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Wild Card Game Preview: Patriots at Bills

The New England Patriots travel to Buffalo for a Wild Card Playoff game against the Bills on Saturday, January 15 at 8:15pm EST.

pdc_wildcard-gamepreview-bills

POSTSEASON

WEEK 1 · Sat 01/15 · 8:15 PM EST

Patriots

New England Patriots

AT

Bills

Buffalo Bills

CBS / WBZ
98.5 FM The Sports Hub
HIGHMARK STADIUM

The New England Patriots will play the Buffalo Bills in the postseason for the first time in 58 years on Saturday in Buffalo. On Dec. 28, 1963, the Boston Patriots played in its first playoff game, a 26-8 Patriots victory at War Memorial Stadium against the Bills. This week, the No. 6 seed Patriots travel to Highmark Stadium to face the No. 3 seed Bills on Saturday night at 8:15 p.m.

The Patriots enter the playoffs as a Wild Card team for the first time since the 1998 season. The Patriots have played on Wild Card Weekend four times under Bill Belichick (2005, 2006, 2009 and 2019), however they played in those games as the division winner.

This week's game marks the seventh time in team history that the Patriots will play a division foe in the postseason and the first time since the 2010 season. The Patriots are 5-1 in those games.

The Patriots and Bills split the annual series with each team winning on the road. New England beat Buffalo, 14-10, in a Monday Night Football contest on Dec. 6 at Highmark Stadium. Buffalo avenged that defeat with a 33-21 win at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 26.

PATRIOTS AGAINST DIVISION OPPONENTS IN THE POSTSEASON

The Patriots will play a division opponent in the playoffs for the seventh time in team history. The Patriots are 5-1 in the first six games.

SCOUTING THE MATCHUPS

By Paul Perillo

The Patriots and Bills will meet for the third time this season, this one with the season on the line.

When the Patriots run - Edge: Patriots

The Patriots have been able to run the ball effectively on a consistent basis down the stretch. That was the case in both meetings against Buffalo, especially in the first one. We all remember that windy Monday night in Orchard Park when the Patriots attempted just three passes for the entire game, yet still piled up 222 yards on the ground. In some ways New England was even more efficient in the second meeting when it averaged 5.5 yards per carry while piling up 149 yards. Damien Harris topped 100 yards in both games and he'll be relied upon once again the get the offense in gear. Rhamondre Stevenson was outstanding in the first game, picking up tough yards while running into the wind often against stacked boxes with heavy personnel. He missed the rematch due to a concussion, though, and Harris was on his own. Buffalo's run defense remains suspect. The Bills finished 13th in the league, allowing an average of 109.8 yards per game and 11th with 4.2 yards per rush. The Patriots need the ground game to be productive, particularly early, in order to move the ball and avoid falling behind. The Bills are healthier up front than they were in the regular season, while left tackle Isaiah Wynn left the finale in Miami with an ankle injury. That will be worth monitoring during the short week leading up to Saturday night.

When the Patriots pass - Edge: Bills

The Patriots ability to run is always important but especially so against the Bills. Buffalo boasts the top-ranked pass defense in football, allowing 163 yards per game through the air and just 5.2 yards per pass. The Bills secondary also is capable of taking the ball away with 19 interceptions (third in interception rate). The group is led by a pair of terrific safeties in Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, who led the team with five apiece. Even after losing Pro Bowl corner Tre'Davious White to a torn ACL, the Bills continued to perform well in pass defense. On the flip side Mac Jones appears to have a hit a bit of a rookie wall down the stretch. He threw five picks in his last four games and his early struggles contributed to the Patriots big deficits in losses to Indy, Buffalo and Miami. Still, the rookie turned in a solid season with 22 touchdowns and 13 picks while completing over 67 percent of his passes for a Patriots offense that is still searching for consistency. For the most part he operated efficiently while leaning on Jakobi Meyers (83 catches, 866 yards, 2 TDs), Kendrick Bourne (55-800-5) and tight end Hunter Henry (50-603-9). The Bills did a great job of neutralizing that trio in the second game, limiting them to a combined nine catches for 101 yards and no TDs. Jones will need to be more efficient so the offense can offer some balance and more production.

When the Bills run - Edge: Patriots

The Patriots run defense has been suspect all season long but the Bills really don't rely on the running game enough for it to make a huge difference. Devin Singletary is Buffalo's leading rusher with 870 yards in 188 carries for a solid 4.6-yard average with seven touchdowns. Singletary is not the type of runner the Bills can just line up and send between the tackles on a consistent basis, however. Josh Allen, on the other, hand is capable of filling the gaps for the Bills ground game. He averaged over 6 yards per carry while racking up 763 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He will need to be accounted for throughout the game. Ultimately, Buffalo prefers to throw and the offensive line is better suited to that style. So even though New England allows 123.7 yards per game on the ground (23rd) and 4.5 yards per carry (25th), it's unlikely that Buffalo will try to take advantage of that weakness, even if rookie stalwart Christian Barmore is unable to go. Barmore left the Miami game late with a knee injury and although reports indicated he may have avoided a serious issue, his status is still uncertain. That would be a big loss for a front that is already struggling to stop the run. Miami entered the finale as one of the worst rushing teams in the league and piled up 195 yards on the ground. Lawrence Guy, Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Dont'a Hightower and Davon Godchaux among others will need to improve significantly and not allow Singletary to enjoy success.

When the Bills pass - Edge: Bills

Allen has been erratic at times but he's capable of lighting it up with the best of them. Despite his inconsistencies he still tossed 36 touchdowns and 15 interceptions while passing for 4,407 yards. He's enjoyed some tremendous games against the Patriots in two of the last three outings, the most recent coming December 26 when he helped the Bills rack up 33 points while throwing for 314 yards and three touchdowns. His legs are also a concern as he led Buffalo with 64 yards on 12 carries, many coming in key spots to pick up first downs. It will be interesting to see if Bill Belichick opts to use personnel to combat his running, a role that safety Kyle Dugger may be suited for assuming he's healthy. Dugger missed the Miami game with a hand injury. Allen has plenty of options to throw to including All-Pro Stephon Diggs, who led the team with 103 catches for 1,225 yards and 10 touchdowns. Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis, both of whom missed the last meeting due to COVID protocols, are dangerous as well. Also, tight end Dawson Knox has nine touchdowns and is a capable receiver. Belichick chose to drop into coverage and rarely sent pressure at Allen in the last meeting, forcing him to take the underneath throws by staying patient. That's exactly what Allen did, and it will be interesting to see how the Patriots secondary adjusts this time around. J.C. Jackson needs to do a better job against Diggs while the rest of the secondary can't allow complementary pieces like Isaiah McKenzie to do damage. The Patriots will have their hands full in this matchup.

Special Teams - Edge: Bills

At some point when the mistakes continue to happen virtually every week they can no longer be termed "uncharacteristic." That's been the case most of the year for the Patriots special teams, which are normally a strength but this year have been anything but. Penalties and poor execution (three blocked punts allowed), not to mention very little production from the return game, have been constants for most of the season. Only the near-perfect Nick Folk (36 of 39 field goals) has prevented this from being a disaster. Buffalo kicker Tyler Bass has been almost as good, connecting on 28 of 32 field goal and all 51 PATs. Both punters, the Patriots Jake Bailey and Buffalo's Matt Haack, are solid with neither allowing much in the way of returns all season. The Patriots allow 8.6 yards per punt return and the Bills just 5.6, so neither side has allowed much in the way of field position. The Bills have had some struggles in the return game, alternating between McKenzie and Marquez Stevenson. Stevenson was recently benched after a fumble in Week 17 against Atlanta. Hyde has also been used on punts occasionally. Gunner Olszewski handles both kicks and punts for the Patriots and has been held in check in recent weeks.

Patriots running back Damien Harris (37) rushes for a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills during their NFL Week 13 game at Highmark Stadium on Monday, December 6, 2021.
Patriots running back Damien Harris (37) rushes for a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills during their NFL Week 13 game at Highmark Stadium on Monday, December 6, 2021.

SERIES HISTORY

New England and Buffalo will meet for the third time in 2021 this week after splitting the annual regular season meetings with each team winning on the road. The Patriots won at the Bills on Dec. 6, 14-10 and then Buffalo beat the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, 33-21, on Dec. 26.

This week's game will be the second meeting between the two in the postseason. The Patriots' first ever playoff game was a 26-8 win over the Bills at Buffalo on Dec. 28, 1963. That game was played at War Memorial Stadium.

This week's game will mark the seventh time the Patriots will face a division opponent in the postseason. In addition to the Buffalo postseason game in 1963, the Patriots faced the Miami Dolphins in 1982, the New York Jets and Dolphins in 1985, the Dolphins in 1997 and the Jets in 2006 and 2010.

This week's game will be the 125th meeting between the two teams. New England holds a 77-46-1 edge in the series and have won 36 of the last 44 games between the clubs dating back to 2000. The Patriots are 38-23-1 overall at Buffalo, including a 31-17 at Highmark Stadium.

The series between the AFC East rivals began in 1960. The Patriots' 77 wins over the Bills is their highest victory total over any opponent, six higher than their next highest win total against the New York Jets (71).

After seven straight series sweeps and 15 consecutive Patriots wins from 2003-10, Buffalo ended the streak with a 34-31 victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium in the first meeting between the teams in 2011. The 15-game win streak is tied for the fourth-longest winning streak over a single opponent in NFL history. The Patriots avenged that loss in the 2011 regular season finale by overcoming a 21-0 first quarter deficit and scoring 49 unanswered points en route to a 49-21 victory.

The teams have had many memorable match ups over the years, including a span from 1999 to 2001 where four-of-five contests were decided in overtime.

SERIES BREAKDOWN

Home Record: 39-23

  • Record in Foxborough: 33-18
  • Foxboro Stadium: 17-14
  • Gillette Stadium: 16-4
  • Record in Boston: 6-5

Road Record: 38-23-1

  • War Memorial Stadium: 7-6-1
  • Ralph Wilson/Rich Stadium/New Era/Highmark: 31-17

Largest Margin of Victory: 46 points (2007)

Largest Margin of Defeat: 35 points (1970)

Longest Win Streak: 15 games (2003-2010)

Bill Belichick vs Buffalo: 36-9 (36-8 with NE)

Sean McDermott vs New England: 3-7

QUICK HITS

  • The Patriots have recorded 77 wins over the Bills, the most by the Patriots against any one opponent. The Jets are second on that list with 71 wins by the Patriots.
  • The Buffalo Bills snapped a streak of 13 straight home wins by the Patriots, including 12 straight wins by the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, with their 17-9 win in the 2014 regular season finale on Dec. 28, 2014.
  • Bill Belichick has a 99-37 (.728) all-time regular season record against the AFC East as head coach of the Patriots
The New England Patriots line up on offense against the Buffalo Bills during their game at Highmark Stadium on Monday, December 6, 2021.
The New England Patriots line up on offense against the Buffalo Bills during their game at Highmark Stadium on Monday, December 6, 2021.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Table inside Article
2021 REGULAR SEASONNEW ENGLANDBUFFALO
Record10-711-6
Divisional Standings2nd1st
Total Yards Gained6,0086,493
Total Offense (Rank)353.4 (15)381.9 (5)
Rush Offense126.5 (8)129.9 (6)
Pass Offense226.9 (14)252.0 (9)
Points Per Game27.2 (6)28.4 (3)
Total Yards Allowed5,2844,637
Total Defense (Rank)310.8 (4)272.8 (1)
Rush Defense123.7 (22)109.8 (13)
Pass Defense187.1 (2)163.0 (1)
Points Allowed/Game17.8 (2)17.0 (1)
Possession Avg.30:2831:34
Sacks Allowed/Yards Lost28/24127/166
Sacks Made/Yards36/25642/276
Total Touchdowns Scored5157
Penalties Against/Yards95/854113/980
Punts/Avg.52/44.553/42.1
Turnover Differential+7 (8T)+8 (7)

QUARTERBACK COMPARISON

#10
2021_headshots_recropped__0042_Jones_Mac_2021
MAC JONES, QB, PATRIOTS
HT: 6-3 WT: 217 COLLEGE: ALABAMA
Table inside Article
SEASONCOMPATTYDSTDINTLNGSK/YDS
20213525213,80122137528/241
#17
josh-allen-headshot
JOSH ALLEN, QB, BILLS
HT: 6-5 WT: 237 COLLEGE: WYOMING
Table inside Article
SEASONCOMPATTYDSTDINTLNGSK/YDS
20214096464,40736156126/164

CONNECTIONS

FORMER PATRIOTS

  • OC Brian Daboll - Defensive Coaching Assistant (2000-01), Wide Receivers Coach (2002-06), Offensive Assistant (2013), Tight Ends Coach (2014-16) - Won Super Bowl XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX and LI with the Patriots.
  • Asst. OL Coach Ryan Wendell (OL 2008-15) - Signed with New England as an undrafted free agent in 2008 out of Fresno State. He spent the '08 season on the practice squad and was promoted to the 53- man roster in December 2009. - Won Super Bowl XLIX with the Patriots.

FORMER BILLS

  • None.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR...

  • The New England Patriots have won 33 playoff games since Robert Kraft bought the franchise in 1994. The 33 wins ranks third among ownership groups in NFL history and are the most by any team since he entered the NFL.
  • The Patriots (the sixth-seed) seek to become the 10th team since realignment in 2002 to reach the Super Bowl as a No. 3 seed or lower in the playoffs.
  • The Patriots have played in 58 postseason games, fourth-most in NFL history behind Dallas (63), Pittsburgh (62) and Green Bay (60). The Patriots need to play in two more postseason games in 2021 to become the fourth NFL team to play in 60 postseason games. The Patriots 37 postseason wins are the most all-time.
  • The Patriots are one of six NFL teams with 50 or more postseason games played in their franchise's history.
  • The Patriots will look to add to their postseason total, entering the 2021 postseason fourth with 1,416 total points and tied for fourth with 165 total touchdowns.
  • Bill Belichick will extend his NFL record by coaching in his NFL-leading 44th postseason game this week.
  • Belichick will look to extend his NFL lead this week by earning his 32nd postseason victory.
  • Devin McCourty (23) and Matthew Slater (24) have played in more than 20 postseason games and look to add to that total in the postseason.
  • Devin McCourty (23) needs to start in one more postseason game to tie Brett Favre (24) and Gene Upshaw (24) for the fourth-most starts in the postseason by an NFL player.
  • Matthew Slater (21) is tied with Larry Izzo for most postseason special teams tackles all-time and needs one more special teams tackle to hold sole possession for most special teams tackles since the statistic was tracked beginning in 1994.
  • Of the rookie quarterbacks who started more than 10 games during their first season, only 11 have led their teams to the playoffs, including New England rookie Mac Jones. Dak Prescott (Dallas in 2016), Robert Griffin III (Washington in 2012), Kyle Orton (Chicago in 2005) and Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh in 2004) led their teams to a division title. Andrew Luck (Indianapolis in 2012), Russell Wilson (Seattle in 2012), Matt Ryan (Atlanta in 2008), Joe Flacco (Baltimore in 2008), Andy Dalton (Cincinnati in 2011) and Mark Sanchez (New York Jets in 2009) led their teams to playoff berths after starting at least 10 games during their rookie season. Only Mark Sanchez (2009), Ben Roethlisberger (2004) and Shaun King (1999) reached the conference championship game.
20220115-wildcard-waystowatch

BROADCAST INFORMATION

TELEVISION: This week's game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Charles Davis as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work from the sidelines. The game will be produced by Mark Wolff and directed by Bob Fishman.

NATIONAL RADIO: Saturday's game will be broadcast to a national audience on Westwood One. John Sadak will call the game with Ross Tucker providing analysis. Steve Tasker will report from the sidelines.

SATELLITE RADIO: SiriusXM App: 821 (NE), 803 (BUF) | SiriusXM: 225 (NE), 227 (BUF)

LOCAL RADIO: 98.5 The Sports Hub is the flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network. A complete listing of the network's 35 stations can be found here. Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci will call the action along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who will provide color analysis. The games are produced by Marc Cappello.

For information on how to stream the game please visit our Ways to Watch guide.

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