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Patriots vs. Bills preview: 3 keys to the game, fun facts, prediction

Ryan Hannable
December 22, 2018 - 11:37 am
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Here the Patriots are in Week 16 and they still haven’t even clinched a playoff berth.

That can change Sunday with a win over the Bills, as not only would they earn a spot in the playoffs, but also would clinch their 10th straight AFC East title. It won’t be easy, as the Bills come to town winners of three of their last five games and look like a completely different team now that rookie Josh Allen is back at quarterback.

The Patriots won the earlier meeting this year in Buffalo, 25-6, but did have a defensive touchdown and it was a slog for most of the contest.

It will also be the Patriots' first game without wide receiver Josh Gordon after he announced Thursday he was stepping away from football and then was later suspended by the NFL for violating the terms of his reinstatement. 

Bills vs. Patriots 
Sunday, December 23, 2018
1:00 p.m., CBS
Patriots -13.5, over/under 44

3 keys to the game

Correct run defense

The Patriots’ run defense has been atrocious the last few weeks. The unit has allowed 7.64 yards per carry over the last three games, which is the worst three-game mark in franchise history and the fourth-worst by any NFL team since the merger. It won’t get any easier this week against the Bills as they come into the game totaling 870 yards the last five games, the second-most in the NFL over that span. A lot of those yards have come from Allen scrambling, which the Patriots have had issues defending all year. Don’t be surprised if defensive tackle Danny Shelton is active after being a healthy scratch the last two weeks.

Red zone offense

This is another area where the Patriots have struggled in recent weeks, which is surprising given the number of talented players that they have. Over the last four weeks, the Patriots are 30th in red zone efficiency (40 percent) and they are also tied for 28th in goal-to-go situations (50 percent). Not only does this need to change this week, but also moving forward as playoff games are won and lost by leaving points on the field. Look for the team to find ways to get Rob Gronkowski the ball more, as he has just two catches on seven targets in the red zone all year.

Force turnovers 

In Buffalo’s five wins this season, it has just one turnover, so it would seem like if the Patriots defense can force a turnover or two, it has a good chance of winning the game. The defense has done a decent job in that regard forcing 22 turnovers on the year, the ninth-most in the league. Another thing is capitalizing on those turnovers, as the Patriots had two last week in Pittsburgh, but weren’t able to do anything with them.

Fun facts

1. Tom Brady has lost only one December home game against an AFC team in which he finishes the contest (26-1).

2. The Patriots have won 37 straight home games against AFC teams when Julian Edelman and Brady both play.

3. When Gronkowski has a touchdown catch in his career during the regular season, the Patriots are 51-6.

4. The Patriots have won 15 straight regular-season games when rushing for more than 100 yards as a team.

5. New England is 8-1 when it scores first this year, but just 1-4 when it doesn’t.

Prediction 

Patriots 20, Bills 13

This is going to be a grind it out kind of game that is likely close the entire way. Sean McDermott has the Bills playing tough and their defense isn’t ranked second overall in the league for nothing. In the end, we like the Patriots to come out on top, but the Bills will make the Patriots earn everything.

Related: Patriots make transaction to replace Josh Gordon on active roster

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