2022 AFC Wild Card preview: (6) Patriots vs. (3) Bills
Brenden Martin previews Saturday's AFC Wildcard Playoff game between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots.
For the third time this season, the Buffalo Bills (11-6) and the New England Patriots (10-7) will be battling it out on the field. This time, the stage is much larger. After splitting each game during the regular season, the two will duel in a fated match-up as the second of two playoff games on Saturday.
The No. 3 seed Bills will host the No. 6 seed Patriots at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, a suburb south of Buffalo. The location of the game is perhaps the most important factor that will determine the outcome, at least that is what the teams’ two meetings this year would say.
Conditions in Orchard Park on Saturday are expected to be in the single digits with a late kickoff time allowing for the temperature to fall as the game progresses.
Forecasts suggest that Saturday’s Super Wild Card game in the Buffalo area could be the second coldest game in Bills history with the coldest game ever played being the Divisional Round of the playoffs on Jan. 15, 1994. The temperature was an even zero degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill that was over -10 degrees Fahrenheit. The Bills beat the Oakland Raiders that night, 29-23.
That year the Bills made it to Super Bowl XXVIII and lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 30-13.
The Bills certainly aren’t strangers to cold-weather games, Buffalo has played four games at Orchard Park that were below 22 degrees Fahrenheit. The Bills are 4-0 in those games.
Weather has certainly been a factor in the games that the Bills and Patriots played this season. In Week 13, the Patriots came to Buffalo and used the Bills’ home-field advantage against them, taking an iconic 14-10 victory to take the lead in the AFC East.
The temperature at kickoff was 36 degrees Fahrenheit, with winds reaching 40 MPH.
"Hats off to the offense. Really everybody, probably besides Mac," linebacker Matt Judon. "He didn't really do nothing besides hand the ball off."
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones threw only three passes in that game, completing two of them for 19 yards. It wasn’t anything fancy, but New England did what it had to do to win that game… at the expense of Mac Jones fantasy owners.
The difference in the game was New England’s focus on the running game. The Patriots ran for a total of 222 rushing yards, half of which came off of 10 carries by running back Damien Harris.
The Bills struggled running the ball that night, running for a total of 99 yards with quarterback Josh Allen being the team’s leading rusher with 39 yards.
Allen’s throwing ability has been known to be among the best in the league. However, cold-weather games are his Achilles heel. In the five career cold-weather games Allen has played (32 degrees Fahrenheit or below) while sporting a completion rating of 50.3 and averages 166.6 passing yards with six touchdowns passes and seven interceptions.
His best career cold-weather performance did come against the Patriots in 2019. On Dec. 21 of that year, Allen went 13/26 passing with 208 yards, two touchdown passes and no picks.
Mac Jones has yet to play an NFL game in freezing temperatures.
“It’s similar to [playing a team] twice,” Belichick said. “Look, I think the big thing any time you play a team a second or third time, or whatever it is, it’s a new game. We’re starting from scratch. Don’t think or assume the game is going to go like another one did. Be ready to play it out, play it as you see it, and make the necessary adjustments and decisions that come up in this game. Whatever happened in some other game happened. We learned something from that, but we have to play this game as it plays out. It’ll be different than any other game. As long as we do that, we’ll be OK.”
Saturday’s playoff game is going to be determined by each team’s run defense. Both teams are known for their strong defenses, but they will certainly make adjustments coming off of Buffalo’s Week 16 win in Gillette Stadium, 33-21. Thanks to the weather, the Bills may be at a home-field disadvantage.
If the Bills can stop the run and put Jones in positions to make big-time throws, they will be in a better position than last time they played the Patriots at Highmark Stadium.
The Patriots will need to emphasize its running game as well, but it is hard to believe they would be able to get away with only three passing attempts again. Belichick will need to mix in passing plays to keep Buffalo on its frozen toes.
New England has a handful of players listed as questionable on all sides of the ball. On offense, questionable players include Harris (hamstring), wide receiver Jakoni Myers (thigh), offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn (hip/ankle).
On defense, the Patriots also have defensive tackles Christian Barmore (knee) and Lawrence Guy (shoulder), linebackers Dont’a Hightower (knee), Brandon King (toe) and Jamie Collins (ankle) and safeties Kyle Dugger (hand), Adrian Phillips (knee) and Cody Davis (wrist) questionable as well.
Cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Shaun Wade are currently on the COVID-19 reserve list. To put a cherry on top, kicker Nick Folk (left knee) is questionable too.
With the weather being a factor, signs point to a hard-nosed, defensive battle. Both teams being in the northeast are used to playing in the cold, but Buffalo has the talent to power through against a Patriots team that has a rookie quarterback. No rookie full time starting quarterback has won a playoff game since Russell Wilson in 2012.
The Patriots have never won a playoff game when starting a rookie quarterback.
The kickoff will be on Saturday, Jan. 15 at 8:15 p.m. EST from Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. The game will be aired on CBS.
Prediction: Patriots 16 - Bills 20