The Buffalo Bills likely could be forgiven if they find themselves looking past Monday’s opponent and toward the playoffs.
Then again, the AFC East champion Bills (11-3) might be more interested in making a statement against the New England Patriots (6-8) in Foxborough, Mass. After all, the Patriots essentially have owned the division since Bill Belichick brought his hoodie to their sideline, and Buffalo hasn’t swept its AFC East rival since 1999.
“To go against a division opponent and be able to beat them both times, that’s a big deal,” Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White said. “I guess this year’s the year of breaking streaks or whatever. So I hope that’s the case.”
New England’s 11-year reign atop the division effectively came to an end at the hands (and feet) of Josh Allen, who recorded four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) in a 48-19 win in Denver on Saturday. The performance allowed Buffalo to capture its first AFC East title since 1995 and land Allen his fourth AFC Offensive Player of the Week honor of the season.
With Allen at the controls, the Bills boast the NFL’s second-ranked passing offense (278.5 yards per game) and fifth-ranked scoring offense (29.1 points).
Fellow first-time Pro Bowl selection Stefon Diggs has done his fair share in opening up the offense for Allen.
Diggs’ 111 receptions lead the NFL while his career-high 1,314 receiving yards trail only Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins (1,324) and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce (1,318) for most the league. Diggs had 11 catches for 147 yards versus the Broncos.
Diggs was listed as a full participant in Thursday’s practice despite injuring his foot against Denver. The same held true for Allen (knee, ankle) and White (neck), but offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe (groin) did not practice on Thursday.
Although Buffalo enters Monday’s contest with momentum, coach Sean McDermott was quick to pump the brakes should his team entertain the notion of looking past the Patriots.
“It’s the defending AFC East champs that have held that position for multiple, multiple, multiple years,” McDermott said. “It’s one of the greatest — if not the greatest — coach ever to coach our game. They’re going to be prepared, they’re going to be well-coached, and they’ll be ready to go.”
But which quarterback will be ready to go? Belichick hasn’t tipped his hand whether Cam Newton or Jarrett Stidham would be under center, although Newton appeared focused on the Bills on Thursday.
“We have to stay on schedule offensively, not only moving the ball but actually executing even more in the red zone and actually scoring touchdowns,” Newton said. “We can’t just settle for field goals, we have to make sure that we maximize our scoring opportunities.”
Newton was held without a touchdown pass for the eighth time this season in New England’s 22-12 setback to Miami on Sunday. The former NFL MVP found the end zone with his legs in a 24-21 loss at Buffalo on Nov. 1.
The Patriots listed 20 players as limited in Thursday’s practice, including leading rusher Damien Harris (ankle) and special teams ace Matthew Slater (knee). Reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week.
–Field Level Media