It’s official: Patriots-Bills Round 3 will take place wild-card weekend.
No. 6 seed New England will travel to Buffalo to take on the third seed at 8:15 p.m. Saturday on CBS. See the NFL playoff schedule here.
Here’s what to expect:
Previous meetings this season: Patriots win, 14-10, at Buffalo in Week 13; Bills win, 33-21, at New England in Week 16.
Bills personnel notes: Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders has missed the past two games with a knee injury. Sanders, 34, has 42 catches for 626 yards this season.
An early overview of the matchup:
How will the Patriots respond defensively?
In Week 16, the Bills were without two important members of their receiving corps — Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis — but Isaiah McKenzie torched Patriots defensive back Myles Bryant, who spent most of the game chasing the 26-year-old backup receiver around the field.
McKenzie caught 11 of 12 targets for 125 yards and a touchdown. Four of his receptions came on third or fourth downs, with all converting. The Bills repeatedly targeted McKenzie, and the Patriots put up little resistance.
As safety Devin McCourty said after the game, “We didn’t adjust.”
The chances of McKenzie erupting again are slim — 73.9 percent of his receiving yards this season are from the Week 16 contest. But with Beasley and Davis back, the Bills could execute a similar plan.
New England’s No. 1 cornerback J.C. Jackson will be responsible for handling Bills star receiver Stefon Diggs, so the rest of the Patriots’ secondary cannot let the other pass catchers get to their spots with ease. Otherwise, they’ll be in for another long day.
The Patriots have managed the season-ending injury to cornerback Jonathan Jones well enough all season, but they definitely missed his speed and coverage in the slot in Week 16. It doesn’t help that 2019 second-round pick Joejuan Williams has been a healthy scratch for five games this season. Bryant, Jalen Mills, rookie Shaun Wade, and practice-squadder D’Angelo Ross are the team’s options at cornerback.
One other thing to monitor is the availability of safety Kyle Dugger, who did not practice last week with a hand injury and did not play Sunday against Miami.
Which version of Bills quarterback Josh Allen will show up?
After Buffalo’s big Week 16 win, Allen walked off the field and shouted in the tunnel to his teammate Harrison Phillips, “I don’t know who the [expletive] they thought I was, Harry.”
Allen had just played perhaps the best game of his career, given the stakes. He completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 314 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions (despite a close call with Jackson in the fourth quarter). He also rushed 12 times for 64 yards, including an 8-yard scramble to convert a crucial fourth down in the final moments.
The Bills didn’t punt once, as their $258-million quarterback came through with an incredible performance. Allen showed why the Bills should be considered a threat to return to the AFC Championship game for the second straight year.
In Week 17, however, Allen looked like the early version of himself. Against Atlanta, he completed just 42.3 percent of his passes, a season low, and threw three interceptions, a season high. The lowly Falcons couldn’t make the Bills pay, but the point stands that Allen makes poor decisions, which slowed his progress early in his career.
Banking on Allen to play poorly is not a viable strategy. However, the Patriots need to capitalize if he does make a mistake.
How will rookie quarterback Mac Jones fare?
Over the past decade, 12 rookie quarterbacks have started a playoff game — and just three came away with a win.
John Wolford started for the Rams against Seattle in 2020, but was only on the field for the team’s first two offensive series before getting replaced by Jared Goff. The two other rookies to earn victories were Russell Wilson (2012) and T.J. Yates (2011).
In NFL history, six rookie quarterbacks advanced beyond the divisional round, but none have made it to the Super Bowl.
History aside, Jones already will have a tough task against the Buffalo, which ranks first in the league in passing yards and touchdowns allowed. The Bills also allow the fewest net yards allowed per attempt (5.1).
Jones’s worst performance of the season came against Buffalo in Week 16, when he completed just 43.8 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions. His final passer rating was 31.4. Against Buffalo in Week 13, Jones attempted just three passes amid extreme wind and wintry conditions.
The Patriots will rely on their running game — leaning on contributions from Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Brandon Bolden — but Jones will need to be able to execute, too.
Read more from Patriots-Dolphins
- Instant Analysis: Patriots have the feel of a one-and-done playoff team after a bad loss to Dolphins
- Dan Shaughnessy: Patriots finished season looking like an average, undisciplined team that can’t play from behind
- Tara Sullivan: Patriots cannot put a playoff game solely in the hands of quarterback Mac Jones and expect to win
- Chad Finn: Too much familiar in Patriots’ latest loss at Miami, and none of it good
- How the Patriots’ season-finale loss to the Dolphins unfolded
- NFL Black Monday: Who’s out, and who’s on the hot seat?
- See the NFL playoff schedule
- The latest on Christian Barmore’s injury suffered late in the game
- ‘Just too many mistakes.’ Here’s what Bill Belichick had to say after the Patriots’ loss to the Dolphins
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.