Stefon Diggs has no reason to know how bad it once was for the Bills whenever they had the Patriots on the schedule.
Since he arrived in Buffalo last year, the Bills have played the Patriots three times and beaten them twice, including an ugly 38-9 blowout in a Monday night game.
Before that, though, playing New England was a nightmare for the Bills. The Patriots won seven straight from 2015-19. In fact, 38 in meetings from 2000-19, the Patriots beat the Bills 34 times.
Of course, it wasn’t hard for Diggs to pinpoint why.
“I feel like [Tom] Brady was a huge part of those struggles,” Diggs said. “Probably because of what he did at the quarterback position. Just overall those teams were a force to be reckoned with.”
But the Bills team that will face the Patriots in the first round of the playoffs Saturday night is different from the one tormented for so long. They’ll host the Patriots at Highmark Stadium and they’ll go into the game as the favorite, boating the league’s best defense.
“This team coming along as well, they had some great players in the past and they built the right thing over a course of time,” Diggs said of his Bills. “Coach [Sean] McDermott, what he’s built over the past couple years — even before I got here, they went to the playoffs — so it’s not like they weren’t already trending in the right direction. I would say just the steady consistency of pushing in the right direction.”
The Bills are riding a four-game winning streak, making them the hottest team in the playoffs along with the Las Vegas Raiders, who also won four straight to end the regular season. But McDermott only had to flip the calendar back a month, when the Bills lost at home to the Patriots, 14-10, for a reality check.
“They came in here and beat us, what, five weeks ago now?” McDermott said. “That’s the reality of our situation and that’s where we’re at. This is a good football team and I don’t think you have to look any further than knowing that they beat us here a couple weeks ago.”
The Bills and Patriots haven’t met in the playoffs since 1963.
“Playing at home against our division rival — a team that’s been the standard for long-term success in the NFL for the last 25-30 years — it’s going to be a great challenge, we’re excited for the opportunity,” said quarterback Josh Allen. “It’s’ going to be another dogfight.”
Bracing for the cold
The conditions for Saturday’s game won’t be as bad as the snow and 40-mile-per-hour winds that made last month’s Monday night matchup so strange, but both teams will brace for temperatures expected to be in the single digits.
“It’s going to be cold for both teams,” Allen said. “It’ll be a challenge. It’s not fun getting hit in cold, it’s not fun catching hard passes in the cold and getting off the ground, it’s a little more exhausting over the course of a game. So just trying to get used to that.
“It’s more of a mental barrier than a physical barrier, if anything. But we’ve got to do our best to not let the elements limit us in what we can do.”
McDermott said the team will practice outside Wednesday to get used to the elements.
“I was never a good athlete, so the weather never really affected me,” McDermott said.
Diggs wasn’t bothered by the forecast. He remembers his days in Minnesota when the Vikings played the Seahawks in the 2016 playoffs at Gopher Stadium in the third-coldest NFL game on record. The temperature at kickoff was minus-6 (minus-25 with the wind chill).
“This doesn’t compare nothing to the Minnesota cold,” Diggs said. “So I don’t really be complaining too much. Minnesota was really cold, like negative-20 on a regular basis. So I’m not too much of a complainer. This ain’t nothing. I’ll be all right.”
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who hasn’t played since Week 16 because of a knee injury, was a full participant in Tuesday’s practice.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.