Rubber Match!: Previewing the Wild Card Matchup between the Patriots and Bills

After 18 wild weeks of football, it is finally time for the NFL playoffs to begin! The Patriots will make their return to the postseason after last year’s 7-9 finish, and will open against the hated Buffalo Bills (11-6) on Saturday. Interestingly, this will be the third matchup between the two teams in the last 40 days. After splitting the season series, it is time for the rubber match!

Here’s what to expect during this Wild Card matchup.

1. Can the Patriots protect Mac Jones?

The two regular season matchups against Buffalo were wildly different experiences for Mac Jones. In the first matchup, he was only asked to throw the ball 3 times, and he competed 2 of them during the 14-10 victory. In the second matchup, Buffalo got after him early and often, as the rookie struggled during the 33-21 loss. The Bills have a stingy and savvy defense, led by stalwarts such as Matt Milano, Jordan Poyer, and Micah Hyde, who can make life incredibly difficult for a quarterback. If the Patriots want to have any semblance of success, they need to be able to give Jones a clean pocket, and hope that their pass-catchers can get separation downfield. Hence, it is imperative that they attempt to establish the run, which they were able to do during the two earlier matchups. Doing so can help with play-action, and could result in lighter coverages in the secondary. If Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson can get going, it would definitely serve as a catalyst to the rest of the offense. In that vein, the Patriots need to hope that the return of Nelson Agholor will help boost their vertical passing game, as opposing defensive backs will need to respect his speed down the field. Agholor missed the second matchup against Buffalo, when the Patriots clearly struggled to gain downfield separation. All in all, establishing the run could boost New England’s passing game, and also help keep Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense on the sideline.

Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

2. Can the defense contain Josh Allen?

Just like Mac Jones, Josh Allen had two different experiences when these teams squared off. He missed a few key throws during Buffalo’s loss, but dominated the Patriots in Foxborough a couple weeks later. Allen’s dynamic abilities were on full display in Week 16, as he diced the Patriots up using his arm and legs. It is imperative that the Patriots keep Allen in the pocket if they want to ensure success. If he is able to break contain, that could prove fatal for New England, as it would enable his receivers to get open down the field. Buffalo does not have the most physically-imposing run game, but Allen’s presence means that a mere scramble could result in a 25-yard carry. Stefon Diggs has had his fair share of success against the Patriots in recent memory, and will likely draw the attention of JC Jackson throughout the game. Even if Diggs does not break free, the Patriots should be wary, as proven by Isaiah McKenzie’s brilliant performance in Week 16. With Cole Beasley back in the lineup, along with Emmanuel Sanders, the Patriots defense will likely have its hands full on Saturday.

The Patriots will need to ensure that the Bills do not get off to a hot start, as a comeback victory is likely not feasible with their style of offense.

Omar Rawlings / Getty Images

3. Injury Report

Patriots

  • Jamie Collins (ankle) – Questionable
  • Cody Davis, Wrist – Questionable
  • Kyle Dugger, Hand – Questionable
  • Nick Folk, Left Knee – Questionable
  • Lawrence Guy, Shoulder – Questionable
  • Damien Harris, Hamstring – Questionable
  • Dont’a Hightower, Knee – Questionable
  • Brandon King, Toe – Questionable
  • Jakobi Meyers, Thigh – Questionable
  • Adrian Phillips, Knee – Questionable
  • Christian Barmore, Knee – Questionable
  • Isaiah Wynn, Hip/Ankle – Questionable
  • David Andrews, Shoulder – Questionable

Bills

  • No players listed

4. What’re they wearing?

Courtesy of the Gridiron Uniform Database

5. Prediction

The Patriots have matched up well against Buffalo this season, but this trip may feature too much for them to handle against a very talented Bills team.

Bills 28, Patriots 17

(Top photo: Courtesy of the New England Patriots)

Heading up North!: Will the Pats knock off the undefeated Bills?

It’s not too often that the Patriots are tied with another team in the AFC East after three weeks of action, which is why tomorrow’s matchup with the Buffalo Bills (3-0) is extremely intriguing, as the victorious team will take first place in the division. The Pats haven’t lost in Buffalo since the 2011 season, which ironically also occurred in Week 4, with both teams being undefeated at the time.

Here are some things to consider entering this Week 4 contest.

1. What will the offense look like?

The Patriots’ offense has changed dramatically over the last few weeks, due to the addition and subsequent release of Antonio Brown, and the injuries sustained by offensive linemen Marcus Cannon & Isaiah Wynn, and fullback James Develin. In addition, Week 3’s game against the Jets tested the limits and versatility of the Pats’ receiving corps, with Julian Edelman getting knocked out of the game with a chest injury. Luckily for the Pats, Edelman was able to make the trip to Buffalo, and is expected to play. As this is only Week 4, having Edelman sit out wouldn’t be the worst idea, as another injury could jeopardize the team’s chances of contending down the line. If Edelman does play, I’d still expect the Pats to be cautious with his number of snaps, which would likely expand the importance of Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett in the offense.

Another important focus for the Pats should be ensuring the success of Sony Michel and the ground game. Michel hasn’t had the greatest start to the season, and the absence of Develin wasn’t exactly helpful for him against the Jets. If the Pats are able to sustain their running game, they can take pressure off of Tom Brady, and keep the Bills off balance with a well-balanced offensive attack.

The Bills’ defense has been stingy thus far, which means the Patriots will need to have a great offensive performance to emerge victorious tomorrow.

jules v bills w4p19.jpg
(Photo via USA Today)

2. Can the defense contain Josh Allen?

Josh Allen is one of the most perplexing quarterbacks in the NFL, as he has flashed brilliance with his ability to throw and run, while also displaying a great deal of recklessness with the football. Looking at Allen’s highlights so far, it’s fair to say that one of his greatest assets is his ability to run the ball, as it forces opposing defenses to keep an eye on him at all times. I believe that the Patriots’ key to victory will be bottling up the Bills’ running game, and putting the ball in Josh Allen’s hands. Allen has struggled with accuracy down the field, which plays right into the Pats’ hands, due to their excellent secondary. In addition, forcing Allen to throw a lot would enable Bill Belichick and Jerod Mayo to dial up the pass rush on the young quarterback. If Allen becomes rattled, he may throw some ill-advised throws, which could lead to takeaways for the defense.

Getting after Josh Allen would go a long way in ensuring another successful outing for the Patriots’ defense.

josh allen v pats d w4p.jpg
(Photo via the Democrat & Chronicle)

Injury Report:

Patriots

  • Michael Bennett (shoulder) – Questionable
  • Rex Burkhead (foot) – Questionable
  • Nate Ebner (groin) – Questionable
  • Julian Edelman (chest) – Questionable
  • Marshall Newhouse (illness) – Questionable
  • Dont’a Hightower (shoulder) – Questionable
  • Matt LaCosse (ankle) – Questionable

Bills

  • Tyler Kraft (ankle) – Out
  • Corey Thompson (ankle) – Out
  • Maurice Alexander (knee) – Questionable
  • Jon Feliciano (neck) – Questionable
  • Robert Foster (groin) – Questionable
  • Taron Johnson (hamstring) – Questionable
  • Spencer Long (ankle) – Questionable
  • Isaiah McKenzie (ankle) – Questionable
  • Devin Singletary (hamstring) – Questionable

 

Prediction: Patriots 24, Bills 13

Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Week 4 games (excluding Thursday Night Football).

Last week: 10-5

Redskins at Giants: Giants

Chiefs at Lions: Chiefs

Titans at Falcons: Falcons

Browns at Ravens: Ravens

Raiders at Colts: Colts

Panthers at Texans: Texans

Chargers at Dolphins: Chargers

Buccaneers at Rams: Rams

Seahawks at Cardinals: Seahawks

Vikings at Bears: Bears

Jaguars at Broncos: Jaguars

Cowboys at Saints: Cowboys

Bengals at Steelers: Steelers