As a number of Patriots have said, it’s do-or-die when New England faces the Bills on Saturday night.
As much as Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels have downplayed the importance of the potentially historic low temperatures forecast, this game could end up another hard-fought contest that recalls the Patriots Week 13 victory at Buffalo more than Buffalo’s win at Gillette Stadium in Week 16.
Throw in the fact that lower-seeded opponents are 5-1 in divisional rematches in the playoffs, and who knows what could happen?
Both team’s big players are well known. But their importance has never been greater.
He’s the best player on either team.
Allen fell short of willing the Bills to victory against the Patriots in December at home, but the fourth-year quarterback overwhelmed New England in the rematch (314 yards passing, three TDs).
His combination of arm talent and raw athleticism created yards where there weren’t any, including on his crucial fourth-and-1 scramble in the fourth quarter.
The Buffalo weather appears to dampen his numbers a bit, but he’s shown he can drive the football through any conditions. The Bills will continue to rely on his arm, but beware Allen’s legs, too.
Forget that Week 13 game in which Jones threw only three passes. Assuming there’s no snowstorm Saturday, that’s not going to happen again.
The question is: Can Jones win a playoff game? The last four games (putting the Jacksonville blowout aside) have not been encouraging.
The Patriots will need Jones to make adjustments if Buffalo takes away Jakobi Meyers and the middle of the field as in their previous meeting. The rookie quarterback also has to selectively use his legs to keep the chains moving — teams haven’t respected him as a threat when he escapes the pocket.
It’s time for Jones to show the Bills a thing or two they haven’t seen from him.
The running back’s numbers were not great against the Patriots.
But despite a modest 78 yards (39 rushing, 39 receiving) in Week 16, the eye test revealed a more physical Singletary than the Week 13 matchup. He hit holes hard and churned through contact for extra yards, helping keep the Patriots’ defense honest.
Even that little bit of life from the Bills’ starting running back can make a lot of difference. Production from Singletary and backup Zack Moss could be a big key to breaking the Patriots’ game plan.
The mid-season defensive player of the year candidate has underperformed since the Patriots’ Week 14 bye. Judon has four pressures and no sacks or quarterback hits in that span.
Judon also appeared to be caught out of position on a 27-yard run by Miami’s Duke Johnson last week.
Kyle Van Noy has been solid as a do-it-all linebacker, especially keeping quarterbacks such as Allen in the pocket. But the Patriots need early-season Judon — arguably their best player — to return.
No play encapsulates Diggs’s importance more than the late third-down conversion he had in Week 16 to help seal the Bills’ win.
On third and 10, he found open space for a scrambling Allen and then willed his way to a first down. The Bills scored two plays later..
The Patriots have questions in the secondary with Jalen Mills’s (Reserve/COVID-19 list) status uncertain. New England could have J.C. Jackson shadow Diggs, as he has frequently done in the past, or play more zone defense with safety help (or some mixture of the two).
Either way, Diggs is one of Buffalo’s most important pieces on offense.
Rhamondre Stevenson should play a big role, too, if Harris is still on a pitch count due to his hamstring troubles.
But Harris is the more dangerous of the twor, and was the best on offense for the Patriots in the win at Buffalo.
Pro Football Focus’s top-graded running back has 12 “breakaway” runs (15+ yards), which is tied for sixth in the NFL this year and accounts for about a third of all his carries, according to PFF. He’s also a top-20 running back in missed tackles forced (37).
Defensive linemen rarely make headlines, but can make a difference against an opponent expected to run the ball.
Phillips, a fourth-year defensive tackle, had eight combined stops in Buffalo’s two regular-season contests against the Patriots — five in Week 13 and three in Week 16. No wonder he’s been the team’s highest-graded run defender this year (80.3).
Phillips, who primarily lines up over the center and left guard spots occupied by the likes of David Andrews and Ted Karras, can make a huge difference by taking up space to allow other to stop the run.
Smith has barely done anything for the Patriots’ offense aside from block, so why would he be important now?
Well, partly because of his blocking, which New England will need if it’s going to establish the run.
On the other hand, figuring out how to get the ball to Smith with room to run might be the simplest thing the Patriots can do to unlock their offense. He is the team’s biggest athletic mismatch for linebackers and safeties.