The New England Patriots (10-7) and the Buffalo Bills (11-6) will meet for the third time this season Saturday night and the third in six weeks in the AFC Wild Card round. This game, however, will be the most important one of all as the winner will move on to the AFC Divisional round.
The loser will go home and start preparing for the 2022 season. The teams split the season series, each having won on the other’s home field. So who will win this matchup and advance? Let’s take a look and see.
The AFC East division came down to the last week of the season. Both the Bills and Patriots entered Week 18 with identical 10-6 records. All the Bills had to do to win the division was defeat the New York Jets at home.
The Patriots, on the other hand, have to beat the Miami Dolphins in Miami and then hope for a Jets upset. Unfortunately for the Patriots, the Bills won 27-10 and took home the AFC East crown. New England lost to the Dolphins 33-24, so even a win wouldn’t have mattered.
Round 1… FIGHT!
The Bills and Patriots split the season series. In Week 13, the Patriots defeated the Bills 14-10 in Buffalo. The Patriots decided to run the ball in a game that featured crazy Buffalo weather. They rushed for 222 yards, and Mac Jones attempted only three passes, completing two for 19 yards. Damien Harris rushed for 111 of those yards and scored the only touchdown of the night for the Patriots.
The defense played well as they forced a turnover and could contain Josh Allen. That may have been partly due to the 40+ mph wind that made it hard to throw the ball. He passed for 145 yards and one touchdown and rushed for 39 more. New England held them on a fourth-down play with just over two minutes left to seal the game.
Round 2: Electric Boogaloo
In the Week 16 rematch, the Allen and Isaiah McKenzie show as the Bills won in Foxborough 33-21. Allen, who was held in check the first game, went off for 314 yards and threw three touchdowns. After replacing Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis, McKenzie had a career day as he hauled in 11 receptions for 125 yards and one touchdown. Dawson Knox and Stefon Diggs each had a touchdown reception as well.
The Bill’s defense was good as well. They frustrated Jones, 14 of 32 on the day for 145 yards and two interceptions. They were also better against the run, even though they allowed 149 yards rushing. That may be a high number, but it was less than the 222 rushing yards they gave up in the first game between them.
AFC Wild Card Preview
With the Bills winning the division again, they will host the Patriots for round three. Because of their two-decades-long domination, this will be the first time since 1998 that the Patriots enter the postseason as a Wild Card team. Under Bill Belichick, they have played in the Wild Card round four times, but they were the AFC East division winner in those.
The key to this game for the Patriots on offense will be the running game. The Bills knew the run was coming in the first matchup, and they still could not stop it. The Patriots were using six offensive linemen and would rush for 222 yards. In the second game, the Bills made some adjustments and still allowed 149 yards rushing but held Jones in check as the Patriot’s passing game never could get going.
If the Patriots are going to win this game, they will have to be more balanced and attempt more than the three passes they threw in Week 13. The forecast for the game calls for sub-zero temperatures and ten mph winds. It should not be as bad as the first game, but it still could be a concern.
With that in mind, look for the Patriots to get Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson going early and then set up Jones and the passing game. Jones will throw more than three passes in this one, but they won’t go crazy passing even if the wind isn’t too bad.
The key for the Patriots defense will contain Josh Allen, which is much easier said than done. He was held in check in the first game as he passed for 149 yards and one touchdown and had only 39 yards rushing. However, Week 16 in Foxborough was another story entirely.
He threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. Beasley and Davis missed that game. The Bills wide receiving unit was also not at full strength that day. Luckily for them, they got a career day from McKenzie, for whom the Patriots had no answer.
Belichick likes to take out the opposing team’s best player and make someone else beat you. For the Bills, that is Allen, but they also have Diggs, Knox, Beasley, Davis, McKenzie, and Devin Singletary. In the first game, the Patriots did not let Allen beat them. The second was different with him and McKenzie going off. So I think Belichick will throw something at Allen that he hasn’t seen and look to keep him in the pocket. If they can do that, they will force someone else to step up big for them.
I think this game is ultimately going to be decided by the defenses. Especially if the weather gets bad, both of these two teams finished in the top five in the NFL in total defense. The Bills finished number one, allowing 272.8 yards per game, while the Patriots finished fourth, allowing 310.8. So I give the Bills defense the edge slightly, and they have the luxury of facing Jones, who, despite a good season, is still a rookie making his career postseason start on the road. And they also have Josh Allen.
Bills 24 Patriots 20
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