Wild Card Game Hub: NE-BUF

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Wild Card Game Hub: NE-BUF

New England Patriots (10-7, 10-7 ATS) at Buffalo Bills (11-6, 9-6-2), 8:15 p.m., Saturday

Brolley’s Patriots Stats and Trends

  • The Patriots are in unfamiliar territory entering the postseason as a Wild Card team opening the playoffs on the road. Bill Belichick’s first 17 postseason appearances with the Patriots came after New England won the AFC East.

  • Rookie QB Mac Jones famously attempted just three passes in a windstorm back in Week 13 when the Patriots pulled out a 14-10 victory as three-point road underdogs in a game totaled at 41 points. The Bills got their revenge three weeks later in a 33-21 win as one-point road favorites in a game totaled at 43.5 points.

  • The Patriots controlled their destiny after beating the Bills in Week 13, which capped a seven-game outright and ATS winning streak. They’re 1-3 outright and ATS since their Week 14 bye, though, with their defense allowing 27+ points

  • New England is 4-1 toward unders in its last five road games.

  • These teams will meet for the third time in seven weeks in the Wild Card Round, and the early forecast is more favorable to the Patriots’ run-heavy attack. Temperatures are expected to be sitting in the single digits on Saturday night in Orchard Park with the potential to be subzero by the end of the game, but wind (5 mph) and snow (10% chance) aren’t expected to be factors.

  • Damien Harris has hammered Buffalo’s weak run defense with 28/214/4 rushing (7.6 YPC) in two games, and Belichick will look to shorten this game to keep Josh Allen off the field as much as possible. He’s been hampered by a hamstring since he initially injured himself against the Bills in Week 13, but he’s still scored in 10 of his last 11 games with 14 overall scores in that span. Rhamondre Stevenson will also be in the mix after having a head injury scare in the season finale.

  • Mac Jones is stumbling into his first postseason after throwing five INTs and averaging 6.6 YPA in New England’s three losses over the last four weeks. One of those games came against the Bills in Week 16 when he completed just 14/32 passes (43.8%) for scoreless 145 yards (4.5 YPA) and two INTs. The Bills are allowing a league-low 17.0 points per game, and they’re giving up the fewest yards per play (4.6) after limiting the Jets to a franchise-low 53 yards in the season finale.

  • Jakobi Meyers is the clear top option in this passing game heading into the postseason. He’s reached double-digit FP and 8+ targets in the last five games in which Jones has attempted more than three passes. Meyers finished with 6/59 receiving on eight targets when these teams met in Week 16.

  • Nelson Agholor returned to the lineup after missing two games for a concussion, but he remained a non-factor with just a 23-yard catch despite playing 89% of the snaps. Kendrick Bourne has cooled off a bit with double-digit FP in just one of his last five games, including a 2/33 receiving performance on four targets against the Bills in Week 16.

  • Hunter Henry has scored in just one of his last six games — he scored twice against Indy in Week 15 — and he managed just a nine-yard catch on six targets against Buffalo in Week 16. The Bills have allowed double-digit FP to just four TEs this season, and Rob Gronkowski is the only one to score more than 10 FP since Week 5.

Brolley’s Bills Stats and Trends

  • The Bills are starting their own run of dominance in the division with their second consecutive AFC East title.

  • They enter the playoffs with the league’s best point differential at +194, ahead of the Patriots who finished third at +159.

  • All 11 of Buffalo’s victories have come by double-digit margins but five of their six losses have come in one-score games.

  • The Bills won their last four games outright and they went 3-0-1 ATS to close out the season.

  • Josh Allen has scored 21+ FP in five straight games since he played the Patriots in a windstorm in Week 13, and he’s accounted for 60+ rushing yards in four of those contests. He got his revenge in New England in Week 16, completing 30/47 passes for 314 yards (6.7 YPA) and three TDs. The Patriots are allowing the second-fewest points per game (17.8), and quarterbacks are averaging the second-fewest FPG (14.0) against the Patriots this season.

  • Stefon Diggs is coming off a strong performance against the Jets in the season finale, posting 9/81/1 receiving on a season-high 14 targets. He posted 7/85/1 receiving against the Patriots in Week 16 and he just failed to track a long touchdown against them back in Week 13 when he finished with 4/51 receiving.

  • Gabriel Davis could only muster 3/39 receiving on a whopping 14 targets last week, and he managed a disappointing 6/79 receiving over the last two games after missing their Week 16 matchup with the Patriots. Emmanuel Sanders is trending toward a return from his knee injury after missing the last two games with a knee injury, but he’s managed fewer than 30 receiving yards in six straight games. Davis scored Buffalo’s only touchdown against the Patriots in Week 13 while Sanders has totaled just 5/42 receiving on 10 targets in two games against New England.

  • Cole Beasley has managed 35 or fewer yards in seven of his last nine games, including just an 11-yard catch on three targets in the windstorm against New England in Week 13. Beasley missed their Week 16 showdown with COVID, and Isaiah McKenzie stepped into his place and torched the Patriots with 11/125/1 receiving on 12 targets.

  • Dawson Knox reached double-digit FP once in his last six games, and he’s scored in just three of his last 10 games after finding paydirt in four straight games in Weeks 2-5. He did score against the Patriots in Week 16 but he managed just 4/25/1 receiving on nine targets in their two matchups.

  • The Bills turned to Devin Singletary to be their bellcow back in the final four weeks of the season, and he should be active again this week after averaging 21.0/99.1 scrimmage per game with six TDs in that span. His toughest game in that stretch came against the Patriots. He managed just 12/39 rushing (3.3 YPC) but he scored a rushing TD and he added 5/39 receiving to finish with 18.8 FP. Singletary’s fantasy production has risen in five consecutive weeks (14.9<16.6<18.8<23.0<25.2).

Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies

Patriots

Pace (seconds in between plays): 30.3 (28th)

Plays per game: 64.6 (21st)

Pass: 55.8% (27th) | Run: 44.2% (6th)

Bills

Pace: 27.3 (5th)

Plays per game: 70.2 (3rd)

Pass: 61.6% (13th) | Run: 38.4% (20th)

Pace Points

Everyone in America knows what the Patriots are going to try to do in this game. While that MNF game in Buffalo is still burnt into my brain, the Patriots run game didn’t impose their will in their second meeting two weeks later in New England. OC Josh McDaniels still called a very balanced game – 33 passes to 27 runs – but we saw what can happen when this offense has to play from behind and doesn't have leverage. The Bills built a 17-7 first half lead, forced Mac Jones to play from behind, and they never trailed throughout.

That loss to the Bills in Week 16 was a part of a three-game trend we saw to close out the Patriots season as they slid into the playoffs and have dropped three of their last 4 games by -10, -12, and -9 point margins. For as good as he’s been this season – especially relative to the other rookie QBs – the Patriots offense has been exposed a bit as of late as Mac Jones has failed to bring them back from behind in all three of their losses. If they’re going to win, it’s all on the Patriots defense to keep Josh Allen under wraps.

The Bills offense is the antithesis of the Pats’ by playing fast (5th in pace), throwing a ton (2nd in pass rate above expected), and generating a ton of volume as a result (3rd in plays per game). After struggling in his first two appearances of the season against the Patriots in back-to-back years, Josh Allen bounced back in his second meetings in 2020 (320 yards, 4 TD on 36 attempts) and this season (314 yards, 3 TDs, 47 attempts).

In this third meeting, the Bills can lean on Allen as usual but they finally have a second threat – something they didn’t have in their 14-10 loss at home in the wind. Devin Singletary has been a revelation as of late and gives them a much-needed consistent element on the ground and that has allowed OC Brian Daboll to install some more designed runs for Allen. This Bills offense is much, much more threatening now than they were back in Week 13.

Huber’s Key Matchup Notes

I am envisioning an early playoff exit for the Patriots – as well as Vegas and most of the money. After the Patriots’ overwhelmingly fluky victory in Buffalo with rain and powerful winds that allowed New England to coast to the win on the back of 46 rushing and only three passing attempts. These same teams had the opportunity to square off without the powerful weather 20 days later. The Bills’ offense generated 33% more total yardage and 36% more points. With the Pats’ playing from behind, Mac Jones was fully overwhelmed by Buffalo’s elite secondary.

It appears the Orchard Park weather will once again have a hand in the effectiveness this weekend. However, it’ll be in the form of extremely frigid temperatures. It’s been well documented in countless scientific studies that temperatures in the neighborhood of the 5℉ that these teams will play in result in a decline in response time – yes, even in next-level athletes. Do not be surprised when Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels make every attempt to control this game with their ground game.

The 13.5 FPG allowed to RBs on the ground (13th-most) by the Bills may not blow you away, but that number has been injected with games against the Falcons, Panthers, Alvin Kamara- and Mark Ingram-less Saints, Dolphins and two games against the Jets since their Week 7 bye. None of the Bills’ rushing allowance metrics are reliable. In two games against Buffalo, Damien Harris has constructed a 28/214/4 combined rushing line, and 25.7 FPG. If the Pats attempt to force the issue through the air, my condolences to their chances. With heavy ground volume, the Patriots will stand a chance.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Devin Singletary has gone from a complete, inefficient afterthought over the first 12 weeks, into one of the hottest RBs in the game over the last five. He’s averaged 20.3 FPG during those last five weeks, entirely bolstered by 21 touches/game the last four weeks.

The Patriots are offering backfields 123.7 rushing YPG (11th-most), 4.5 YPC (eighth-most), 2.80% of carries resulting in at least 20 yards (the seventh-highest rate), 11.3 FPG through the air (ninth-most), and 23.2 FPG to RBs (15th-most).

Dolan’s Vantage Points

The story for this week’s Patriots-Bills game in Buffalo is the same as it was six weeks ago in Buffalo — weather.

Instead of wind this time, it will be frigid cold.

You might remember one of the big anecdotes about why the Bills drafted Josh Allen in 2018 is because his big arm can cut through the Buffalo wind and cold air better than, say, Josh Rosen’s would (Allen was the right choice for about a million other reasons other than that). And indeed, when these two teams met in windy Orchard Park in Week 13, Allen threw the ball far more effectively than did Mac Jones. Hell, the fact that he threw it at all was the story.

But that doesn’t mean Allen — who is from California but played his college ball in much colder Wyoming — is comfortable in the cold.

It’s not going to be comfortable for anyone, but at least the Bills now have something they didn’t have in that last home game against the Pats — a functional run game with Devin Singletary. The Bills are going to throw the ball — Emmanuel Sanders (knee) is expected to play this week and Stefon Diggs has had some success against Patriots top CB JC Jackson in the past and CB Jalen Mills is currently on the COVID list — but Singletary is a dimension this offense lacked just six weeks ago.

As for the Pats, we know they’re going to run the ball. They’ve been managing RB Damien Harris’ reps in recent weeks as he deals with a hamstring injury he actually picked up when running for over 100 yards in that windy Buffalo game six weeks ago. But he, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Brandon Bolden are all healthy for this contest. Harris and Stevenson are obviously the better bets, but if you want to save some salary or are really looking to unload on this game, Bolden should gst some work.

Passing the ball will be more difficult for the Pats. Slot man Jakobi Meyers has an extremely difficult matchup with Taron Johnson, while the league’s best safety duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer will limit downfield plays and the upside for TE Hunter Henry.

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