Josh Allen

Patriots Talk Podcast: Consensus that this New York team will be in charge of AFC East

Patriots Talk Podcast: Consensus that this New York team will be in charge of AFC East

With Tom Brady off to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New England Patriots could have a rough road ahead in 2020. 

It seems more and more likely that Bill Belichick will roll with second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham as his starter and that alone is a major question mark. With Brady out of the AFC East, many believe New England's grip on the division has been lost. Still, which team will take over to run the AFC East?

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On this week's episode of the Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast,  Curran is joined by the New York Daily News' Manish Mehta (Jets), The Miami Herald's Armando Salguero (Dolphins) and The Athletic's Matthew Fairburn (Bills) to discuss the AFC East. As for who wins the division, there was a consensus among the group, and Salguero made a great point. 

Yeah, I still think it's the Buffalo Bills that would be the next most logical. I started covering the NFL in 1990 and the Buffalo Bills started a four-year run to the Super Bowl in 1990. So, I am aware of what that is like, and I know what going to playoff games in January in Buffalo at Orchard Park feels like and it would feel like for any AFC East team to visit at that point.

So, I'm aware and I think since they went to the playoffs last year and they've done some stuff with [adding receiver] Stefon Diggs and all that stuff this offseason, they are to me the logical heir to the Patriots throne if indeed the Patriots are knocked off the throne.

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Mehta also agreed with Salguero. However, he questions if Bills QB Josh Allen can really lead them to success in 2020 and beyond.

Totally agree with Armando. I think if you're being objective about it, Buffalo is clearly in the best position because of what they've done these last two offseasons... The big question mark, of course, is Josh Allen actually good, because if he is not a franchise quarterback then it's not going to work.

And to drive home the point that Allen may not be the guy, Fairburn, who covers the Bills, noted that even he isn't convinced the young QB can rise to the occasion.  

If he doesn't change, then they're going to have to overcome him because in the biggest games against the best teams he had some of those moments, you know? He didn't play well. They didn't beat many teams that competed for the playoffs last year.

He had a great game on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys, but the Cowboys ended up being a dud of an opponent. He's struggled against the Patriots pretty much every time he takes the field against them and that's probably not going to change.

So there you have it. The Bills may very well run the AFC East in 2020 with Brady gone. At this point, Belichick should hope Stidham proves the doubters wrong and puts together a solid first year at the helm of the Patriots offense. 

To hear more about the AFC East, who has the best and worst rosters in the division, if the Patriots should pursue Dolphins QB Josh Rosen, and which AFC East team wants to beat New England the most, check out this week's episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast. 

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Bills don't fear anyone, and will bring plenty of confidence into NFL playoffs

Bills don't fear anyone, and will bring plenty of confidence into NFL playoffs

FOXBORO -- The Buffalo Bills didn't beat the New England Patriots on Saturday and won't win the AFC East title as a result, but their Week 16 performance did serve as further evidence that they are capable of competing with the conference's best teams come playoff time.

The Bills hung tough with the Patriots and even had a 17-16 lead with less than six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Bills quarterback Josh Allen made several impressive throws, including a 53-yard touchdown strike in the third quarter as he was getting drilled in the pocket. Buffalo's defense also played pretty well, and held the Patriots to a single touchdown for 54 of the 60 minutes played. It wasn't enough, though, as the defending Super Bowl champions ultimately pulled off a late comeback to earn a 24-17 victory and claim an 11th consecutive division championship.

Moral victories are often difficult to accept when you lose a hard-fought game to a division rival, but the Bills proved they have no fear when playing the Patriots or any other AFC contender.

"You play well to an extent, but you want to win the game, so there's no moral victory or any way that we can spin it to make ourselves feel better," Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "We know we can play with these guys, whether we’re at home or away. So there’s no mystique in that sense. We just have to execute. It’s not something they’re necessarily doing. I think it’s a lot of stuff on what we’re doing -- having good eyes, good fundamentals, and not trying to overcompensate when they make a play."

The Bills are 10-5 after Saturday's loss, and a victory over the New York Jets in Week 17 would give Buffalo its first 11-win season since 1999.

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It's hard to find a really bad loss on the Bills' schedule. Two of the five losses came against the Patriots and both were by one touchdown or less. Another defeat came two weeks ago versus the Baltimore Ravens, who are the AFC's No. 1 seed entering Week 16. Buffalo's late comeback fell short in a 24-17 loss to the Ravens, but Buffalo held Baltimore quarterback and likely league MVP Lamar Jackson to his lowest total yards output of the season. The other Buffalo losses were to the Philadelphia Eagles (potential NFC East winner) and the Cleveland Browns. The Eagles are the only team to beat the Bills by more than one score.

Buffalo now knows it will be playing on Wild Card Weekend, and as a No. 5 or No. 6 seed, it's unlikely the Bills will have a home game in January. For most young teams that lack postseason experience, this would be a genuine problem. The Bills, however, have impressed all season on the road and finish with a 6-2 record away from New Era Field. Recent results on the road have been the most encouraging for the Bills. Let's not forget Buffalo went into Dallas and dominated the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. The Bills also earned an impressive road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, and on Saturday they nearly became just the second team since Week 4 of the 2017 season to beat the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. 

"If you look at the type of teams we’ve played the last three weeks, they’re all playoff-type teams," Bills quarterback Josh Allen said. "So, getting that experience against these defenses, teams we might be able to see again, it’s all valuable experience because playing games in December that mean something; not many people are doing that right now and we’re one of those teams. It feels good to be in the situation that we’re in and the position that we’re in. But again, we didn’t do a good enough job today. We’re trying to win a football game. This one hurts for us because we don’t want anybody to win the (division) during our game, that’s one that we’ll take to the heart. So we’ll learn from it."

It remains to be seen if the Bills offense can score enough points in the playoffs to beat explosive teams like the Ravens or Kansas City Chiefs, who rank first and fourth, respectively, in points per game. What we do know is the Bills' defense is among the best units in the league. Buffalo's D has allowed the second-fewest points per game and ranks in the top five in several other important defensive stats.

The key for the Bills will be eliminating the little mistakes that often prove quite costly in the playoffs, most notably penalties, breakdowns in pass protection and failing to convert on third down. All three of these areas were issues versus the Patriots. The Bills are so close to beating the AFC's best, and correcting these mistakes would go a long way in helping Buffalo earn its first playoff win since 1995.

"We're a playoff team," Alexander said. "... If we want to continue to have an opportunity to win a championship, we have to be able to beat teams like the Patriots, like the Ravens, like the Texans, or whoever we face in the first round because those teams are elite and take their game to another level. We can't do things that beat ourselves."

Tom E. Curran's Best and Worst from Pats' win vs. Bills

Patriots-Bills Preview from Tom E. Curran: A lot on Brady

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USA TODAY Sports photo

Patriots-Bills Preview from Tom E. Curran: A lot on Brady

The Patriots have had 324 second-down plays this season. Of those, 208 are second-and-7 or more (64 percent). They’ve been in second-and-10 (or worse) 125 times (38 percent of the time). Their 64 passes on second-and-10 are the highest in the league.

They are forever in second-and-long. Why? Because they aren’t great on first down.

Third down?

The Patriots have run more third down plays than anyone in the league (208). Only Philly (200), Detroit (197), Tampa and Jacksonville (192) are close.

Of the 208 third downs, 141 are third-and-5 or more (68 percent).

Ranking by total pass attempts, New England is second in third-and-5 and third-and-6 (20 and 17 throws each), first in third-and-7 (22), 26th in third-and-8 (8), seventh in third-and-9 (10) and first in third-and-10 (23). They’ve also had 26 more pass plays on third-and-11-plus. That’s 126 throws on third-and-5-plus.

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So, they are bad enough on first down to keep getting stuck in second-and-long. And they’re bad enough on second down that they wind up in third-and-long almost 70 percent of the time.

And how has the calcified, walking corpse wearing No. 12 done this season when faced with third-and-5 with nobody other than Julian Edelman and James White to consistently lean on? The Patriots converted 43 of the throws into first downs (34 percent).

By comparison, Lamar Jackson’s been in third-and-5-plus just 77 times and has converted 27 times (35 percent). Deshaun Watson? He’s 27 for 83 (32 percent). Aaron Rodgers is 32 for 103 (31 percent). Dak is 33 for 85 (38 percent) and Jimmy G. is 38 for 93 (40 percent).

The Patriots offense is constantly in high-leverage situations. They aren’t equipped for it with their skeleton crew of receivers. Yet, when you look at those numbers, you see just how effective Brady still is despite how often it all falls on him. It will likely all fall on him again Saturday against a very good Bills defense, the best they’ve seen in weeks. What Brady can conjure up will determine whether the Patriots win or lose.