Chad Finn

What if the Patriots and Bills meet for a third time in the playoffs?

After a split of their first two matchups this season, the possibility of a rubber game in the playoffs is very real, and we say bring it on.

Jakobi Meyers and the Patriots split their two meetings with the Bills this season. MATTHEW J LEE/MATTHEW J LEE/GLOBE STAFF

At the risk of losing the math-averse here before we even get to the first bit of punctuation, allow me to note that ESPN’s analytics-based Football Power Index model – stay with me here – gives a 49-percent chance to a Patriots-Bills rubber match in the wild-card playoff round.

Forty-nine percent may not seem like that much. I’m pretty sure it’s less than 50-50. But the ol’ FPI says its actually the most likely of all wild-card matchups to occur. Further, it says there’s a 58 percent chance that the Patriots and Bills will collide at some point during the playoffs.

Know what I say to that?

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No, not “be careful what you wish for.”

Bring it on.

The AFC East rivals have met twice this season. Each team owns one stirring victory that, at the time of occurrence, appeared to be season-defining in all the right ways. The Patriots prevailed, 14-10, in the winds of Buffalo in Week 13, running the ball 46 times on 49 plays, including 32 straight times in one stretch.

Three weeks later, the Bills – presumed by nitwits like me to be broken by that embarrassing first loss – came to Foxborough, revealed unexpected mental toughness, and rode quarterback Josh Allen’s immense talent to a 33-21 victory and the lead in the race to win the AFC East.

A fresh memory and a heaping helping of recency bias might have some pundits – and those Patriots fans that lean negative – thinking it would be wise to dodge the Bills. The Bills do have more pure talent on their roster – fine, I’ll admit it, I still kind of wish the Patriots still had Stephon Gilmore.

Buffalo also has the best overall player on either roster, and at the most important position. Allen was exceptional last Sunday, when he threw for 314 yards and three touchdowns, ran for another 64 yards, and helped make backup receiver Isaiah McKenzie (11 catches, 125 yards, 1 TD) at least a temporary folk hero in The Land of Drunkenly Crashing Through Tables. I really don’t believe I’ve seen a quarterback improve his decision-making and accuracy as much has Allen has over the course of his three-plus NFL seasons. He must be an incredibly dedicated worker.

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And yet … on an afternoon in which Allen was so sharp that he more or less showed us what Dan Marino would have looked like if he were mobile, the Patriots still had a chance. That chance just happened to slip through J.C. Jackson’s hands midway through the fourth quarter, with the Bills up 5 points.

Allen, firing one of his few inaccurate throws of the day, overthrew receiver Stefon Diggs. Jackson had to contort himself to get his hands on it, but had he made the interception, he appeared to have about 30 yards of open field between him and the end zone. Instead, the ball fell to the turf, Allen went back to dissecting Jackson, Myles Bryant, and the Patriots’ pass defense, and Buffalo had another touchdown and a 33-21 lead a few minutes later.

Had Jackson made the pick, perhaps – perhaps – Allen would have been flustered, and the Patriots could have escaped with the win. But he didn’t make the play – the story of the day for the Patriots, whose uncharacteristic mistakes have been all too characteristic lately – and the Patriots were left to sort through what-ifs and coulda-shoulda-wouldas, just as the Bills were three weeks before.

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Remember, for all of the talk about the Damien Harris/Rhamondre Stevenson combo, the ferocious 222-yard rushing performance and Josh McDaniels’s you-can’t-stop-this game plan in the first meeting, the Bills – like the Patriots last Sunday – did have a chance to steal a game in which they had been outplayed.

The Patriots secured the Monday Night Football victory only when Bryant batted down an Allen pass on fourth-and-14. We probably would have felt somewhat different about the run-run-run approach had Buffalo pulled it out. But they couldn’t, just as the Patriots couldn’t in the rematch

The team that deserved to win has prevailed in each matchup so far. They’ve been two distinctive, different, and fascinating games. A third would be much the same, I expect, particularly since there isn’t much that the teams don’t know about each other by this point.

So count me in for Round 3. I’m not being careful. This is what I wish for. Bill Belichick vs. Sean McDermott. Allen vs. a Patriots defense that is sure to be more aggressive. Mac Jones against those two smart, interchangeable, chatty Bills safeties, Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde. N’Keal Harry vs. any semblance of football instincts.

I hope the trusty Football Power Index proves prescient and we get that third showdown, with even higher stakes. After losing to the Patriots, the Bills proved their resilience and showed some character by beating them three weeks later.

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After losing to the Bills, wouldn’t it be fitting if the Patriots get their own opportunity at redemption on wild-card weekend, three weeks after being dealt a frustration of their own? Bring it on.

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