Patriots week is here! While the Buffalo Bills have had plenty of significant regular-season games in their franchise history, this Week 16 matchup against the New England Patriots is certainly added to that list.
The winner of this game virtually locks up the AFC East and a home playoff game, incredibly important necessities in an uncertain season with so many teams still in contention at this time.
COVID continues to affect both teams and availability will be crucial not only from a performance standpoint, but from a depth standpoint in case of positive tests or injuries.
This is a matchup between a team that was expected to compete for a Super Bowl and another in a rebuilding year. Instead, the Bills are not meeting expectations and the Patriots are pushing the boundaries of what could be expected, eliciting comparisons of the past 20 years of success, whether it is warranted or not.
Below are all the injuries heading into the Week 16 matchup and final thoughts for Sunday’s matchup.
BUFFALO BILLS INJURIES
DT Star Lotulelei (Personal)
The ire of the fanbase this season due to his perceived lack of availability, Lotulelei missed Thursday and Friday’s practice due to a personal matter. This season has been a rough one for the veteran defensive tackle; prior to 2020, he had only missed 4 games in his career. He then opted out of the 2020 season and has missed 5 games, 2 due to injury and 3 due to COVID.
These players are people playing a physical, violent game, things happen and they respond just like you and I. Not everyone has their best each and every week or season. Hopefully he remains healthy for the final stretch of games and contributes to a deep playoff run.
Hopefully whatever he is dealing with is resolved and he can play Sunday.
QB Josh Allen (Left Foot Sprain)
Allen practiced in full all week with a left foot sprain and played rather well against the Panthers despite the injury. He appeared to be inaccurate at times and hesitant to run, recording his 2nd fewest rushing attempts and 3rd fewest rushing yards this season on Sunday. He had one 26-yard run up the middle in the 3rd quarter, but other than that, remained mostly a pocket passer.
I don’t anticipate the Bills allowing Josh to run for over 100 yards this week, but with another week to rehab his foot, I do expect him to be more confident stepping into his throws and completing designed runs. Allen will need to bring his A game to Foxboro if the Bills want to win this game.
RB Taiwan Jones (Left Knee)
Jones played Sunday despite barely practicing last week with a left knee injury sustained in the loss to the Buccaneers. He donned a hinged knee brace and had trouble at times decelerating or slowing down on punt returns. This suggests a MCL sprain or contusion that he is working through pain and swelling.
I have learned over the past 5 years that Jones is not one to be counted out; he must break something or have a severe enough injury to miss a game. There’s a reason that he is still around in the NFL despite all the injuries, he refuses to quit.
DE Jerry Hughes (Neck)
Hughes was a surprise addition to the injury report Wednesday with a neck injury and it wasn’t initially clear when he suffered the injury. However, due to the astute observations of The Athletic’s Joe Buscaglia, he noted that Hughes suffered the injury late in the game. I was able to go find the specific injury detailed below.
He managed to stay in the game but it appears as though he suffered a mild whiplash injury. This was the result of a forceful flexion of the neck along with a sudden twisting to the left. I would expect him to be in quite a bit of discomfort, but with rest and physical therapy or chiropractics, it appears that he was able to calm everything down to practice in full after a limited practice Wednesday.
He may have some trouble turning his head during the game and could possibly aggravate the area with another hit, but Hughes has not missed a game due to injury in his career. This injury comes after appearing on the report last week with a foot injury which he played through.
S Micah Hyde (Back)
Hyde was another interesting name added to the injury report this week with a back injury. He played in 93 percent of snaps, missing only the last defensive series along with the other starters once the game was in hand.
He doesn’t have a history of back issues and there wasn’t anything to note on film what he was dealing with. He did have 6 total tackles with 4 solo but there didn’t appear to be any instance where he was slow to get up or landed awkwardly.
This might be the result of a long season or a previously unreported injury that finally was a big enough of an issue that it showed up on the practice report. Hyde is a durable player and I don’t anticipate that he misses anytime unless it’s a truly significant injury.
WR Emmanuel Sanders (Right Knee)
Sanders suffered what appeared to be a right knee injury in the loss to the Buccaneers late in the 2nd quarter after getting pushed out of bounds. It wasn’t clear what he was dealing with, the mechanism for injury wasn’t obvious, but whatever it was, it appeared to be rather minor.
For someone deemed week-to-week and listed as Doubtful heading into the Panthers game, he is moving incredibly well in the video below. I was expecting to see some hesitation, possibly routes to only one side, trouble decelerating, something to suggest what more was going on. But he is moving as well as he has all season and looks ready to get back on the field.
He will be a welcome addition for a team that is missing multiple players due to COVID restrictions including the loss of Cole Beasley.
CB Cam Lewis (Illness)
Lewis appeared on the injury report Thursday with an illness and did not practice. He was able to return the next day and has no gameday designation.
S Siran Neal (Ankle)
Neal was a new addition to the injury report Friday with an ankle injury sustained in practice. He still had a full practice and no game day designation but this may be something to watch if he struggles Sunday.
WR Cole Beasley
G Jon Feliciano
DE AJ Epenesa
WR Gabriel Davis
OL Cody Ford
DE Mike Love*
TE Quintin Morris*
Dawkins, Feliciano, and Epenesa are cleared to come off the list once they test negative and are symptom free. Beasley and Davis will miss this week’s game as they are unvaccinated and is required to complete a 10-day quarantine per league rules. Love and Morris are practice squad players and could be elevated to the active roster if needed once cleared.
In addition, CB Tre’Davious White tested positive, but since he is already on IR, this has no impact on the roster.
The team has elevated WR Isaiah Hodgins and OL Bobby Hart for Sunday’s game.
Update: OT Dion Dawkins has been activated off the COVID Reserve list.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS INJURIES
WR Nelson Agholor (Concussion)
Agholor left Saturday’s game against the Colts with a head injury that was officially ruled a concussion on Wednesday’s injury report. He did not practice all week and was unable to progress through the NFL concussion protocol. He will miss this game, stressing the already thin wide receiver corps.
S Joshua Bledsoe (Calf)
Bledsoe appeared to suffer a calf injury in practice on Friday, ruling him out for Sunday.
C David Andrews (Shoulder)
Andrews was on the injury report several weeks ago with what is likely the same shoulder injury. The specifics of the injury still aren’t available but he has not missed a snap this season. I fully expect him to play Sunday.
DT Christian Barmore (Knee)
Barmore is still working through a knee injury originally suffered in practice prior to Week 12. He played in 43 percent of snaps against the Bills in Week 13 which was a season low but rebounded the next week to 67 percent. This appears to be a chronic issue he’s working through, but I don’t expect his availability to be impacted for this game.
RB Brandon Bolden (Knee)
Bolden has been working through the same knee injury that had him questionable prior to the Week 13 matchup against the Bills. He did see only 6 snaps in that Monday night win, but with how Damien Harris was playing that night, Bolden wasn’t needed.
He saw a season high 38 snaps last week in the loss to the Colts and may continue to see an uptick in work with the absence of Stevenson. This knee injury does not appear to be a major concern moving forward.
K Nick Folk (Left Knee)
Folk has been working through a left knee injury all season since Week 4 and this latest report doesn’t change anything. He will play Sunday.
LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (Ribs/Ankle Injury)
Bentley has been working through a rib injury since Week 6 against Dallas and that has not changed. He also suffered an ankle injury, leaving 11 plays into the Colts game, not to return. Looking at the video, it’s not clear what he did, but it was significant enough to not finish the game.
I would expect his ankle injury to be the major limitator comparative to his rib injuries. We could see some decreased lateral mobility and difficulty with the first step off the affected ankle, leading to a lack of explosiveness. I expect him to play.
RB Damien Harris (Hamstring)
Harris suffered a hamstring strain in the win over the Bills back in Week 13 and played through the injury for most of the game before exiting late in the second half. He had a well-timed bye in Week 14 and missed the Week 15 matchup against the Colts. I do expect him to play having two weeks off to rehab the injury, but I do not expect a similar performance like he had in Week 13.
I fully expect to see more of a timeshare from the running back stable which could keep the Bills defense on their toes, but prevent one back from controlling the line of scrimmage.
WR N’Keal Harry (Hip)
There isn’t a ton of information regarding Harry’s hip injury, but it’s worth noting he was not very productive in Week 15. It’s not clear if this production was due to the injury, but he did play in a season high 53 percent of offensive snaps. He may not be 100 percent but no one is in Week 16 and he may be forced to get out there if the wide receiver room continues to be paper thin.
S Adrian Phillips (Knee)
Phillips sat down on the field right around the two-minute warning as the Bills were in the red zone in Week 13, eventually requiring assistance to get off the field. According to reports, he suffered a knee injury on the second-to-last play, but by video, it isn’t clear what the injury was.
He was able to play in 81 percent of the snaps last week despite the questionable designation. I expect a similar snap count come Sunday against the Bills.
WR Matthew Slater (Illness)
Slater missed Wednesday’s practice with an illness but was able to practice Thursday and Friday. He may see his role in the offense increased with the various injuries and COVID-related roster moves the Patriots are currently dealing with.
LB Harvey Langi
LB Cameron McGrone
LB Ronnie Perkins
TE Dalton Keene
G Yasir Durant
RB Rhamondre Stevenson
All are on the COVID/Reserve list and will need to be symptom free and provide negative tests before rejoining the team.
Update: WR Kendrick Bourne has been activated off the COVID Reserve list.
Normally I attempt to predict what players will play and what ones will be inactive. Due to the uncertainty of COVID designations for both teams unexpected positive tests, call ups, and the inability to predict who will be active, this makes predicting who will ultimately play nearly impossible.
It’s impossible to identify whether Lotulelei will play and I believe most, if not all the questionable players for the Patriots will play.
The Bills are the healthier team from an injury perspective and this is taking into consideration the heavy use of the questionable designation by the Patriots. However, each team is dealing with COVID positive players at key positions which could swing the advantage towards one team without warning.
Buffalo is fighting for their playoff lives while the Patriots are inching closer to yet another playoff appearance in a crowded AFC field.
The weather appears to be agreeable for this time of year to play a football game in New England. This will be a battle to see what team has what it takes with the winner very likely making some noise in the playoffs.
This game will come down to who is available and coaching. The Patriots have the far better coach in Belichick, but McDermott is no slouch either. If the Bills play conservative like they did in Week 13, they will lose this game, simple as that. Fortune favors the bold, Buffalo has to be bold and aggressive in their game plan; if they don’t, then this January could be another bleak one, an experience all too familiar during The Drought.
Expect an exciting game that will come down to whoever has the ball last with a close score and thrilling finish.
To everyone that got this far, enjoy the game, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Top Photo Credit: Stew Milne/AP