The Patriots had their third-highest pass rate over expectation value the last time these two teams played back in Week 13, with Mac Jones attempting 39 passes to just 13 combined rush attempts from the team. It is highly unlikely we see splits that drastic here, particularly considering the Patriots have only four games all season with a pass rate over expectation value above league average. But the point remains – the Bills present a difficult matchup for how the Patriots want to try and win ball games. New England has been forced into a shell of how they used to operate under Tom Brady, with the same “march the field and sustain drives” mentality utilized on offense, but with far less effectiveness. That has put increased strain on their defense throughout the season, a defense that has eight defensive scores (five of which have come in New England wins, with the other three coming in losses with a combined margin of victory of 13 points). As in, the identity of this team is to control the time of possession and not give the game away on offense, while their defense looks to disrupt the game environment and provide additional possessions through the standard Bill Belichikian ball-hawking ways. This brings us back to why this is a difficult matchup for the Patriots, as the Bills hold the league’s top net points per drive value and the fourth-best net drive success rate in the league.
Damien Harris, finally healthy after a slew of injuries during the middle portion of the season, saw his highest snap rate since Week 8 last time out, handling 12 running back opportunities on a 48% snap rate. Compare that to the 12 running back opportunities on a 57% snap rate for Rhamondre Stevenson and we’re back to this backfield being a tilting two-headed monster. There is no reason to expect that trend to reverse course back to a backfield dominated by Stevenson considering the relative health of Harris. The saving grace is the fact that New England running backs have seen the eighth most targets in the league this season at 113, but even that works out to just over seven per game, split between Stevenson and Harris when both are healthy. The pure rushing matchup yields a gross 4.065 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Bills defense ranked first in stuff rate and second in power success rate allowed.
You have to go all the way back to Week 7 to find a game where both DeVante Parker and Jakobi Meyers were fully healthy, during which the two carried snap rates of 92% and 100%, respectively. The problem is neither should be considered completely healthy this week, with Parker coming off a whopping three missed games with a concussion and Meyers battling a multitude of injuries since Week 12. If ready for a full allotment of snaps, expect Meyers, Parker, and rookie Tyquan Thornton to serve as the top three wide receivers, with Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne on hand to soak up any snaps left behind by the top trio. Prior to the two alternating missed weeks over the last two games, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith had been splitting the tight end snaps with 12-personnel rates largely dependent on the opponent. The last time these two teams played, the Patriots utilized only 13% 12-personnel rates, instead electing for increased rates of 11-personnel. I would tentatively expect this trend to continue here. The Bills started the season playing almost exclusively from zone coverages but have become one of the higher man-rate defenses in the league now that they have returned to health on the back end. Jakobi Meyers is by far this team’s top option against man coverage this season while DeVante Parker has excelled against man.