The Buffalo Bills are significantly healthier than the New England Patriots as the division rivals get ready for their high-stakes AFC East showdown.
There sure is a lot on the line this Saturday as the New England Patriots get ready to host the Buffalo Bills in a divisional showdown that could determine the AFC East and a home playoff game in January.
If the Patriots win, they’ll sew up their 11th consecutive division championship. It would also mean they can finish no lower than the No. 3 seed in the AFC, and they could even lock up the No. 2 seed at least and a first-round bye if the Chiefs lose to the Bears on Sunday Night Football this week.
If the Bills win, Buffalo and New England will be deadlocked at 11-4 on the season, with the two teams each having won their game on the road against the other. The Bills would then need to beat the Jets and have the Patriots lose to the Dolphins (at home) in Week 17 to steal the AFC East out from under the defending champions.
While the Pats are certainly favored to win this weekend – they’re currently 6.5-point favorites – it’s actually the Bills who enter this game with all the momentum on their side. Buffalo is fresh off clinching their second trip to the postseason in three seasons after their primetime road victory over the Steelers in Week 15, while the Patriots are still trying to find their groove on offense after a season’s worth of turmoil and inconsistency.
The Bills also have health on their side. According to the final injury report of the week submitted from both teams and posted on the Patriots’ official website, Buffalo has just two players listed with injuries heading into Saturday’s game at Gillette Stadium.
Right tackle Ty Nsekhe has been ruled out for the fifth consecutive game because of an ankle injury. At this point it appears that Buffalo is content to keep rolling with Cody Ford at the right tackle position, and it will be interesting to see what Bills head coach Sean McDermott elects to do if and when Nsekhe is healthy enough to return.
The only other player listed on the report is defensive tackle Corey Liuget, who is questionable for the game with a knee injury. The longtime veteran, formerly of the Chargers, is a backup with the Bills behind starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, so his potential absence isn’t exactly a back-breaker for Buffalo.
Notably, Bills starting quarterback Josh Allen missed the entire fourth quarter of the first game between these two teams after Patriots slot cornerback Jonathan Jones knocked him out with a concussion. Allen is now healthy for this contest – as is running back Devin Singletary, who also missed the Week 4 game up in Buffalo.
It’s the Patriots who look like they’ll be shorthanded against their rivals this weekend. New England has five different players listed on their final injury report of the week, and one of them has already been downgraded to “out” ahead of the tilt.
Coincidentally, that player is Jones, the same guy who knocked Allen out in Week 4. Jones suffered a groin injury last week against the Bengals and missed every single practice this week because of it.
While he’s struggled a bit the past few weeks against opposing slot receivers, Jones is widely considered to be one of the best (and most underrated) slot cornerbacks in the NFL today. His absence from this game is a major blow to the New England defense, especially since the Patriots don’t have any obvious candidates to replace him in the lineup.
Buffalo’s slot receiver is a dangerous one, too: Cole Beasley, the former Dallas Cowboy. Beasley caught seven passes on 13 targets for 75 yards against the Patriots back in late September. With Jones out of the lineup, he could be in line to do even more damage as a receiver to the Pats.
New England will likely match their best corner, Stephon Gilmore, against the Bills’ best receiver, John Brown. Ideally, the Patriots will get Jason McCourty back this week; if they do, they’ll probably move him into the slot and task him with covering Beasley, as he’s been Buffalo’s second-most productive receiver behind Brown this year.
The problem is that McCourty coming back this week is far from a sure thing. He has a groin injury of his own that he’s been trying to recover from, and he’s been limited in practice for the Pats for several weeks now. He also hasn’t played in a game since the Patriots’ Week 11 contest against the Eagles, so even if he is able to go, he could very well be rusty.
McCourty is currently questionable to play this Saturday.
Two of his defensive teammates are also questionable to play this weekend after limited practices this week: linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley (knee) and Jamie Collins (shoulder).
Bentley has been on the report for a while now with the issue, but he’s managed to play through it up to this point at least. He had nine tackle last week against the Bengals.
Collins is a new name on the Patriots’ injury report this week. He wasn’t listed as of Tuesday, but his name popped up with the shoulder problem after Wednesday’s practice. It’s unknown exactly how severe the issue is for Collins, who hasn’t missed a game all season during his second stint with the Patriots.
Offensively there is just one player listed on the injury report for the Patriots, but it’s a big one.
Julian Edelman continues to find himself a regular in the infirmary. He battled a chest injury for much of the early season, and now he’s reportedly dealing with injuries to both his knee and his shoulder.
Edelman was clearly hampered last week up in Cincinnati, catching just two passes for nine yards in his worst showing this season. The concern for the Patriots now isn’t just that Edelman could be limited against the Bills this weekend – it’s that he could be limited from here on out.
The tough-as-nails receiver is reportedly contending with either tendonitis or a partial tear of the tendon in his knee. If those reports are accurate, he could be in danger of missing the postseason entirely if the tendon fully tears during game action.