We haven’t seen this in a while.
In the space below, you’ll discover that most pigskin prognosticators are heavily in favor of a Bills win this Saturday night, when Buffalo and New England meet in an NFL wild card showdown. Mike Florio picks the Patriots based on Bill Belichick’s postseason track record. Gregg Rosenthal picked them to beat the Bills simply because he needed an upset this weekend.
When is the last time the New England Patriots have begun a postseason run with so little conviction?
The last time the Patriots played in a wild card game was two years ago. They were favored over the Tennessee Titans by 4.5 points. It was the last time we saw Mohamed Sanu, Sr. in a Patriots uniform. Some other guy too.
Prior to that, New England hadn’t played a wild card game in a decade (Baltimore’s 33-14 demotion at Gillette Stadium in 2010. In between both wild card games, the Patriots won three more Super Bowls to cement the second half of their two-part dynasty.
Nobody is expecting the beginning of a third stage come Saturday, nor is there much faith that the Patriots will advance to the divisional round. Pete Prisco likes the Bills in a blowout. Most others see another close game between the two AFC East rivals.
The Bills can be the team they have been the last few weeks. The Patriots need to overcome their late-season struggles. It all adds up to a likely Bills win in what promises to be a frigid Buffalo.
Which is probably exactly how Belichick likes it.
This week’s predictions
Globe staff: Four out of six pick Buffalo (-4).
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Bills 30, Patriots 17. “This is the third game featuring these two this season, with each winning on the other’s field. New England won the first meeting in a wind storm in early December, while the Bills dominated the Pats at their place in late December. The weather is expected to be cold, but not that windy. That means Josh Allen can have success throwing the football. The Patriots haven’t been the same team on the road, especially quarterback Mac Jones. Look for the Bills to take away the run and dare him to beat them. He won’t. The Bills will be moving on.”
John Breech, CBS Sports: Bills 24, Patriots 17. “Since 2010, rookie quarterbacks are 2-6 in playoff games and the only two wins came in games where a rookie was starting for both teams so a rookie had to win. Basically, I expect Mac Jones to struggle and the only way I think Patriots can win is if the game plays out exactly like their first meeting with the Bills and I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Buffalo (-4). “The Patriots kind of showed us who they are over the final four games of the year. They are decidedly not playing their best football, and they failed three tests against two middling AFC teams and this very Bills team.”
ESPN staff: Six out of 11 pick Buffalo.
Frank Schwab, Yahoo! Sports: Bills (-4). “I’ll take the Bills, because their potential is still tantalizing. The Patriots’ late-season struggles might not matter that much, but it’s also tough to ignore. If the Bills are going to show us their top gear, this is the time for it.”
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Bills 23, Patriots 20. “The Patriots and Bills also meet for a third time after each winning once in AFC East play. New England ran all over Buffalo the first time on the road, while Buffalo figured out how to win at Foxborough by diversifying the offense around Josh Allen. Expect a well-coached battle of defensive attrition between Bill Belichick and Sean McDermott. Mac Jones will get good support in his first playoff start, but he’s still rookie while Allen is a youngster with favorable playoff experience.”
Bill Bender, Sporting News: Bills 26, Patriots 20. “Josh Allen passed for 314 yards and three TDs in the second matchup between these teams. The road team won each regular-season matchup, and the intrigue around Bill Belichick leading another playoff run is there. Rookie Mac Jones will make his first playoff start, too. It’s a battle of the top-two scoring defenses in the NFL, and the forecast calls for snow. The temptation for a Patriots’ upset is there, but Buffalo comes through.”
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 20, Bills 19. “Bill Belichick is the master of coming up with a game plan that takes away what the opponent’s offense does best. But does he have the players to execute it? And will the Bills, faced with the reality of a long-time nemesis trying to spoil a playoff party, be able to rise to the occasion? Belichick has successfully embraced moments like this longer than Josh Allen has been alive.”
Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Bills 28, Patriots 17. “The last time the Patriots went to Buffalo, they threw only three passes on their way to an improbable win. I can’t see this game unfolding like that. The Bills’ defense will be better prepared for the Patriots’ offense, and Josh Allen will have a better game as well.”
FiveThirtyEight: Bills, 70 percent (-6).
Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com: Patriots 20, Bills 19. “I’m zigging here partly because it’s 2021 and I need an upset this weekend, and partly because of Bill Belichick. Three matchups in seven weeks is outrageous and should favor the coaching staff that has its team ready to be flexible and creative. Look for guys like Rhamondre Stevenson and Kendrick Bourne to break tackles and start a new generation of random Patriots playoff heroes.”
NFL Pickwatch: Eighty percent, Buffalo (-200).
It says here: Patriots 23, Bills 17. Prepare the way for playoff hero Jonnu Smith.