By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) – So the Patriots are in the playoffs and they’re underdogs. This does not happen often.
During the two decades of dominance, the Patriots were not favored in just seven of their 41 playoff games. And all but two of those games came in the championship round or the Super Bowl, and none of them happened in the Wild Card round. (The Patriots rarely played in the Wild Card round of the Tom Brady era, of course, and only played four times in the opening round during their 17 trips to the postseason.)
But it’s a new era as the Patriots head to Buffalo (formerly New Era field, coincidentally enough) as 4-point underdogs against the Bills in the Wild Card game. That number opened at 4.5 and has only moved a little, showing that the Bills are true favorites as far as oddsmakers are concerned.
Mens Patriots did beat the Bills at their own stadium on December 6, that match took place under a once-in-a-career relationship for the players. The Bills then convincingly won the rematch three weeks later, on their way to capturing the AFC East crown for the second season in a row.
The Patriots also lost three of their last four games, with their lone victory coming against the humble Jaguars. They lost away to two AFC teams that finished in the middle of the pack but outside the playoff picture in Indianapolis and Miami.
So the spread in favor of the home team feels pretty much right.
If you do not love the Patriots’ chances on Saturday night, then your instincts are correct. If you do not even do that like Chances of the Patriots in Buffalo, you might as well be on your way to something.
But this is sport. And sporting things happen all the time in sports. That’s what makes them sports.
So if you’re looking for a reason to find some optimism for the Patriots’ chances of winning this rubber game, we’ll make you a few better by giving you four key spots that could or should favor New England in this one.
JOSH ALLEN AT HOME
Josh Allen returned to earth in year four, where his stats and efficiency dropped markedly from 2020 to 2021. His completion rate dropped by 5.9 points, he threw 137 yards less and a touchdown less despite playing an extra game, He threw five more choices. , hans yards pr. attempts dropped 0.9 yards, his yards per. match dropped by 24.8 yards and his pass rating went from 107.2 to 92.2. He led zero comebacks in the fourth quarter and zero game-winning drives, and the Bills won two games fewer despite 17 games.
He was not an MVP candidate.
At the same time, you would never have known it if you saw him carve out the Patriots in Week 16 with some episodes that were at times too absurd for even a video game character to make.
Josh Allen my goodness pic.twitter.com/BlgaRMbBar
– Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) December 27, 2021
Every single one of those passes was just stupid. It was one of the most impressive performances by a visiting quarterback in New England we have seen in this era.
But it is also not surprising that it got in the way. Because at home? Josh Allen has not been that hot. Check the divisions.
JOSH ALLEN, HOME, SEASON 2021
2,048 yards, 6.1 Y / A, 227.6 Y / G
17 TDs, 7 INTs
JOSH ALLEN, ON ROAD, SEASON 2021
2,359 yards, 7.6 Y / A, 294.9 Y / G
19 TDs, 8 INTs
Allen is a far superior quarterback on the road, which the Patriots saw firsthand. (Allen was 15-for-30 for 145 yards with a touchdown and no choice in the Bills’ home loss to New England.) Of Allen’s six best games this season (in passing form), five of them came on the road. And the one at home – his second-best single-game passing rating of the season – came all the way back in Week 3, against Washington.
Allen was cursed almost perfectly with a host of very difficult throws in week 16. Repeating that performance would be unlikely for anyone.
Between the home road splits and Allen’s swollen antennae about having cold piggies on Saturday night, it feels unlikely that the video game Josh Allen will show up for this one.
(A pessimist would probably mention that Mac Jones was much better at home compared to on the road. But this story is about OPTIMISM. And running games travel.)
LACK OF CONVENTIONAL RUNNING ATTACK
So you want to beat the Patriots? Have you considered running football?
The Patriots lead the 22nd-ranked running defense into the playoffs, and the second-ranked passing defense. It’s even worse in terms of yards per. attempts where the Patriots rank 25th in the NFL with 4.53 yards per carry. carry.
When the Patriots allowed more than 100 yards rushing this season, they went 3-6. When they kept opponents under 100 rushing yards, they went 7-1.
That seems like a fatal mistake for the Patriots in their off-season mission … but it might not kill them in Buffalo.
Although the Bills have a generally strong rushing attack, it is not a conventional running game. Josh Allen accounts for 763 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns, which is a significant portion of Buffalo’s rushing totals. Devin Singletary and Zack Moss combined for 1,215 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns a year. Singletary is good, but it should not be too hard to hold him back. He topped 100 yards only once all year and he had 10 games with less than 50 rushing yards.
From the Patriots’ perspective, it’s about stopping Allen. Once he gets started with his legs, he can switch games. That much can just be seen from his two matchups with New England. He had 39 rushing yards on six carries in Buffalo’s loss, and he ran 12 times in 64 yards in the Bills’ victory.
That element is the key to the bill’s success (they’re 5-1 when he rushes more than 50 yards), and it’s not easy to keep. But, The Patriots kept him in check once this season. As long as they remember not to play man coverage and turn their backs on QB too much, they might be able to devise a plan that forces Allen to beat them as a pass player rather than a runner.
The Patriots’ top three players in their December win in Buffalo were Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson and Mother Nature.
All three dress up Saturday night.
Even if the wind is not blowing as it was on that Monday night, it will be cold. Incredibly, incredibly cold. With single-digit temperatures, it will be the type of cold that no one can prepare for.
It’s something there ought to help level the playing field. And with the Bills as a better team – on paper, in the standings, statistics, etc. – then a neutralizing factor like the weather should be an advantage for the Patriots.
Like the weather itself, it is difficult to predict exactly how the Arctic air will affect this game. Just looking at the Patriots history, some of the colder games have resulted in something mixed in terms of the passing game.
Tom Brady threw in 348 yards with a long touchdown and two picks in Kansas City in the 2018 playoffs, while Patrick Mahomes threw in 395 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Passing was not easy on the cold night, but it was possible… for two of the really big ones.
Back in the 2003 playoffs, when the Patriots hosted the Titans in a playoff game on a night that the New Englanders still remember as perhaps the coldest they’ve ever experienced, co-MVP Steve McNair threw in just 210 yards with a touchdown increased. eavesdropping. Brady threw in 201 yards (on 41 attempts) with one touchdown and no pick. Passes on to evening was a task.
A year after that, with chills below zero in Pittsburgh, Brady effectively threw in 207 yards, this time on just 21 attempts, while throwing two touchdowns with no choice. Ben Roethlisberger had a harder time with 14-for-24 in 226 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
All this means… the unbearable cold can limit the passing game, and it may not. But passing with high efficiency numbers to be a challenge for both teams, so the 12th man in a pinch – excuse me, 12th woman, even a natural goddess – should be a boost for the visiting team and its potent hasty attack.
BB IN ROUND 3
This one falls on the weird / speculative side of things, but anecdotally … you would not much prefer to have Bill Belichick over Sean McDermott (or any head coach, really) when two teams meet for the third time in a season ? All that tape, all that information… which coach would best use the information, go to school, revise a game plan and send his players on the field in the best position to win the match?
Mmmmm most people will go with Belichick on it.
Of course, that does not guarantee anything. Belichick is a better coach than Doug Pederson and Gary Kubiak, but he has lost playoff games against both. The games are ultimately decided and of course by the players. But the Patriots clearly have another advantage on the sidelines for this one. (And that’s without taking into account Sean McDermott’s tendency to boil like a teapot every time his Bills meets the Patriots, leading to poor control of the clock, terrible decisions to throw challenge flags, and unnecessary obstacles for his team to overcome.)
The story – though short – is unclear in this case. When the Patriots met the Jets three times in 2006, the Belichicks’ team handled Eric Mangini’s squad in a convenient way and won the playoff rubber match 37-16 at Gillette Stadium. But when the Patriots met the Jets three times in 2010, it was Rex Ryan’s team that shocked New England and the football world with a 28-21 playoff victory over Foxboro.
If you really wanting to pick up something more from that story, the Patriots lost their second meeting with the Jets in 2006 before beating them in the playoffs. In 2010, it was the opposite where the Patriots made the Jets completely embarrassing in Meeting No. 2 before falling head over heels in the playoffs.
This year, the Patriots won their first meeting with Buffalo, but lost the rematch. The common belief that more can be learned and achieved by a loss than a victory may help the Patriots there. And having Belichick in that situation – like most situations – once again gives the Patriots an advantage.
None of this indicates that the Patriots will win the game. The last two times Belichick has trained over the Wild Card weekend, after all, things have gone badly. The teams from 2009 and 2019 – below standard by Patriots standards – did not really prove to be in the playoffs, losing at home to the Ravens in ’09 and the Titans in ’19. It’s definitely a very real possibility that his annual team – which is an improved unit from 2020 but still has some major shortcomings in the Wild Card weekend – will find the same fate.
But life is short, and it does not hurt to try to find a little optimism in a cold, cruel world. Or at least that’s what people are saying.
In any case, this list is for those who want a reason to believe.