There are several key divisional matchups in Week 8: the Steelers in Baltimore, the Vikings in Green Bay, and the 49ers in Seattle, just to name a few.
But in a division that includes the hapless Jets and the Dolphins in the midst of a rebuild, the truest test as to whether this Patriots team can still make playoffs is against the 5-2 Bills.
Although the Patriots haven't been at the top of their game since Week 3, this key divisional matchup is a chance at redemption—and after playing them for 20 years, Bill Belichick knows a thing or two about defeating his divisional opponents.
In Week 8, the takeaway is this: Belichick will do his best to neutralize Josh Allen, Stephon Diggs and the deep threat, forcing the Bills to rely on an unimpressive run game.
Josh Allen and Stefon vs. Stephon
While the Bills were undefeated, Josh Allen's name was circulating in the MVP conversation this year, but two deafening back-to-back losses put his consideration on pause. Much like how the Patriots will be tested as playoff material, so will Allen be tested as one of the top passers in the NFL this week. Considering how his past matchups against the Patriots have turned out, it doesn't look so great—and the New England secondary has only gotten better since then.
Let's look at Allen's career average from his three games against the Patriots. His average is 15 completions out of 32 passes for 193 yards, one touchdown and 1.7 interceptions. If that's the kind of game Allen plays on Sunday, he would get a 63.67 passer rating in this game. That's significantly worse than his games against the Chiefs and Titans, both of which featured a completion percentage lower than 64 percent and at least one interception.
Credit for Allen's spectacular passing season is due in part to the offseason addition of Stefon Diggs, a notorious deep-threat receiver since his Minnesota days. It's been a little hit or miss with Diggs stats-wise: he's either having 100-yard games, or he's hovering around 40 yards per game. In their Super Bowl-winning season, the Patriots were able to limit Diggs to five receptions for 49 yards, so if Gilmore were on him, Diggs wouldn't be getting many looks on Sunday.
Unfortunately for Patriots fans, Gilmore has been downgraded to out for Sunday, meaning he will miss this opportunity to embarrass Diggs. With Gilmore out, it's possible that rising star J.C. Jackson will be assigned to Diggs instead. It would be a good matchup, as Jackson is fantastic at matching high wide receiver speeds. There's also free safety Devin McCourty hanging around in the defensive backfield, which makes those far-reaching Allen spirals even less likely to land.
The other two primary Bills receivers, John Brown and Cole Beasley, shouldn't be too difficult to limit. After two decent games to start the season, Brown has hardly been a factor. Beasley is on-pace for a career year, but Jonathan Jones, who has been playing very well as of late, should be given the duties of covering him.
If the pass is taken away, the Bills will be forced to rely on their run game, which hasn't been nearly as impressive as their pass attack. The Bills have a run committee consisting of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, neither of which has had a standout season. While Singletary is the lead back, he hasn't gotten more than 18 touches in a game this season, and he hasn't broken more than 71 yards in a game. Between the two running backs, only one has scored a touchdown once—and that was Zack Moss.
Whether the Patriots offense will be able to put points on the board is one thing, but the defensive-minded coach is sure to stun Allen in this divisional battle. The Titans and Chiefs have proven that the Bills can be beat, and if any defense can do it this Halloween weekend, it will be Belichick and his Boogeymen.