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'Monday Night Football' preview: What to watch for in Patriots-Bills

Buffalo Bills
2021 · 7-4-0

8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | Highmark Stadium

Forget about the chatter regarding matchups in this rivalry's past. The only thing that will matter on Monday Night Football is the chance to seize the No. 1 spot in the AFC East. Riding the momentum of a six-game winning streak, Bill Belichick and the Patriots have an opportunity to reclaim a spot that's belonged to them for much of the last 20-plus years. Bills Mafia would love for nothing more than to see its squad keep the division crown out of Foxborough and position itself for a second straight first-place finish.

Here are four things to watch for Monday night when Buffalo hosts New England:

1. Can Belichick's defense contain Josh Allen? Allen's first three matchups with New England ended in defeat, with the QB averaging a 48.4% completion rate. His improvement to a 70.4 average in last season's 2-0 sweep suggests he and the Bills offense are adapting better to Belichick's schemes. And, while this could be the case, don't let success against a D that wasn't what it currently is make you think Allen doesn't still need to test his mettle against an all-time coach. Boasting a versatile back end and an impactful front led by sack aficionado Matt Judon, the Pats have dominated on their way to becoming the NFL's top scoring defense (15.8 PPG) and a real playoff threat. They've notably allowed 25-plus points only twice but an 0-2 record in those games speaks volumes about their importance to the club's overall success. They will need to be at their collective best against a unit that's averaged nearly twice as many points (29.6) as they've surrendered.

2. Which CB will help Bills find their way without Tre? The loss of a player that sits atop a depth chart is hard for any team to account for. In Buffalo's case, Tre'Davious White's torn ACL created the need to fill such a void. With standout Taron Johnson entrenched in the slot, Dane Jackson or Cam Lewis will have to step up and hold down the spot opposite Levi Wallace. The pendulum seems to be swinging Jackson's way after Sean McDermott gave him his vote of confidence last week. Luckily for Jackson, whose two career starts came last season when he was a rookie, the Pats don't deploy any top-10 receivers. But Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor will certainly keep the second-year corner and his cohorts busy all night. We'll see how this secondary responds in its first game without its leader.

3. Will Mac be able stay on the attack if Pats fall behind? His approach may be different than last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year, but Mac Jones has done plenty to position himself to be next in line for that mantle. Jones has been efficient all season, but has displayed better decision-making during the win streak; he's tossed nine TD passes and just two picks in that span, compared to seven TDs and six picks over the first six games. Playing on a team with a formidable defense has helped Jones settle in nicely, but it'll be interesting to see if the offense can pick up the slack if the D has an off-night. It's worth noting that five of Jones' eight INT have come while trailing in a game, per NFL Research. With ballhawks Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde lurking in coverage and a promising pass rush bringing pressure, Jones must find ways to stay poised. It may not have looked like it against the Colts or Jaguars, but let's not forget, the Bills do have the league's No. 2 scoring defense, after all.

4. Will Diggs dominate again? The matchup between Stefon Diggs and J.C. Jackson headlines what is sure to be an interesting chess match between Belichick and Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Diggs is the alpha dog in a receiving corps that ranks seventh in YPG. Jackson, meanwhile, is the centerpiece of a unit that has a combined 19 picks, the most in the NFL. Jackson, who's picked Allen off more than any defender (four), expressed his excitement for the Diggs assignment, though fans may not be as excited considering Diggs torched Jackson and the Pats for 92 yards in Week 8, and 145 yards and three TDs in Week 16 last season. The All-Pro's gravity could lead to more opportunities for Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders and red zone ace Dawson Knox. The standout tight end (and his seven TD receptions) may be the X-factor that benefits most with all eyes on Diggs.

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