The 3-0 Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots face off on Sunday at 6pm, exclusively live on Sky Sports Action and Main Event. Can the Bills ride their hot start to slow down the defending Super Bowl champions?
We may only be three games in, and New England’s opponents may have combined for a total of zero wins on the season, but the Patriots look scary.
The short-lived drama surrounding Antonio Brown – who signed for the Pats, scored a touchdown on his debut, and was subsequently released – does not seem to have affected Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and company as they have breezed to three straight victories.
33-3 against Pittsburgh. 43-0 in Miami. 30-14 over the New York Jets. New England’s plus-89 point differential is 45 better than the second-best team (Dallas Cowboys, plus-53) and a full 70 above Sunday’s opponents Buffalo.
The attack ranks fifth in yards per game (408.3) and second in points (35.3).
However, it is this defensive unit that has been off the charts. They boast the league’s best total defense (199 yards per game allowed), passing defense (162.3), rushing defense (36.7) and scoring D (5.7 points per game).
They have not allowed a defensive touchdown all season, with both scores by opponents coming through a fluffed punt return on special teams and a pick-six thrown by back-up QB Jarrett Stidham.
Consider this: their 199 total yards per game allowed are less than half of the number allowed by eight other teams. 26 teams have averaged over 17 points allowed, while the Pats have given up 17 in total.
They are scary good.
5:06 Watch highlights of New England’s dominant win over Pittsburgh in Week One
Brady has been his unflappable self, finding anyone and everyone in an offense that loves to spread the ball around. He is a clean 72 of 106 (67.9 per cent) for 911 yards with seven touchdowns and no picks.
Four different players have over 100 receiving yards (Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, Josh Gordon and Rex Burkhead) while seven have found the end zone (those four plus Sony Michel, James White and Brown). ‘Spread the wealth’ remains the mantra for Belichick’s offense.
How can the Bills win?
So, after all that, why should the Bills believe? Unfortunately, they do not have history on their side. In his 20-year career, Brady is 30-3 against Buffalo – the most by any quarterback against a single opponent in the Super Bowl era.
His 15 wins at New Era Field (where Sunday’s game takes place) are more than any quarterback, even including the Bills’ highest-winning QBs (Drew Bledsoe – 14, Tyrod Taylor – 13 and Ryan Fitzpatrick – 13).
However, it will be the first time Brady has faced second-year Bills QB Josh Allen, who has shown tremendous improvement since being drafted with the seventh overall NFL Draft pick before last season.
His numbers (64.1 completion percentage, 250 passing yards per game and an 83.4 passer rating) are up on last year, and his 26 rushing attempts for 105 yards and two TDs show the added element Brady does not bring to his O – the elusive scrambling ability.
Around him, a whole group of new offensive weapons (including John Brown, Cole Beasley, Frank Gore, Devin Singletary and Dawson Knox) have immediately contributed. Brown leads the team in receiving yards, Gore leads in rushing, but, ultimately, the game will be in the hands of Allen.
The Patriots force their opponents into mistakes, and Allen is still making those mistakes he made as a rookie. He has thrown three interceptions and fumbled four times, and that will not cut it against New England.
How about the Bills’ defense?
They rank in the top five in many major categories: points per game allowed (15.7, fifth), yards per game allowed (299.7, fifth), takeaways (seven, second) and opponent passer rating (70.2, fourth). They will need their best on Sunday, and to avoid their previous performances against Brady under head coach Sean McDermott.