The day has finally come for Bills fans. The Bills are in the driver’s seat in the AFC East, sitting at 5-2, while the Patriots have stumbled to a 2-4 start. Moreover, with the Pats struggling with play on the field and injuries off the field, this could be the final strike as New England pursues their 12th straight division title.
On the other side though the division title has eluded the Bills for years. Their last title came in 1995. To put that in perspective, Pats rookies Anfernee Jennings, Devin Asiasi, J.J. Taylor, and Michael Onwenu were not even born the last time the Bills won the division.
There are warning signs for each team though as neither team has a positive point differential thus far on the season. For the Patriots at 2-4, the negative differential makes sense, they have lost double the games they have won. However, for the Bills that is a serious red flag. They are one of just three teams with a winning record to have a negative differential (Bears and Browns). Consider that the Dolphins differential is +47 and they sit at 3-3, while the Bills sit at 5-2 with a -4 differential.
Could that mean the Bills are due for regression? Or will they separate? We will see.
Here is what’s happening in week eight:
First Down: When looking at the Bills, you immediately think of a great defense. After all, the Bills defense spearheaded their charge into the playoffs last year. However, this year the defense has been just average.
So far in this year the Bills in per game stats rank: 15th in total yards allowed, 15th in passing yards allowed, 21st in rushing yards allowed, and 15th in points allowed.
In fact, if you remove the two games against the Jets, who are undoubtedly a dumpster fire on offense, the Bills points allowed per game goes from 25.4 per game to 30.2. That would lower the Bills from 15th in points allowed to 26th.
Second Down: One stat where both Buffalo and New England are lagging behind in is turnovers. In the NFL they rank 19th and 23rd respectively.
More problematic for Bill Belichick and the Patriots though, is the fact they are tied for second in the entire league in giveaways with a staggering 14. That includes a league-leading 11 interceptions. Simply put, New England is no longer the gold standard in turnover margin.
It appears at the moment the Bills have the clear edge in quarterback for the first time in the new century.
Third Down: As bad as it has been for the Patriots lately, the most surprising thing about this stretch has been the turnovers. We are so used to them cherishing each possession. However, Cam Newton has struggled with accuracy and decision-making. To give you an idea how bad it has been, last year the Patriots had nine interceptions total. This season Newton already has seven.
Moreover though the interception total of 11 through six games is three more than Tom Brady had all of last year and as many as he had in 2018. In fact the most he has ever thrown is 14 much earlier in his career.
Fourth Down: One positive for the New England this season is the extra playoff spot for a team. The Pats will no doubt need the extra spot if they intend to make a run and sneak into the playoffs. The good news is only four of the remaining games they play are teams above .500. Even better is with the extra playoff spot there is a decent chance 9-7 may be able to get that last playoff berth.
Should the Patriots aim for 9-7, that would mean they would need to finish 7-3. To do that they would need to beat at least one of the teams above .500 (Bills, Ravens, Rams, Cardinals) and do damage against the others. Some of those games (Dolphins and Chargers) could also prove to be tough wins, despite those teams not being over .500.
Is it impossible for them? Not in the slightest. There is a decent chance they could, but also tough to feel confident until their offense proves they can move the ball.
Prediction: Bills 20, Patriots 13
The Patriots have really struggled offensively lately, especially with turnovers. That being said this is a gut check game for both teams and I am sure both will be fired up. Bills want to prove they own the East now, while Pats want to prove they still hold the edge. Unfortunately the injuries on offense and Cam Newton’s play lately make that unlikely for New England. Josh Allen may not make all the throws yet, but he is much improved. It’ll be a lower scoring game, but the Bills force a couple turnovers and capitalize proving they own the division this year.
–David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani