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Patriots have something to prove against the Bills and Josh Allen

New England meets the team now bearing the AFC East bullseye for the first time since last season's playoff embarrassment.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) reacts after wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (1) catches a touchdown pass during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the New England Patriots
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) reacts after wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (1) catches a touchdown pass during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the New England Patriots, Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex) The Associated Press

The Buffalo Bills aren’t without their flaws. That became apparent around the middle of this season, when the presumptive favorite dropped a couple of consecutive contests and accordingly lost their solo grip on the AFC East lead. They took the field on Thanksgiving tied with the Dolphins atop the division, and just a game ahead of the Patriots.

Of course, until the Patriots prove otherwise, it’s difficult to think the gap is really that narrow between Buffalo and New England. The Bills’ 47-17 playoff win over the Pats last January — when they basically looked flawless — still reverberates loudly through any comparison between the sides.

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But come December 1, the Patriots will get their chance to prove otherwise. To prove the Bills are really within reach. And to prove they are true contenders in the division, if not the conference.

Josh Allen’s offense didn’t punt the last time he went opposite Bill Belichick’s defense, and through 11 weeks of this season only the Chiefs were averaging more points per game than the Bills. Stefon Diggs was second league-wide in both catches and receiving yards, and on the other side of scrimmage the Buffalo defense was among the NFL’s five toughest to score against.

Again, the Bills have their flaws. But they also have a ton of talent.

The Patriots’ best hopes of validating themselves against the reigning AFC East champs is their own defense, which entered Week 12 ranked second in points allowed. Matthew Judon has emerged as a leading candidate for defensive player of the year honors, and the unit had a decent track record of defending Allen before January’s abomination in Western New York.

However, New England’s offense has certainly taken a big slide backward since that playoff appearance. They’ve struggled to score touchdowns throughout this season, and scored a total of two offensive touchdowns in a three-game stretch leading into Thanksgiving. It’s asking a lot of the defense to think it’ll keep Allen, Diggs, and Company contained to less than 20 points. Only two of the Bills’ first 10 opponents managed to do so.

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Then again, both of those teams beat Buffalo. Both exposed the Bills’ flaws, and forced them into mistakes. If the Pats can do the same, that figures to be their best — only? — shot at making a legitimizing statement in front of a Thursday night, national audience.

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