ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- In the locker room after the Buffalo Bills' 33-21 win over the New England Patriots in Week 16, coach Sean McDermott included some choice words in his postgame speech, aware of the road still ahead.
“We got to stay humble, we may play them again, also,” McDermott said, referring to the postseason.
Well, he wasn’t wrong. The No. 3 seed Bills and No. 6 seed Patriots will meet for the third time this season on Saturday night (8:15 p.m. ET, CBS). It's their first playoff meeting in the Super Bowl era. The only previous postseason matchup was an AFL divisional round game in 1963 -- a Boston Patriots 26-3 win over the Bills.
“The team that we just played, that's a great team,” quarterback Josh Allen said after the Week 16 win over New England. “They came into Buffalo [in Week 13] and they played us really well. And they came out and I think they played really well today, and whether or not we see them in the future we don't know, but we had guys step up, make some plays.”
The teams split the regular-season series, with each taking a victory on the road.
Coming into this playoff meeting -- the first road wild-card game of Bill Belichick’s head-coaching career -- the teams are on different sorts of streaks. The Bills have won four straight and clinched the AFC East crown for a second straight year. The Patriots, however, have lost three of their last four, including that Week 16 game against the Bills.
Part of the reason behind that has been the play of rookie quarterback Mac Jones. The ideal scenario for New England is to lean on their running game and not put too much on Jones. In the last four games, Jones has completed 59.9% of passes and thrown six touchdowns to five interceptions.
The wintery conditions worked in New England’s favor in the Week 13 meeting, with the Patriots successfully running the ball and asking Jones to throw only a historically low three times. The Bills offense, on the other hand, struggled to take advantage of opportunities, finishing 1-for-4 in the red zone.
Weather is likely to once again be a factor. The Bills have played few home games this season that didn't have some form of precipitation. It’s too far away to predict for sure, but the current expected low is 14 degrees with a 40% chance of snow and 5-10 mph winds.
A big question mark going into the postseason for Buffalo is the ability to stop dominant rushers and not give up big plays on the ground, as they did in that first meeting with the Patriots. In the second game -- thanks to the Bills offense establishing a lead -- New England was forced to try to win with Jones’ arm, resulting in his worst statistical performance of the season.
The Bills defense finished the regular season as the No. 1 scoring defense and the leader in almost every pass defense category, with the Patriots just behind them. It will be the first time the top two scoring defenses have met in the wild-card round, and only the fourth time in the last 20 postseasons in any round, per ESPN Stats & Information.
The Bills' pass rush has also been at its best late in the season. Of the team’s 42 sacks in the regular season, 21 came over the last five games, including nine in the Week 18 win over the Jets.
“Big praise to [defensive coordinator Leslie] Frazier for the way that he's called our defense all year,” defensive tackle Harrison Phillips said. “The leadership that we have on our back end, our captains, the older vets in our room, and then the growth of players like [defensive tackle] Ed [Oliver] and what he's done this year and how he's gotten better every single week and guys stepping up.”
But as important as the Bills defense has been, their playoff success could rest on the arms and legs of Allen. The quarterback was especially successful in the second meeting against the Patriots on third and fourth downs, completing 9 of 14 passes, a career-high. In the Week 13 loss, however, Allen went 3-of-12 on third and fourth downs, tied for the most such incompletions in his career. He can't have accuracy issues and miscommunications with receivers -- which have been prevalent in recent home games, including against the Patriots -- with so much more on the line.
“I think the main goal is the Super Bowl and winning the division just gives you an opportunity to do that,” Allen said. “So that's really our focus. It's great, it’s fine, hats and shirts are cool, but at the end of the day, we got a lot more work to do.”