This article is part of our Showdown/Single Game DFS Breakdown series.
A few weeks ago this game would have been considered a near no-contest, both because the Patriots looked that bad and the Bills looked that good. The Bills have since faced a unique and challenging setback in an area they might have taken for granted previously: the durability of Josh Allen, whose elbow injury has clearly affected his throwing ability and denied him the ability to make throws he used to make with only slight difficulty. If the elbow improves then Allen flips a switch and the Bills go back to being the most intimidating team in the league. In the meantime, though, they are only 3.5-point favorites against the Patriots, who prepare to defend their homefield while the over/under rests at 43.5. Both the spread (BUF -5.5 → BUF -3.5) and the over/under (45.0 → 43.5) have fallen from their opening marks.
Josh Allen ($12200 DK, $17500 FD) is normally maybe the single toughest player to fade on showdown slates, but with his elbow less than 100 percent it's not clear what a fair expectation might be for Allen as a passer. The wheels still work as good as ever, and indeed Allen might need to lean on his rushing ability a little more than usual as long as the elbow is bothering him, but as a passer Allen has had to strain to barely eek out throws he normally railguns with a leisurely whip motion. If the elbow gets better then that problem just goes away, but who knows whether or what sort of weekly progress Allen might be making. The Patriots defense has really tightened up in recent weeks, moreover, and normally they tend to play a bit better at home. The bright side for Allen's fantasy prospects is that if there is any lingering public concern about his elbow then this might be a setting to get Allen on an unusually low ownership percentage.
Mac Jones ($9400 DK, $13500 FD) has had a difficult season, especially to open the year, but he has shown some encouraging numbers in recent weeks and has seemingly built some real momentum. This matchup will be a stern test to see just how much of that momentum is substantive and how much is incidental – if Jones holds up against the formidable Buffalo defense then he can consider it a real accomplishment, even with Von Miller (knee) out. Like the Patriots, the Bills feature one of the league's most effective pass defenses, allowing just 14 passing touchdowns compared to 13 interceptions. As a non-runner in most cases, Jones' fantasy viability in this game walks a narrow path of probability – the possibility for high passing yardage is slim and the likelihood of turnover risk is high – but also these details should assure low slate ownership relative to most cases.
This is a setting where the Bills might wish they had taken their backfield personnel more seriously. Devin Singletary ($7000 DK, $12000 FD) is a fine role player but not likely the kind you can count on to carry a passing game through a cold stretch, especially against a defense like New England's. To be fair to Singletary, the Patriots run defense is the sort that can contain a lot of standout runners, as they're allowing just 3.7 yards per carry to opposing running backs while conceding just one rushing touchdown, arguably making them the toughest defense in the league against running backs. That includes as pass catchers, as the Patriots have allowed the fifth-fewest receptions to opposing backs. James Cook ($3600 DK, $7500 FD) offers little in the way of certainty, but ostensibly offers more big-play and pass-catching ability than Singletary. Nyheim Hines ($3000 DK, $7000 FD) might draw some routes but has seemingly made clear he (predictably) can't run effectively in this scheme. Fullback Reggie Gilliam ($200 DK, $5000 FD) rarely draws targets but is fairly athletic and has stepped up in bit roles in the past.
Rhamondre Stevenson ($10400 DK, $14000 FD) might be the biggest item on the slate with Allen dealing with his elbow issue. Damien Harris (thigh) is out and the Patriots have not yet developed their duo of rookie runners in Pierre Strong ($200 DK, $5000 FD) and Kevin Harris ($200 DK, $5000 FD). Stevenson might need to play 60 snaps in this game and should play at least 40. It remains to be seen how much room any of the three might have to run, but a major part of Stevenson's sales pitch is the fact that the Patriots lean on him heavily as a pass catcher, as he has six or more catches in four of New England's past five games. It's not easy to see Stevenson running wild, but he should pile up massive usage and is the heavy favorite for any rushing touchdown the Patriots might run.
WIDE RECEIVERS + TIGHT ENDS
Stefon Diggs ($11600 DK, $15000 FD) might struggle to provide big per-target returns while Allen manages his elbow issue, but Diggs' target volume hasn't been affected at all to this point. As much as you'd like to see him get more than 125 yards for his efforts, Diggs' fantasy investors can take comfort in the fact that he has 20 targets on on his last 97 snaps. As the team's main downfield target and the recipient of some of Allen's most ambitious targets in general, Gabe Davis ($8000 DK, $11000 FD) predictably has been the Bills receiver hit hardest by Allen's injury. If Allen can't credibly threaten downfield then Davis risks getting shut out of most of the viable routes. Davis should be a red-zone factor at least since the field will be smaller, and the non-Jalen Mills corners for the Patriots are all tiny. Isaiah McKenzie ($6800 DK, $9500 FD) has no trait advantage on the Patriots corners but still had a big day the last two times they faced. Davis' loss is McKenzie's gain – if Allen can't throw downfield, then McKenzie almost necessarily picks up that slack as an underneath specialist. It's not clear whether Khalil Shakir ($200 DK, $6000 FD) will see a meaningful role in this one, but he can offer a greater variety of functions than McKenzie. Dawson Knox ($6200 DK, $8500 FD) can be tough to stop off the red-zone playaction, and particularly if the Bills call a run-heavy game plan Knox could be in position to claim a greater share of the Bills' passing game than usual, even if not by notable volume.
Jakobi Meyers ($7200 DK, $11500 FD) has a shoulder issue to monitor but if he's able to play, as generally expected, then he should continue to function as the likely WR1 for the Patriots. The coverage is tough in the slot and seam against the Bills, but Meyers and Mac Jones have durable target rate tendencies and even if the pie is small Meyers is the most likely candidate to claim a leading share of it. DeVante Parker ($5600 DK, $8000 FD) offers more raw athleticism than Meyers and thus more big-play ability, and injury issues aside Parker has been fairly consistently productive when on the field for the Patriots. Nelson Agholor ($4800 DK, $6500 FD) saw a playing time and usage boost after Meyers hurt his shoulder on Thanksgiving, but that playing time and usage could just as quickly dry up if Meyers is active Thursday. Agholor can't really play in traffic or generally difficult conditions, and the Bills defense might qualify as one of Agholor's no-go cases. Agholor's best asset to the Patriots is his speed and theoretical downfield utility, but Tyquan Thornton ($400 DK, $7500 FD) offers more of both and therefore looms as a potential foil. Kendrick Bourne ($2200 DK, $7000 FD) isn't a threat before the red zone but could pop up with an acrobatic catch in that region of the field, and just as importantly he could play more snaps than Agholor if Meyers is active. Hunter Henry ($4200 DK, $6400 FD) is much less athletic than Jonnu Smith ($1400 DK, $6000 FD) but in effect Henry is their designated pass-catching tight end anyway while Smith's wheels go to waste blocking and running bottom-feeding routes.
Tyler Bass ($4200 DK, $9000 FD) is a tool the Bills offense occasionally reaches for given their usual ability to claim touchdowns at will, but if Allen's throwing ability is compromised or/and the Bills offense for whatever reason has an off day then Bass could suddenly go from lightly used to a player the Bills depend on to win in a low-scoring game. Bass' abilities are well-tested, so if there are field goals to be had he is a strong bet to claim them. The deal is largely the same with Nick Folk ($4000 DK, $8500 FD) – the Patriots might need him to step up, and his entire career of work says he is up to the task. It's not common for cashing showdown lineups to go two-kicker in their build, but this could be one such game. Both Bass and Folk are capable from long range, too.
Just as both kickers are candidates to play bigger cashing roles than usual in a lower-scoring game, both defenses in this game have to be taken seriously, too. The Bills ($5200 DK, $10000 FD) are the slightly favored of the two, presumably for their superior pass-defense personnel in the context of likely leads at Allen's hand. If the Bills are not correctly favored then the logic on the Bills' defense accordingly wanes too, especially with Von Miller out. But the Bills secondary is loaded and Sean McDermott might be the best defensive backs coach in the league, so they remain capable of forcing and then capitalizing on any mistakes by Mac Jones. The Bills DST also pairs nicely with Isaiah McKenzie, who is one of the league's most dangerous returners. There's no way to pick Marcus Jones as the returner pairing for the Patriots ($3200 DK, $9000 FD), but the Patriots defense on its own is formidable and well worth consideration, especially if Allen is limited as a passer. The New England personnel is highly varied and despite a lack of star talent (Matt Judon aside) can make big plays against good offenses.