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)

Buckle up!: The Pats take on Denver

It seems like a lifetime ago when the Cam Newton-led Patriots ran all over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 3, en route to a 36-20 victory. Unfortunately for the team, Newton tested positive for COVID-19 the ensuing Saturday, right before their Week 4 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs. That game was delayed and played on Monday night, with Brian Hoyer & Jarrett Stidham at quarterback during the 26-10 loss. The Patriots were meant to play the Denver Broncos (1-3) in Week 5, but Stephon Gilmore’s positive COVID-19 test led to this game being delayed to Week 6.

Here’s what to expect entering this Week 6 contest.

1. Can Cam & the offense regain their rhythm?

As I mentioned earlier, this game will be three weeks since the last time Cam Newton took the field for the Patriots, which makes this game important for New England’s offense to regain its footing as the season becomes increasingly difficult. Denver’s rushing defense ranks amongst the top half in the league, but I’d still expect Josh McDaniels to focus on establishing the run throughout the game. Having a strong rushing attack with Damien Harris, James White, & Rex Burkhead will help take pressure off of Newton in his first game back, and also open up play-action passes down the field. As Sony Michel is still on IR, and has also tested positive for COVID-19, it wouldn’t be surprising to see JJ Taylor back in the lineup as the fourth running back.

Hopefully the extended break helped Julian Edelman heal from his knee ailment that has bothered him for the past few weeks. More than anything else, I’m sure that he can’t wait to get back out there to make up for his crucial drop against the Chiefs. The Patriots need continuous production from N’Keal Harry & Damiere Byrd, as they have been able to establish some chemistry with Newton. I’m intrigued to see what practice squad receiver Isaiah Zuber can do, as his brief appearance in the Chiefs’ game was intriguing, due to his speed. It’s also been disappointing to see the lack of production from the tight end position, even though the team has been hyping up their production at practice.

If the Patriots can protect Newton from Denver’s pass rush, I would expect the offense to have a good performance tomorrow.

cam w6p20
(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

2. Can the Pats’ D contain the banged up Denver offense?

After a hard fought bout against a high-powered Kansas City offense, the Patriots’ defense will be facing an offense that is missing several key playmakers. Despite the return of second-year quarterback Drew Lock after a several week absence, Denver will be playing without their top running back, wide receiver, & tight end. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Denver try to establish their running game, due to the strength of the Patriots’ secondary & the relative inexperience of Lock. Limiting the effectiveness of Phillip Lindsey will be heavily important if the Patriots’ defense wants to ensure success.

I’d expect Bill Belichick’s defense to focus in on rookie receiver Jerry Jeudy, as he will clearly be Denver’s top threat down the field, with Stephon Gilmore likely drawing the assignment. In addition, I think that Belichick will test Drew Lock with heavy pressure, hence challenging the young quarterback to beat the Patriots’ secondary with his arm.

I would be surprised if the Patriots’ defense has a down game tomorrow, but anything is possible in the NFL!

drew lock w620p
(Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports

Injury Report:

Patriots:

  • Adam Butler (shoulder) – Questionable
  • Julian Edelman (knee) – Questionable
  • Isaiah Wynn (calf) – Questionable

Broncos

  • Drew Lock (shoulder) – Questionable
  • Mike Purcell (knee) – Questionable
  • Jeremiah Attaochu (quadriceps) – Out
  • Melvin Gordon III (illness) – Out
  • KJ Hamler (hamstring) – Out
  • Noah Fant (ankle) – Out

What’re they wearing?:

Pats v Broncos 20w6 uni matchup
(Photo courtesy of the Gridiron Uniform Database)

Prediction: Patriots 27, Broncos 14

Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Week 6 contests.

Last week: 8-5

Texans at Titans: Titans

Ravens at Eagles: Ravens

Falcons at Vikings: Vikings

Browns at Steelers: Steelers

Bengals at Colts: Colts

Lions at Jaguars: Lions

Bears at Panthers: Bears

Washington at Giants: Giants

Jets at Dolphins: Dolphins

Packers at Buccaneers: Buccaneers

Rams at 49ers: Rams

Chiefs at Bills: Chiefs

Cardinals at Cowboys: Cardinals