is 4th in both DVOA and EPA/play. Josh Allen finished the season 11th in PFF passing grades (77.5), completed 63.3% of his passes, and gained 6.8 yards per attempt. Allen is an impressive passer, but what he's done on the ground is absurd. He finished the season with 763 rushing yards, 3rd among all QBs (behind Hurts and Jackson). He also forced an insane 35 missed tackles on 71 attempts, essentially forcing a missed tackle every other time he ran the ball. He averaged 3.36 yards per contact after attempt, which finished 12th in the league for all positions (all 11 who finished ahead of him are running backs). The offensive line is mediocre at best, though they're far better at pass protection -- they rank 8th in pass block win rate and 23rd in run block win rate. LT Dion Dawkins was the best player of the bunch -- allowing just 25 pressures in 16 games. Having strong pass protection is necessary for Allen, who prefers to hold onto the ball (averages 2.88 seconds to throw, 8th slowest in the league) and throw it down field (7.0 aDOT is 9th highest). Getting pressure on Allen is far from easy -- he was under pressure 34% of the time this year, 20th highest in the league. Even when you do get pressure, it's a tall task to bring him down -- Allen allowed just 10.6% of his pressures to turn into sacks, lowest in the league. At wide receiver, Stef Diggs is the top dog with slot man Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders, and TE Dawson Knox chipping in. Devin Singletary emerged late in the season as the Bills top back, and he'll handle most of the running back carries. The Bills finished 13th on offense throwing the ball and 9th running, but are the most pass heavy team in the league, finishing 1st in situation neutral early-down pass rate. The matchup should be as even as it gets -- much like the Bills offense, the Patriots defense finished 4th in DVOA and EPA/play. The line finished much more favorably in run stop win rate (5th) than pass rush win rate (23rd), but they still generated pressure at a rate of 25.6%, 11th best in the league. Matthew Judon led the way with 63 pressures, followed by rookie DT Christian Barmore (48), DE Deatrich Wise Jr (27), and LB Kyle Van Noy (37). The secondary is led by CB JC Jackson, S Devin McCoury, and S Adrian Phillips. Quarterbacks had a rating of 47.8 when targeting Jackson, who finished as PFF's 4th highest graded corner. McCourty, Phillips, and Kyle Dugger all will get playing time at safety, making it an impressive group with a ton of depth. They could be without their #2 corner, Jalen Mills, who is currently on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Mills hasn't been a lockdown corner by any stretch of the imagination, but the depth at the position isn't necessarily a strength for New England. The defense finished 3rd in pass DVOA and 9th against the run. They cover effectively both short and long, making it difficult for opposing quarterbacks to find holes. They were the best team in the league by DVOA against tight ends, but finished 29th against running backs as receivers -- the latter will not be an issue against a Bills team that hardly ever uses their running backs in the passing game.