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New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Preview: Game Facts and a Prediction

The AFC East rivals split their first two meetings, with the visiting team winning each time.

In a matchup that's impossible to overhype, the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night will get to play in a packed house at home in a playoff game for the first time since 1996.

How packed their house, Highmark Stadium, will be depends on the extremely cold weather forecast. That has kept tickets, which as of Friday could be had for as little as $49 on Ticketmaster, from getting hot.

The Bills did have two home playoff games last season, but New York State and Erie County rules during the height of the coronavirus pandemic ensured that most of the people who attended came disguised as empty seats.

At any rate, Saturday night will be ridiculously cold in Orchard Park, N.Y. 

How cold? Around 2 degrees Fahrenheit, which sounds even colder when coverted to Celsius (-16).

While that may be scaring some fans away, the players are expected to show up.

Here's a closer look:

THE BASICS

Game: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills.

Date: Jan. 15, 8:15 p.m. (EST).

Venue: Highmark Stadium, Orchard Park, N.Y.

Records: Patriots (10-7); Bills (11-6).

Betting info: Bills by 4½. Over/under, 44.

TV: CBS.

Patriots depth chart

Bills depth chart

ABOUT THE PATRIOTS

They enter this matchup with 37 playoff victories, most in NFL history, but the first time as a wild-card team since 1998, meaning this is the first time since Bill Belichick became coach in 2000 that they've had to go on the road for the first round. 

Mac Jones (352-for-521, 3,801 yards, 22 TDs, 13 interceptions) is the first rookie quarterback to lead them to the playoffs. 

His top targets are Jakobi Meyers (83 catches, 866 yards), Kendrick Bourne (55 catches, 800 yards, five TDs) and Hunter Henry (50 catches, 603 yards, team-high nine TD receptions).

Running backs Damien Harris (202 carries, 929 yards, 15 TDs) and Rhamondre Stevenson (133 carries, 606 yards, five TDs) have done significant damage on the ground. Both average a healthy 4.6 yards per attempt.

They are led on defense by a pair of Pro Bowl selections this season, cornerback J.C. Jackson (eight interceptions, 23 passes defended, 58 tackles) and edge rusher Matt Judon (career-high and team-high 12.5 sacks, team-high 25 QB hits).

Linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley (109 tackles, three forced fumbles) and safeties Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips, who each have 92 tackles and four interceptions, are always around the ball.

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Interestingly, their defense has allowed just 17.8 points per game this season, That's second in the league only to ... the Bills (17.0).

ABOUT THE BILLS

Quarterback Josh Allen (37 TD passes last season, 36 this season) is the only Bill in franchise history to have thrown 30-plus TD passes in back-to-back seasons and the only player in league history to throw at least 100 TD passes and rush for at least 30 TDs in his first four seasons.

His 0.60% interception rate is the lowest in NFL postseason history among
passers with at least 150 attempts, and he averages the most yards per game (329.5) among all NFL quarterbacks with at least two playoff victories.

Allen's favorite target has been wide receiver Stefon Diggs (team-highs of 103 receptions, 1,225 yards and 10 TD catches), who has become the first in team history to surpass 80 catches and 1,000 yards for two straight seasons. Diggs also owns the league record for most receptions (230) by a player in his first two years with a team.

Diggs and left tackle Dion Dawkins were named to the Pro Bowl this season.

Wide receivers Cole Beasley (82 catches, 693 yards), Emmanuel Sanders (42 catches, 626 yards) and Gabriel Davis (35 catches, 549 yards, six TDs) and tight end Dawson Knox (49 catches, 587 yards, nine TDs) have been productive at various points this season.

Running back Devin Singletary leads the Bills in rushing yards (870) and is averaging 4.6 yards per attempt.

Safeties Micah Hyde (74 tackles, five interceptions, two fumble recoveries) and Jordan Poyer (93 tackles, five interceptions) man the back end of a unit that ranks first in total defense (272.8 yards per game), yards per play (4.6 yards), passing yards per game (163), passing yards per play (4.65), first downs allowed per game (16.7), third-down conversion rate allowed (30.8%) and points per game (17).

Poyer on Friday was named a first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. Hyde made the second team.

Linebacker Matt Milano has a career-high 15 tackles for a loss this season.

INJURIES

Patriots: RB Damien Harris (hamstring), WR Jakobi Meyers (thigh), OT Isaiah Wynn (hip/ankle), C David Andrews (shoulder), DT Christian Barmore (knee), DT Lawrence Guy (shoulder), LB Dont’a Hightower (knee), LB Brandon King (toe), LB Jamie Collins (ankle), S Kyle Dugger (hand), S Adrian Phillips (knee), S Cody Davis (wrist) and K Nick Folk (left knee) are questionable.

DBs Jalen Mills and Shaun Wade are on the COVID-19 reserve list.

Bills: None.

PREDICTION

Despite the familiarity, the ability to execute new wrinkles could be the deciding factor.

One thing is certain about the Bills' offense: They will need to be two-dimensional to win it. This would be true even without the harsh weather expected.

One thing is certain about the Bills' defense. They have to take the ball out of the hands of Harris and place it in the hands of the rookie Jones, daring him to beat their savvy secondary over the top.

The feeling here is that they will do enough of those things to prevail in this winner-take-all matchup.

Bills 23, Patriots 20.

Nick Fierro is the publisher of Bills Central. Check out the latest Bills news at www.si.com/nfl/bills and follow Fierro on Twitter at @NickFierro. Email to Nicky300@aol.com.