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Patriots-Bills Pregame Notebook: Roster Notes, Game Prediction and More

Can the Patriots make it seven straight wins in 2021 with a victory over the Buffalo Bills on Monday night?

The New England Patriots have arrived in Western New York for a Monday night date with quarterback Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. Monday’s Week Thirteen matchup will take place at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York at 8:15pm ET. This pivotal contest between two divisional rivals has the potential to be a deciding factor in the race for not only the AFC East title, but also the top spot in the Conference.

While Monday night’s forecast is far from being excessively fearsome, the weather may be enough to impact game play. Early predictions call for a 44 percent chance of wintry precipitation, with gusty winds of 30-plus mph, and a low temperature of 24 degrees.

The Patriots enter Week Thirteen holding the top spot in both the Conference and the Division. Last season, the Bills swept New England for the first time since the 1999 season, including a victory on Monday Night Football on Dec. 28 with a 38-9 win.

Viewing/Listening:

TELEVISION:

This week's game will be broadcast by ESPN and can be seen locally on WCVB-TV Channel 5. Steve Levy will handle play-by-play duties with Brian Griese and Louis Riddick as the color analysts. Lisa Salters will work from the sidelines.

STREAMING:

For information on how to stream the game please visit the Ways to Watch guide, via Patriots.com

RADIO:

98.5 The Sports Hub is the flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network. Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci will call the action along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who will provide color analysis. The games are produced by Marc Cappello.

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Patriots Roster Notes:

Having been the subject of much speculation throughout the weekend, Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins will indeed return to action after spending the last three games on injured reserve due to an ankle injury. Collins’ agent, David Canter, made the announcement on Twitter, declaring “He’s back” along with a photo of Collins on Monday. Collins' presence is expected to help the Patriots in the middle of the field, as well as off the ball at the linebacker position.

Unfortunately, the news does not appear to be so good for safety Kyle Dugger. Per The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, Dugger is ‘highly unlikely’ to suit up on Monday, as he remains on the COVID-19 list after testing positive last week. Dugger leads the Patriots with 80 total tackles and 62 solo tackles this season. He has also intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble.

Bills Roster Notes:

Despite being listed throughout the week as limited participants, linebacker Matt Milano (linebacker) and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (illness) have been removed from the report, and thus should be good-to-go for Monday night. The presence of both Milano and Lotulelei will greatly strengthen a Bills’ run defense that has recently struggled in their absence.

Patriot Maven Game Prediction

Essential On Offense: Run Early, Run Often

While strong, gusty winds will make for a nightmarish kicking game, it will also impact the passing game as well. As a result, the Pats should look to get the ball to Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson from the outset. The Bills rank second in the league by allowing just 3.9 yards per carry and fifth with 96.6 rushing yards per game. Their run-stoppage unit will be bolstered in Week Thirteen with the return of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who missed the last two games due to COVID protocols. Lotulelei is Buffalo’s premier run-stuffer in the middle, joining Ed Oliver, Harrison Phillips and Vernon Butler on the inside. The Bills were also without linebacker Tremaine Edmunds against the Colts and he is expected to play. With fellow linebacker Matt Milano alongside him in the middle, Harris will have his share of difficulty attempting to find his footing on the ground in Orchard Park on Monday night. Still, the run will be an important part of the Patriots offensive success, both for gaining yardage and helping to facilitate play action and short-yardage passing situations led by quarterback Mac Jones.

Essential on Defense: Protect the Middle of the Field

With safety Kyle Dugger almost certainly sidelined for Monday night, Adrian Phillips is likely to draw the majority of his coverage duty on Bills’ tight end Dawson Knox. In the Pats’ December meeting with the Buffalo in 2020, Phillips held Knox to zero catches, providing solid coverage in the red zone, as well as the intermediate part of the field. As a result, Phillips may be one of the key components in determining the Pats’ defensive success on Monday night. Phillips is at his best when playing in the box. He is a strong tackler with decent speed, and is most effective when playing closer to the line of scrimmage. As such, he is the ideal defensive back to cover a tight end, or a running back out of the backfield. While Dugger’s potential absence will put additional pressure on the Patriots’ ability to defend tight ends, they will also have a tougher time with defending Bills’ slot receiver Cole Beasley. As one of Buffalo’s most productive offensive targets, Beasley ranks second on the team with 62 catches, and third with 530 receiving yards. In an attempt to contain him, the Pats are likely to turn to slot corner Myles Bryant.

Final Analysis:

Monday night’s pivotal matchup will be the Patriots toughest test, to date. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones will get his first taste of a playoff atmosphere, in a hostile environment. However, the biggest challenge Jones will face is a Bills’ defense ranked first overall, and solid at all three levels. Buffalo also possesses a versatile offense capable of beating teams in both the deep and short passing games. Lastly, their rushing attack is at its best when paced by quarterback Josh Allen. Still, New England is just as capable on both sides of the ball. It is often said that a true contender is galvanized by a key late-season road win. The Patriots do enough on offense and defense to earn a close win over their bitter division rivals.

FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: Patriots 27, Bills 24