Bills, Patriots meet in playoffs for first time in 58 years, expect a '12-round slugfest'

Dec 6, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott walks the sideline in the first quarter game against the New England Patriots at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Richard Morin
USA TODAY Sports+

Why does it feel like the Buffalo Bills have so much to prove against the New England Patriots?

They won more games this season. They scored more and allowed fewer points. And they have the more experienced quarterback.

However, the Bills are 46-77-1 all-time against the Patriots and just 7-36 against head coach Bill Belichick. Although the Bills won two of the last three meetings, they haven't safely put the Patriots in their rearview mirror.

Buffalo has a chance to do just that Saturday when the Bills (11-6) and Patriots (10-7) meet at 8:15 p.m. ET for their first playoff matchup in 58 years, and more than just a trip to the AFC divisional round is at stake.

For the Patriots, the game is a chance to legitimize their trajectory with rookie quarterback Mac Jones. For the Bills, it would be a final exorcism of Belichick's historical dominance over them.

But both teams will be up against bitter-cold conditions at Highmark Stadium.

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"Playoffs. Patriots. Division game," Bills quarterback Josh Allen told reporters Tuesday. "That's something you dream about. An opportunity that doesn't come around too often.

"It's gonna be a 12-round slugfest."

FORECAST:Bills vs. Patriots weather: Sub-zero wind chills expected for playoff game

It's been 37 days since the Patriots defeated the Bills 14-10 during a Monday night rife with wind gusts north of 20 mph and temperatures in the 30s. The Patriots attempted just three passes and won the game, outlasting the Bills with unwavering defense and a relentless running game.

Despite the Bills' 33-21 win in Foxborough 20 days later, Saturday's game should more closely resemble the Patriots' windy Week 13 win with temperatures expected in single digits and a wind chill pushing feels-like conditions into the negatives. 

So while he may host Saturday, Bills head coach Sean McDermott could be the underdog in another defensive chess match against Belichick.

"The temperature will be what it will be," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "We've certainly played and practiced in cold weather.

”You've got to dress appropriately for it and then go out there and coach and play."

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New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick takes notes against the Buffalo Bills during the first half of a game on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.

The Bills posted the NFL's highest point differential this season. They perform best when getting out to an early lead, having shown a proficient ability to play from ahead in games.

The Patriots, however, will try keeping this game close. It's something they were unable to do in the second half of their Week 16 loss to Buffalo, but bitter conditions could aid them in that regard. Weather Channel also predicts a 34% chance of snow.

The Bills haven't proved they can win in close games. They were 0-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less this season. The Patriots, meanwhile, were 3-3 in such games.

Keeping things within a touchdown will be easier said than done against Allen, who became the first player to finish with at least 4,000 passing yards and 750 rushing yards in a single season. Buffalo also had the top-scoring defense in the NFL. The Patriots finished second.

"We know who Josh Allen is," Patriots outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick said. "He's an incredible athlete, running and throwing. He's strong, he's fast, he's tough, physical and he's elusive. We know he's going to be a big challenge."

In their Week 13 loss, the Bills elected to utilize Allen with far greater frequency than the Patriots used Jones. The Patriots relied heavily on running backs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson to win.

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Three weeks later, in more comfortable conditions at Gillette Stadium, passing dominated both offensive game plans. Allen had a stellar afternoon, completing 30 of 47 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns. Jones, meanwhile, completed just half his throws and offered up two interceptions.

Despite the Bills' 4-1 record this season in temperatures 38 degrees or colder, Allen said he physically struggles in such conditions.

"The most important thing for me is — and I don't know why — I've got bad circulation in my feet," Allen said. "My toes get really cold and go numb a little bit. So I've got to keep those suckers as warm and dry as possible. Hands, too, are a big emphasis for quarterbacks.

"It's not fun getting hit in the cold and it's not fun catching hard passes in the cold. Even getting up off the ground is more exhausting."

For Jones, a Florida native, Saturday will be the coldest game of his career. It will be interesting to see whether the Patriots let him loose or simply use him as a game-manager like Week 13.

"I don't think the temperature has much to do with the passing game," McDaniels said. "That would be more relevant to precipitation and wind. It's more of a mental thing than anything else. Our guys are used to practicing in the temperatures we have up here in New England and we're going to be ready.

"We'll have contingency plans ready. Buffalo is a lot like New England in that the weather can change quick there. We'll be ready to deal with it the way we need to."