3 Biggest Matchups for Patriots in Wild Card Game vs. BillsJanuary 12, 2022
3 Biggest Matchups for Patriots in Wild Card Game vs. Bills
The New England Patriots face off with the Buffalo Bills for the third time this season in Saturday's AFC wild-card game.
Only one of the two regular-season matchups should be evaluated to see how the playoff clash will unfold. The first of the two meetings carried extraordinary circumstances because of the weather in Buffalo.
Bill Belichick schemed up a run-heavy game plan to counter the conditions on Dec. 6. Buffalo countered 20 days later with its full-strength offense in more favorable conditions to take hold of the AFC East.
The weather could play a factor in upstate New York again, but both teams should show off their full arsenal of offensive weapons.
New England must play to its offensive strengths in order to work Mac Jones into a rhythm in his first-ever postseason start on the road.
The Patriots should use a heavy dose of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson to work itself into the game. Jones could call on his most reliable situations to find some comfort in the pocket as well.
Defensively, New England must contain Buffalo's passing attack that gashed it for 314 yards on Dec. 26.
The Patriots' failure to contain Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs and Co. will likely result in a rare first-round exit.
Patriots Running Backs vs. Buffalo Front 7
New England found success on the ground in the second meeting with Buffalo under more normal circumstances.
Damien Harris produced 103 yards and three touchdowns in the Week 16 contest in which Jones attempted 32 passes.
Jones was 14-of-32 for 145 yards and he was intercepted twice at Gillette Stadium. Those numbers are cause for concern in the passing game going into Saturday.
Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson will be tasked with setting the offensive tone on the ground against a Bills defense that has had trouble containing them this season.
Buffalo was gashed in every part of its front seven in the December 6 clash that was affected by heavy rain and gusty winds at Highmark Stadium.
The Bills tied the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions for the fifth-most rushing touchdowns conceded (19) in the regular season.
That is a welcome sight for New England's red-zone offense that can't settle for field goals on the road against a dynamic offense.
Mac Jones vs. Buffalo Secondary
You could make the argument that Jones' biggest matchup comes against himself.
He needs to overcome the struggles that plagued him over the last month to be effective versus Buffalo's secondary.
Jones threw six touchdowns and five interceptions in the last four games. He did not have a touchdown pass in the Week 16 loss to the Bills.
The 2021 first-round pick will be forced to beat the Buffalo secondary in certain instances. New England is not going to run all over the Bills like it did in Week 13 when Jones attempted three passes.
Buffalo should force Jones to beat it by loading up in the box and stopping Harris and Stevenson for long gains.
Jones produced his lowest completion percentage of the regular season (43.8) versus Buffalo in Week 16. He needs to make better reads Saturday night to give the Patriots the best chance of winning.
The rookie should look to Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Henry in the short passing game to develop some confidence in the pocket.
If Jones completes a few early passes and leads the Patriots on an early scoring drive, he could settle into the game.
Jones has playoff experience from his collegiate days with the Alabama Crimson Tide, but if he does not adapt to the NFL postseason level, the Patriots will be headed for an early exit.
J.C. Jackson vs. Buffalo's Top Wide Receivers
New England possesses one of the best individual defensive weapons in the entire postseason field.
J.C. Jackson has the potential to take away one part of the field and come up with a game-changing turnover at any point.
Jackson conceded seven receptions on 16 targets in the two regular-season meetings with the Bills. He let up 99 yards and a touchdown on those catches.
The impending free agent conceded just three scoring catches this season, but two of them occurred in the last three weeks.
Buffalo could try to take advantage of those recent numbers, or it could stay away from Jackson and take on the other members of the New England secondary.
Jackson needs to be better in coverage, especially against Diggs, who can torture the Patriots secondary if his connection with Josh Allen gets going.
Statistics obtained from Pro Football Reference.