Things can change quickly in the NFL, and they certainly did last week as a Patriots loss coupled with wins by the Jets and Bengals now have the Patriots last in the AFC East and just outside of the AFC playoffs. The good news is there are still six games left in the regular season for the Patriots to make up the one game difference and that includes a home matchup with the Bengals on Christmas Eve. The bad news is they have a tough schedule down the stretch and need to go at least 4-2 to give them a shot at the playoffs. The first of those games comes Thursday night as the Patriots play the Bills for the first time this season and the first time since getting smoked in the playoffs.
The Bills are 8-3 coming off of a Thanksgiving day win over the Detroit Lions and are still in reach of the top spot in the AFC. Here are the key matchups to watch for Thursday night.
Key matchups for the Patriots in week thirteen
Patriots pass rush vs. Josh Allen
If you know who the Bills punter was last year, you are either a Bills fan or the guy’s family because Patriots fans did not see him very much. In the last two matchups, the Bills punted exactly zero times. A big reason for that was the play of Bills quarterback Josh Allen who was able to carve up the Patriots defense through the air and on the ground. Between the week 16 matchup and the Wild Card game, Allen went 51/72 (70.8%) for 622 yards, five touchdowns, zero interceptions and zero sacks. When the Patriots were able to generate a pass rush, they often lost contain and Allen ran 18 times for 130 yards. During his press conference, Patriots pass rusher Matthew Judon explained how the team would need to be disciplined in their pursuit of Allen.
"“All four of us, whoever’s rushing, just have to work together. We have to work together up front, try to keep him in front of us, force him to be a passer. He’s a very dangerous passer but I think we can stand with that instead of him running all over us. We just have to be disciplined in our rush lanes and try not to just run past him and keep him in front of us.”"
The Patriots focused on getting younger and faster on defense this year in part because of the way in which the Bills ran through them last year. They need to be able to put pressure on Allen but also keep contain, like Judon said. Bills tackle Dion Dawkins left their game last week with an injury and did not participate in practice on Monday, so that is also something to keep an eye on.