This New England Patriots X-factor is the key to beating the Buffalo Bills

New England Patriots wide receiver Nelson Agholor (15) Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots wide receiver Nelson Agholor (15) Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

The New England Patriots are set to face their toughest challenge of the season, as they head to Highmark Stadium to take on the Buffalo Bills in Week 13. With both teams battling for the top spot in the AFC East, this game will end up having huge playoff implications, particularly in regards to who ends up winning the East. Currently, the Patriots sit in first place with an 8-4 record, but the Bills are right behind them at 7-4.

While the Patriots currently find themselves in the midst of a dominant six game win streak, there admittedly has been a lot of luck involved along the way. They have run into some non-playoff teams such as the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons, while also playing teams like the Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns that were nowhere near full strength. That is set to change against Buffalo.

The Bills have been laboring a bit since their bye week, going just 3-2 over the past five games, picking up surprising losses against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts. But they are as healthy as they have been in a few weeks, and with the AFC East on the line, you can bet they will show up and deliver their best punch, especially considering they will be playing in front of their own fans in this one.

One thing to note though is that the Bills lockdown secondary took a massive hit during last week’s win over the New Orleans Saints, as it was announced that star cornerback Tre’Davious White would be miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. You never want to see injuries in sports, but that opens up opportunities that the Patriots passing attack can take advantage of. With the Bills secondary down a key member, it could finally be Nelson Agholor‘s time to shine.

The New England Patriots X-factor in Week 13 is Nelson Agholor

Agholor’s first season with the New England Patriots hasn’t really gone according to plan so far. Agholor had a breakout season with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020, and was easily the Pats most experienced receiver heading into the season. Despite that, he’s been outproduced by both Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne up to this point in the season.

Over the past four games, Agholor has only managed to catch 10 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. In a way, Agholor’s lack of usage up to this point does make a bit of sense.

The New England Patriots offense has been very reliant on the short passing game, while Agholor typically makes his money on the intermediate to deep routes down the field. So rookie quarterback Mac Jones has probably found it easier to hit Meyers or Bourne on shorter routes, with Agholor going down the field to take some pressure off them. His lines certainly aren’t flashy, but Agholor has had an impact one way or another.

This could be the game where everything changes for Agholor though. Losing White is a huge blow for the Bills, not just because he is one of the best corners in the league, but because now it presses inexperienced players like 2020 seventh round pick Dane Jackson into action. Jackson has done well in limited action so far this season, but you can bet he’s going to have a big target on his back heading into this one.

Buffalo’s remaining top two corners are Taron Johnson and Levi Wallace. Both have been very good so far this season, but they too will be tested with the added responsibilities that come in the wake of White’s season ending injury. The expectation here is that these two guys will spend a lot of time with Meyers and Bourne, leaving Agholor as the guy to take advantage of some favorable matchups.

The middle of the field is going to be tough to operate in the passing game in this one. Buffalo has superb linebacker depth with Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds, and A.J. Klein leading the way, and their starting safety duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer is one of the best in the league. That means a lot of passes are going to have to go outside the numbers, which is pretty much where Agholor operates.

The one play that Jones and Agholor seem to have good chemistry on this season is the comeback/curl route. Agholor has 32 catches on the season, and if you told me half of them came on comeback or curl routes, I wouldn’t be surprised. Agholor is a known deep threat, so opposing corners are going to play off him a bit more than others because of that. When Agholor runs to the first down marker and stops, he’s usually going to have a couple yards of separation.

The key is really going to be how Buffalo decides to use their cornerbacks in this one, particularly Jackson when they find themselves with three on the field. If Jackson finds himself on the outside, he will probably get safety help from Hyde or Poyer pretty consistently, which makes those comeback routes to Agholor a very valuable resource. He could go in the slot and get some help from the linebackers, which would open things up a bit more in the middle of the field.

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Whichever way you cut it, Agholor could find himself as the go-to-guy against a very dominant Bills defense in this one. The Bills secondary is going to have to be the focal point of the offense’s gameplan considering their run defense is allowing just 96.6 rushing yards per game. We have seen the ground game go missing against a dominant front seven before, such as in the Week 4 contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Someone is going to have a matchup worth attacking in the passing game, and all signs currently point to Agholor being that guy. If he can step up and make some timely plays, and help the offense move the ball down the field, the New England Patriots will be able to further cement their status as the team to beat in the AFC East.