1. Do the (almost) impossible – force Tom Brady to turn it over. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady has thrown just three interceptions on 370 pass attempts this season, giving the New England Patriots an interception rate of 0.81 percent – the best in the NFL. One of those interceptions came in Week 10 against the Giants. At the very least, Brady showed a human side against New York. He’ll also have to adjust to playing without No. 1 receiver Julian Edelman. The turnover battle is something the Bills have to try and win. In New England’s 40-32 victory in Week Two, the Patriots recorded three interceptions of Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Taylor, it should be noted, has thrown just one interception in the five games.
2. Josh McDaniels expected to be a hot commodity. With several head-coaching jobs expected to open up after the season, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels should have his pick of the litter. The only question is, will any of them be enticing enough to leave? McDaniels is in the perfect position, getting to work with Brady. “There’s a great chemistry between us,” Brady said of McDaniels in a recent interview with Boston radio station WEEI. It’s easy to point to Brady – arguably the best quarterback of all time – as the driving force behind the Patriots’ offense, but McDaniels should get some credit. New England has used nine starting lineups on offense this year. Only Pittsburgh and New Orleans, with 10 each, have used more.
3. Move the chains on third down. Lost in Brady’s greatness is the underrated season the Patriots are turning in on defense. New England ranks fourth in points allowed per game, at 18.8 – impressive considering they are frequently playing with a big lead, when it’s natural to relax a bit. One area where New England has struggled defensively, however, is on third downs. The Patriots are allowing conversions on 41.9 percent of third downs, which ranks 25th in the NFL. Conversely, the Bills’ offense is converting 36.4 percent of third downs.
4. Sammy Watkins has a chance to shine. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is known for taking away an offense’s No. 1 option. That means it could be a long night for Bills running back LeSean McCoy. If that’s the case, the Bills need to continue to find ways to make sure Sammy Watkins is heavily involved. The Patriots have struggled against No. 1 receivers, ranking 23rd in the NFL, according to analytics website Football Outsiders. Watkins will likely be matched up against Malcolm Butler. In Week Two, Watkins was targeted eight times and caught six passes for 60 yards and a touchdown against New England. Those numbers should be considered a starting point Monday.
5. Keep cool under the bright lights. Bills coach Rex Ryan called his team’s performance against the Patriots in Week Two “embarrassing.” That’s the perfect word for 14 penalties, including one against the coach himself. It was clear back in September the Bills were not ready to handle the emotions that come with playing the defending Super Bowl champions. That must change Monday.
Outlook: The Bills’ defense almost has to be better the second time around against Brady. Even if that’s the case, though, the Patriots are still operating at such a high level in all three phases that it’s hard to like the Bills’ chances. New England’s home dominance is too much to ask the Bills to overcome.
Prediction: Patriots 30, Bills 16