Following a one-year hiatus, the New England Patriots will return to the postseason when taking the field at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. The Pats will face off against the Buffalo Bills
The Patriots and Bills split their season series with each team winning its road game. New England beat Buffalo, 14-10, in a Monday Night Football contest on December 6 at Highmark Stadium. Buffalo avenged that defeat with a 33-21 win at Gillette Stadium on December 26.
In advance of this highly-anticipated rubber match, with each team’s season on the line, the staff of Patriot Maven, Mike D’Abate, Kevin Tame Jr. and Arnav Sharma sat down to provide their predictions for Saturday’s showdown in Western New York.
Arnav Sharma (@ArnavSharmaNFL)
This Patriots team is so inconsistent that any result from New England winning by 20 to losing by 20 seems plausible to me.
The Patriots' greatest advantage is going to be the weather. New England has struggled immensely when they've fallen behind early in games. Due to the weather, expect early points to be rare. I'm predicting that the conditions will allow the Patriots offense to establish their dominance in the ground game, which should allow them to control the tempo.
It'll be important for New England to control the "middle eight" -- that is, the last four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half. If New England has the ability to receive the second-half kickoff, maintaining time of position right before and right after halftime can have a few important benefits. Firstly, the offense will have a chance to "double-up" and swing the game by two scores before the Bills even touch the ball. However, and maybe more importantly, the offense can keep Josh Allen off the field for almost an hour in real-time.
One of the hardest parts of playing in a cold-weather game is establishing a passing rhythm -- and Buffalo needs their passing attack to win. If the Patriots can simultaneously establish their own ground rhythm while disrupting the Bills' offensive rhythm, they will likely win. This will be especially important with New England's limited depth at defensive back.
However, given the Patriots' recent success when they've been forced to rely on their run game, the weather and gameplan will likely be an advantage in an otherwise low to mid scoring game.
Final Score Prediction: Patriots 20, Bills 17
Kevin Tame, Jr. (@Kevin_Tame)
This won't be a popular pick, but at the end of the day, Buffalo is the better team.
Can New England pull off the upset? Of course.
I think the weather conditions will keep this game closer. I don't anticipate this being a high-scoring game, but I do think the Patriots will make it a one-score game late in the fourth quarter.
This game could very well be decided early in the first quarter. It's not a coincidence that in six out of seven of the Patriot's regular-season losses, the opponent scored first, or took a big early lead. New England cannot afford to come out sluggish, especially in the playoffs, when everyone steps it up a notch.
For the Patriots to have a chance, they need big games from both Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. This feels like the type of game in which New England's offense aims for long clock-killing drives, which ultimately keeps Josh Allen and the Bills offense standing on the sideline.
I'm concerned about Josh Allen's legs. Everyone knows he can sling the ball, but in the second matchup against the Patriots, he was able to use his legs more and run for first downs. In the playoffs, possessions are more important. It could be heartbreaking if the Patriots do all the right things on defense, prevent the receivers from getting open, just to watch Allen run for 12 yards and move the chains.
The city of Buffalo, the fan base, the players, and the coaching staff have all proved that they view this as a rivalry. This game means everything to them and I'm expecting them to be ready to go.
Final Score Prediction: Bills 20, Patriots 16
Mike D’Abate (@mdabateNFL)
If we are being honest in our assessment, Buffalo is the more talented of the two teams. Josh Allen has played at an MVP-caliber level throughout much of the season, and is arguably playing his best football at the right time. If the Patriots hope to contain him, they will need to put more pressure on him than they did in their previous meeting on December 26. The Patriots’ front seven have been sluggish in their approach to the pass rush, resulting in poor output when it comes to sacks and pressures. Though the Pats defensive has to respect the gap, they must be a bit more diligent in pursuing the passer.
The Patriots also need to show a bit more aggression on the offensive side of the ball. To do so, they will need to take a page out of their second-half playbook versus the Dolphins in Week Eighteen. Despite consistent running from Damien Harris (as well as rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, when healthy) the Patriots offense did not truly come to life until offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels opened up the passing game. When adding a deeper ball to his repertoire, Jones completed five of his eight passes beyond 20 yards in the air. Repeating this performance will not be easy against a stingy Bills’ secondary. However, with Buffalo likely to attempt to take away Jones’ short-yardage passing game, being aggressive may be the Patriots best bet to put points on the ball early.
Should New England be able to keep this one close, they have a legitimate chance to upset the Bills, even in the frigid temperatures of Western New York. Still, that is a tall task. At the end of the day, it might simply be too much to ask of a Patriots team that will be missing a couple of key starters on Saturday. The Pats keep it close. However, the Bills slight edge gives them a slim victory on Wild Card Weekend.
Final Score Prediction: Bills 24, Patriots 20
Kickoff between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills is set for 8:15 p.m. ET from Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.