NFL

AUTHOR: Star Sports Content

STAR NFL PREVIEW Sun: New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills

Before we set the scene for this contest it would be remiss of me not to mention the scenario that played out last Monday night when all of the Bills, players, staff, and supporters must have been stunned by sight of their young safety Damar Hamlin getting resuscitated on the field.

It was one of the most shocking sights I’ve seen in all my years watching the NFL and it’s been the best news of the week that Hamlin has continued to progress and even addressed his teammates via Zoom on Friday. Let’s hope his progression continues in the coming days and weeks. 

Against that backdrop football appeared to be secondary but the situation is that with the Bills/Bengals game cancelled we were left with a situation whereby two teams would only be playing 16 games and playoff positions and homefield advantage in the AFC could be affected. I won’t go into those outcomes now but needless to say both of these teams still have plenty to play for. 

The Bills can still earn the No1 seed within the AFC although that would depend on the Chiefs losing their game with the Raiders on Saturday evening (Update – the Chiefs won 31-13) but they must win to maintain their current position as the No2 seed within the Conference. For the Patriots life is also fairly simple win and they are in the playoffs, lose and they are depending on other teams to give them a second chance. A defeat and they need this set of results, defeats for the Dolphins and Steelers and a Jaguars win in the late Saturday night game (Update the Jaguars won 20-16).

The Bills dominated the teams meeting earlier this season, almost doubling the Patriots time of possession, and holding New England to just 60 rushing yards. The Bills could match the franchise record for most wins in a season (13), done three times previously in 1990, 1991 and 2020.

Of course, for the Bills there is the emotional angle to consider in the aftermath of Hamlin’s on field collapse on Monday. There was an insight as to how the Bills are coping when Bills QB Josh Allen didn’t blink when responding “I do” when questioned on whether the Bills believe they’re physically and emotionally ready to play.

Looking at the Bills offence Allen was dealing with ankle and elbow injuries before coming off the injury report on Thursday and he’ll have all his supporting cast fit and ready to go. It’s been no coincidence that the Bills have outscored the Patriots 106-48 over the last three meetings including a big 47-17 win by the Bills in Buffalo last January. Allen as usual will be dangerous on the ground and through the air with Stefon Diggs likely to be his main target although the Bills do need to get Diggs going with the playoffs in mind. Diggs has not had a 100-yard receiving game since Week 10 against the Vikings when he had 128 yards receiving. 

Last week New England managed a 23-21 win over the Dolphins which kept their playoff hopes alive, however this week they face a Buffalo team and defence that is a step up in class from the one they faced last week. One that will also have their starting QB under centre as opposed to  the backups they played against last week. The Patriots defence (the strongest part of their team) did what they had to do last week and so did the offence but it was hardly a dynamic performance and one that will have to perform a whole lot better this week if they are to win again. 

If they are to win this week then the Patriots must get their ground game functioning which has over the past few weeks been carried by Rhamondre Stevenson although he has complained of fatigue and the return of Damien Harris last week will have been a welcome site for New England. Patriots QB Mac Jones is one of the shorter passers in football and the offence managed just one play of 20-plus yards in the last meeting, in which Jones finished with 5.4 yards per attempt. New England running backs have accounted for 27% of the team’s receptions this season, with Stevenson catching 64 of his 83 targets. Stevenson has just eight catches over his last four games but still saw the majority of the passing downs last week with Harris involved. 

I can see Stevenson being the passing down back with Harris being used as the main back on the ground although that could be tough going against a Bills run defence that ranks 13th in the NFL in average yards allowed per carry (4.3). This is also a New England offence that ranks 17th in scoring, 26th on third-down conversions, and dead last in red-zone scoring percentage. In the last meeting, in Week 13, New England finished 3-for-12 on third downs, ran just 51 plays for 242 yards, and failed to score on its only red-zone trip. 

This is a tough game to handicap given the circumstances surrounding the game although it’s true that both sides have plenty to play for. The big question is can the Patriots score on offence as they continue to struggle on key down situations and in the red zone, and I think their record and form are built on wins over poor opposing quarterbacks and whatever the situation you can’t accuse the Bills on that score.

ANDY RICHMOND


ANDY RICHMOND is a lifelong punter and sports enthusiast who now writes extensively on horse racing and the NFL. His CV includes long spells on Timeform Radio and Racing UK having previously held several positions at the then-fledgling Betfair Exchange where he worked for six years. He has a particular love for the statistical and analytical side of sports which fits in well with the NFL. He writes all the NFL content on Paul Jones subscription service as well as having his own betting advisory service.


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