Are the Bills truly out of the Patriots' shadow? Two straight AFC East titles would suggest that's the case, as would a Christmas weekend rematch between the rivals, in which Buffalo rebounded from the two sides' first meeting to beat Bill Belichick by 12 points in Foxborough. Yet here we are, with Super Wild Card Weekend upon us, and the first thing standing in the way of a Bills return trip to the AFC Championship Game are those pesky Patriots.
The rivals almost never meet in the playoffs, but on Saturday, they'll square off in a rubber match to not only determine the winner of their 2021 series, but which club will advance in the race to Super Bowl LVI. We're previewing the matchup below with information on tuning in, key questions for the game, and a final-score prediction:
How to watch
- What will the weather be like? The Patriots threw the ball just three times in their run-heavy Week 13 win over Buffalo amid gusty winds, but the Bills prevailed in more normal conditions in Foxborough. Forecasts indicate wind won't be a major issue this time, but single-digit temperatures and sub-zero wind chills could end up influencing the script.
- Will the Bills lean into the run game? They have multiple reasons to do so: 1.) the Patriots have struggled to stop the ground game down the stretch; and 2.) Josh Allen is at his best when he doesn't have to do everything himself. Devin Singletary could be in for another decent workload.
- Does Mac Jones have it in him? Realistically, Belichick will keep Jones' burden light, attempting to control the ball with short-area targets and plenty of runs. But the rookie QB is gonna have to make some key throws to outdo Allen on the big stage. He's been confident but streaky this year, and the Bills boast a "D" capable of forcing mistakes.
As long as Belichick is on the sidelines, the Patriots can't be counted out. They will come prepared to play tough football, especially if the weather ensures a more run-based approach. And Jones has shown more than enough to have New England fans dreaming of future contention. But Belichick is 0-2 in his two Wild Card appearances since 2009, and the absence of a star veteran QB like Tom Brady still matters. As promising as Jones is -- he's making his first go at this -- he's allowed mistakes to pile up in his "down" starts, and the Pats aren't really built to survive multiple mistakes at that spot.
The Bills, on the other hand, have been streaky themselves, especially on offense. But Allen has the benefit of an improved ground attack, plus the emergency option of his own legs. Stefon Diggs and their pass-catching corps should be able to do work against a Pats secondary with some depth concerns. And Sean McDermott's defense has been here before.
Pick: Bills 24, Patriots 21