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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Wed Jun 29 | 12:00 AM - 11:58 PM

10 Players to Watch: Patriots at Bills

Here are the key players to watch as the Patriots take on the Bills in the AFC Wild Card round!

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Mac Jones, QB: Jones led the Patriots to a 10-7 record in 2021 as a rookie and has now earned the chance to start his first playoff game against the Bills. He didn't have to do much the last time the Patriots traveled to Buffalo and got the win, throwing just three passes. The Bills got the better of Jones and the Patriots in the rematch, as Mac completed a season-low 43.8 percent of his passes with two interceptions on his way to a 31.4 QB rating. If the Patriots are to advance, they'll need their quarterback to get back to his kind of game, getting the ball out quickly and accurately to his surrounding weaponry.

Damien Harris & Rhamondre Stevenson, RBs: It's a twofer here because together, Harris and Stevenson have been a powerful one-two punch this season and getting them both going would bode well for the Patriots chances of beating the Bills. Perhaps no game this season showed their dual effectiveness than the first Buffalo game, where Harris' long touchdown run combined with Stevenson's late, productive runs to play major roles in the victory. As Harris and Stevenson go in this game, so goes the Patriots offense.

Hunter Henry, TE: Henry finished the 2021 regular season right in line with his best seasons as a pro with 50 catches for 603 yards and a team-leading nine touchdown receptions. After two years of minimal production from the tight end position, Henry was exactly the kind of presence the offense needed and he delivered. There's no question of his importance, as his red-zone production and Jakobi Meyers' third-down savvy were arguably the two most vital elements to the passing offense this season. Henry should play a central role in the air attack.

Matthew Judon, OLB: Judon led the Patriots with 12.5 sacks this season, but has seen some of his production drop off as the playoffs approach. After logging nine sacks and 16 QB hits through the first nine games, Judon has just 3.5 sacks and nine pressures over the last eight. It will be critical for the Patriots to get a resurgent game from Judon, especially if rookie pass rusher Christian Barmore is sidelined due to injury. Containing and finishing Josh Allen will be the biggest key for the Patriots defense this weekend and Judon is the team's most effective rusher.

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J.C. Jackson, CB: The Bills vaunted passing attack presents a number of difficult matchups and the depth of their weaponry will stress the Patriots secondary depth. But the key matchup will be J.C. Jackson's, as he's expected to see plenty of Stefon Diggs on the outside. Diggs is the most potent weapon, and while Josh Allen has no problem targeting his other receivers, any successful defensive gameplan must start with Jackson limiting Diggs. Another interception by Jackson could be a game-changer this week.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen celebrates a touchdown
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen celebrates a touchdown

Josh Allen, QB: Allen is probably the key figure in this game, as the quarterback of the Bills is playing close to an MVP level when he's on and he was certainly on the last time the Patriots saw him. New England had no answers for Allen a few weeks ago, when he led the Bills to a big win at Gillette Stadium, and now they must figure out a way to take Allen out of his game and force him into mistakes. Since last seeing the Patriots, Allen's had his ups and downs, but playing against a familiar team in his home stadium will make it difficult to expect a mistake-laden game.

Stefon Diggs, WR: Once again Diggs broke 100 catches and had a career-high 10 touchdowns in 2021, as he continues to be a reliable threat for the Bills offense. His seven catches on 13 targets for 85 yards and a touchdown the last time he faced the Patriots was one of his more productive games of the season, even if he only caught just over 50 percent of his targets. While the gameplan must center on Allen, taking Diggs and his explosive playmaking out of the equation is a huge key to the game.

Stefon Diggs scores a touchdown against the NY Jets
Stefon Diggs scores a touchdown against the NY Jets

Cole Beasley, WR: After grabbing just one catch in the first matchup and then missing the second, the Patriots haven't yet had to fully deal with the productive slot receiver, who tied a career-high with 82 catches this season. The Patriots have some matchup concerns in the slot, with Jalen Mills landing on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, though Myles Bryant did come off of the same list as well. Practice squad player D'Angelo Ross could be the next man up or even new re-acquisition Cre'Von LeBlanc, and those are both favorable matchups for Buffalo to attack. The more the Bills put multiple receivers on the field, the more it will stress the battered New England secondary.

Ed Oliver, DT: Oliver was a disruptive force against the Patriots in the second game, logging a sack and two quarterback hits, as he was a tone-setter for the Bills defensive line. With the Bills likely to force the Patriots to take to the air in the passing game, keeping Oliver out of the backfield will be an important task for the offensive line.

Micah Hyde, S: Hyde intercepted two passes in the last game against the Patriots, including one at the end that sealed the victory for the Bills. He and Jordan Poyer are one of the best safety duos in the game and will be key in how the Bills defend Josh McDaniels' offense. After two games against Buffalo, Mac Jones should already be well-versed in how well Hyde and Poyer disguise and attack. Keep the ball safe from them is a major priority.

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