When the Bills run: With rookie Devin Singletary returning to practice on a limited basis Thursday, there is some added intrigue here. The Bills held up just fine without Singletary in Week 3, rushing for 175 yards against the Bengals, but it will be a much bigger challenge against New England. Even if Singletary plays, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Bills closely monitor his carries. Frank Gore enters the game just 88 yards shy of 15,000 for his career. Just three players in NFL history have surpassed that amount. It hasn’t been easy for the veteran – 55% of his carries this season have come when the defense has at least eight players in the box. EDGE: Patriots.
When the Bills pass: Josh Allen has to do a better job of getting the ball out of his hands. On average, Allen has needed 2.94 seconds to throw, which is the fifth most in the NFL, according to the league’s Next Gen stats. The problem is, Allen’s intended target is 9.1 yards from the line of scrimmage, which ranks 14th. He’s also making aggressive throws – defined as those with a defender within 1 yard of the intended target – just 11.7% of the time, which ranks 33rd among 37 qualifying quarterbacks. If the routes are shorter and the intended receivers have adequate separation, the conclusion has to be that Allen needs to get the ball out quicker. EDGE: Patriots.
When the Patriots run: It’s been a slow start for second-year veteran Sony Michel, a first-round draft pick in 2018. Michel has just 108 yards on 45 carries through three weeks, an average of just 2.4 yards per carry. He has reached the end zone twice, which has kept his fantasy owners somewhat satisfied, but overall it’s fair to say he’s struggled. Rex Burkhead leads New England with 112 rushing yards on 24 carries. Fullback James Develin was placed on injured reserve this week with a neck injury. He had played about a quarter of the offensive snaps. The Bills’ run defense will be tested without defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, the team's highest-graded run defender, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus. He’s out for the year after tearing an ACL against the Bengals in Week 3. Star Lotulelei should see an increase in snap counts in response. EDGE: Even.
When the Patriots throw: Tom Brady has gone 4-0 against the Bills the past two seasons, but has not exactly looked like the best quarterback of all time in doing so. He’s thrown three touchdowns and four interceptions in those four games and been sacked eight times, although he is completing 66% of his passes. Brady has been fine without the retired Rob Gronkowski so far, throwing for 911 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions in a 3-0 start. The Bills, though, are certainly happy Gronk won’t be on the field Sunday. In 15 career games against his hometown team, he caught 12 touchdown passes and averaged 71 receiving yards per game. A key matchup Sunday will be Patriots receiver Julian Edelman going up against Bills nickel cornerback Taron Johnson – assuming both play. Edelman is dealing with an injury to his ribs, while Johnson has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. EDGE: Patriots.
Special teams: It hasn’t really mattered, but Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski has really struggled on extra points, going just 10 of 13. He’s 6 of 7 on field goals, so it’s not as if Gostkowski has totally lost it. The Patriots gave up a touchdown to the Jets last week on a muffed punt, which surely ruined Bill Belichick’s week. The famously grumpy Patriots coach will talk for days about special teams. New England’s primary punt returner has been rookie undrafted free agent receiver Gunner Olszewski. The Bills rank 26th in Football Outsiders’ grading of special teams, brought down largely by their punting grade. Corey Bojorquez is averaging a paltry 33.7 net yards. That has been partially impacted by where he’s punting from, but Bojorquez still has to do a better job getting the ball closer to the other team’s goal line. Last week, the Bengals were able to make a pair of fair catches at their 18- and 19-yard line. That’s a poor job by Bojorquez. EDGE: Patriots.
Coaching: Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll got a little cute last week on third-and-1, running a jet sweep to Isaiah McKenzie. Why not just give the ball to Frank Gore twice if you have to? Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and Sean McDermott have done a nice job limiting Brady, but it’s been New England’s running game that they have been unable to counter. Credit for that goes to Belichick and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. New England excels at exploiting another team’s weakness. EDGE: Patriots.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Bills 17