AFC East showdown: Bills-Patriots game holds major playoff implications

The Bills travel to Foxborough to take on the Patriots Sunday with the AFC east driver seat up for grabs.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots are set to battle in Foxborough on Sunday afternoon with the top spot in the AFC East on the line. Here are five things to look out for heading into this big matchup.

Patriots' play-calling

A few weeks ago on "Monday Night Football," the Patriots ran for more than 200 yards and threw the ball just three times. With wind gusts up near 40 mph in Orchard Park, the Patriots' coaching staff exposed the Bills as a bad tackling team. With weather conditions expected to be more mild this Sunday, the Bills need to be ready for whatever Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels throw at their defense.

Bills safety Micah Hyde expressed the importance of putting pressure on Mac Jones.

"This is a well-coached football team. Anytime you can affect the quarterback, you can win football games," he said. "We have been playing the Patriots for a while. Anytime you can put pressure on the quarterback, you have a good game defensively."

Expect Buffalo to bring the heat and try to make Jones force some passes.

Emmanuel Sanders expected back

Bills wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is set to return to action since suffering a knee injury in Buffalo's overtime loss to Tampa Bay a few weeks ago. Sanders couldn't return at a better time since Buffalo is going to be without wide receivers Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis, who have been placed on the COVID-19 list.

Stefon Diggs said, "We will get Emmanuel back this week, and he is another one of our horses, so we should get the ball rolling and go 1-0," with that "1-0" meaning the Bills are treating each week like a playoff game.

Josh Allen also commented on his veteran receiver returning.

"He is a vet, a true pro who has been getting a ton of rehab," Allen said. "He has been able to maintain his positive energy, and I am grateful for that. We don't expect him to come with anything less than that juice and focus."

Bills' offensive line

Buffalo coach Sean McDermott said it best earlier this week: they are not taking it day-by-day anymore, they are now hour-by-hour. The Bills have been forced to shuffle their offensive line more frequently than they would've liked. The team has placed Cody Ford and Jon Feliciano on the COVID-19 list. The good news came on Christmas day as the team announced starting left tackle Dion Dawkins was removed from the COVID-19 list and is expected to start Sunday for Buffalo. Dawkins was nominated to the pro bowl this year and was one of just two Bills to be selected, Stefon Diggs being the other.

The Bills are hurting badly on the offensive line, and this week they'll need to do everything in their power to give Josh Allen time to air the ball out. This is worth monitoring up to kickoff to see which rotation the Bills end up going with on the field and who passes COVID protocols.

AFC East on the line

If the Bills win Sunday, they control their own destiny to a second consecutive division title and a home playoff game.

After Sunday, Buffalo has just two regular-season games left, both at home, and both against teams under .500, with the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets, set to make trips to Orchard Park in January.

This is easily the biggest game of the season for Buffalo, with a ton of implications on the line. If the Bills were to lose, they would have an extremely difficult path going forward with a ton of teams battling for the final few AFC playoff spots. Buffalo would, of course, much rather be at home and control its own playoff destiny than have to be on the road playing teams like Kansas City or Tennessee before the conference round.

Pro Bowl snub motivation?

With Josh Allen, Micah Hyde, and Jordan Poyer arguably being snubbed from the Pro Bowl, it's worth watching each player see if they use that as a chip on their shoulder moving forward into the final stretch of the regular season.

Josh Allen was outvoted by Lamar Jackson, who Allen has pretty much beaten in every QB stat this season, but if we are going, to be honest, this game has turned more into a popularity contest than an actual honor. Here's what Diggs had to say on his players that were snubbed from the game.



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