This is the third meeting in six weeks between the AFC East rivals so it is uncertain what new wrinkles the New England Patriots or Buffalo Bills coaching staffs will be coming up with. It will be more of a case of each team having a pretty good idea of what is coming and let’s see what you can do to stop it.
The Bills had lost six straight playoff games dating back to 1995 before defeating the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens last season. Buffalo’s bid to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since a January 1994 loss to the Dallas Cowboys ended with a loss to Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game.
The good news is that Buffalo will have more players who have experienced playoff success than the visiting Patriots. New England roster has undergone major changes since Tom Brady was leading the franchise to nine Super Bowl appearances from 2001-2018.
Having the mid-January playoff game in Western New York is a nice touch. There will not be the blustery conditions that short-circuited the passing attacks when the teams played at Highmark Stadium in Week 13, but it could be a balmy 5 degrees at kickoff.
Buffalo (+375) has the third-best odds to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl while New England (+1000) is fifth among the seven AFC playoff teams.
- Game: New England (10-7) at Buffalo (11-6)
- Location: Highmark Stadium
- Day/Time: Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET
- Television: CBS
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills AFC Wild Card 2022
Rookie QB Played Key Role in Return to Playoffs
It is not the easiest thing in the world to replace a quarterback with more Super Bowl titles than any other player, but rookie Mac Jones knows a thing or two about walking into a pressure cooker after deciding to play his college football at Alabama. All Jones did in his one year as the starter is lead the Crimson Tide to the national championship.
Jones is facing a different vibe than Brady did early in his NFL career. Despite a pair of Super Bowl appearances before Brady’s arrival, the Patriots weren’t viewed as a “Super Bowl champion or bust” team like they are now. Brady also didn’t get thrown into the fire right away, throwig just three passes as a rookie. It wasn’t until an injury to starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe the following year that Brady began his incredible run with the Patriots.
The scenario is much different for Jones. First, he was a first-round selection rather than a sixth-rounder like Brady. When Cam Newton was let go during the preseason, Jones was given the starting job. Jones did throw five interceptions in his last four games, but he also threw for 3,801 yards and is vying with Cincinnati receiver Ja’Marr Chase for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
New England won’t be asking Jones to win the game, especially with a rushing offense that ranks eighth in the NFL as well as the fourth-ranked defense.
Jones hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in the two regular-season games against Buffalo. He only attempted three passes in the first game as a result of 40-50 mph winds, making it rather challenging to throw the ball. In the rematch, he was just 14 of 32 with 145 yards and two interceptions and finished with the lowest quarterback rating of any game during his rookie season.
Jones and the Patriots were 2-3 when listed by the NFL picks against the spread as underdogs, although one of those wins did come at Buffalo.
Defense Never Rested in Charge to AFC East Title
When the Buffalo Bills made history by advancing to four straight Super Bowls in the early nineties, the defense had a couple of the most recognizable defensive players in the NFL in defensive end Bruce Smith and linebacker Cornelius Bennett.
While it would be a reach to steal the “no-name defense” moniker used by the Miami Dolphins in the 1970s, leading tackler Tremaine Edmunds and sacks leader Mario Addison aren’t the household names that Bennett and Smith were.
Still, it is hard to argue with the results.
Buffalo has allowed the fewest yards (272.8 per game) and fewest points (17.0 per game) of any NFL team this season. Buffalo also has the top passing defense in the league. Teams have had some success running on the Bills and that includes the Patriots. New England ran for 371 yards in the two regular-season matchups.
The defense was at its dominating best since an overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers forced the Bills to win their final four games to claim the AFC East title and the all-important home-field advantage for Saturday’s playoff opener. The schedule was in Buffalo’s favor with games against non-playoff teams Carolina, Atlanta and the New York Jets included along with the rematch with New England. Still, Buffalo allowed only an average of 15 points and 220 yards in the four games.
Buffalo was only 5-3 against the Las Vegas odds in its last eight games when listed as the favorite,
Buffalo Worked to Get Home-Field Advantage
Buffalo has won its last nine games in the playoffs when listed as the favorite. That streak dates back to the infamous Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants, when Scott Norwood’s potential game-winning kick was no good.
New England has won its last two postseason games as an underdog, which is something the Patriots didn’t deal with much when Brady was the quarterback.
New England might be missing players up front on both sides of the ball. Offensive lineman David Andrews, one of the veterans on the offensive side of the ball, is questionable with a shoulder injury. Left offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn was among the starters not practicing on Wednesday.
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) January 12, 2022
Rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore is questionable with a knee injury, while a shoulder issue landed a questionable tag on defensive lineman Lawrence Guy.
Defensive backs Cody Davis (wrist) and Kyle Dugger (hand) are also questionable. Dugger is New England’s third-leading tackler.
Second-leading tackler Adrian Phillips and veteran linebacker Dont’a Hightower also are questionable. It is worth watching how many of these key defensive players are available for the game.
There is some good news as leading rusher Damien Harris is probable. He’s been dealing with injuries late in the season. Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson has recorded a pair of 100-yard rushing games.
Those who bet online will be keeping close tabs on the practice reports coming out of the New England camp in the coming days.
There aren’t as many injury concerns with Buffalo as receiver Emmanuel Sanders and defensive end Efe Obada are probable. Star cornerback Tre’Davious White is on injured reserve as a result of a knee injury.
With so many question marks about the health of some key Patriots, it is hard to go with them in this one, even if it is hard to pick against Bill Belichick in the postseason. Although the line has been fluctuating between -4 and -4½, it is a pretty big number to go against the Patriots to at least cover.
The total of 44 is the lowest among this weekend’s games. Don’t expect an offensive shootout but it still seems likely for this one to go over that low total.
Pick: Buffalo Bills -200
Pick: New England Patriots +4