When the Bills run: Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has unleashed quarterback Josh Allen as a runner. Over the last five regular-season games, Allen had four of his highest-rushing games of the season. He’s topped 60 yards in each of his last three games. He had 28 runs of 10-plus yards in the regular season, second only to Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts (29) among quarterbacks. On designed runs, Allen carried 57 times for 324 yards, according to TruMedia, picking up a first down on 50.9% of those plays. For comparison, Hurts was the only other player in the NFL above 40%. The New England Patriots have struggled to defend the run lately, including in Week 18 when they gave up 195 yards to Miami. Devin Singletary has five rushing touchdowns in his last four games. The only game he didn’t hit at least 86 rushing yards over that time was against New England, but the Buffalo Bills have shown the threat of their run game has to be respected. EDGE: Bills.
When the Bills throw: The Patriots ramped up their usual defensive approach in Week 16 against the Bills, going with more man coverage than they usually play. It was a logical approach, given that Allen threw six interceptions against that style of defense in the regular season, second most in the NFL. Allen, though, played one of his best games, and produced 12 first downs against the coverage. Switching to zone didn’t help, either, as Allen torched that coverage by completing 80% of his passes for 173 yards. It will be interesting to see if New England plays more man defense. If the Patriots do, it could mean more snaps for Isaiah McKenzie, who worked over Miles Bryant in the last meeting of the teams. Another big development was the Patriots putting No. 2 cornerback Jalen Mills on the reserve/Covid-19 list. If he can’t play, it will weaken their secondary. EDGE: Bills.
When the Patriots run: The Bills have sold out to stop the run in both games against New England. It hasn’t worked either time. Despite putting eight or more defenders in the box about 70% of the time, the Patriots ran for 222 yards in the first game – even when everyone knew they were going to run – and 149 in the rematch. Patriots running back Damien Harris has been dealing with a hamstring injury, so he may not be 100%. The Bills allowed 12 runs of 20-plus yards in the regular season, which ranked as ninth most in the league. EDGE: Patriots.
When the Patriots throw: It makes sense that the Bills would challenge Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones to beat them through the air. Jones hasn’t had a lot of success on intermediate and deep throws, particularly to the boundary. He should be helped by having Nelson Agholor, who missed the Week 16 game with a concussion, back in the lineup. Look for New England to also try and involve tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith more than they have been against the Bills this season. Those two combined for just one catch for 9 yards in Week 16. Will the Patriots take the shackles off Jones, particularly if the Bills sell out to stop the run? It’s one of the many interesting story lines in this game. EDGE: Bills.
Special teams: The Patriots’ special teams was uncharacteristically a mess in the regular season, save for kicker Nick Folk, who was solid. New England had three punts blocked during the season and finished with a negative DVOA, according to analytics website Football Outsiders, which is the first time that’s happened since 1994. The Bills can’t feel great about their special teams, either. Punter Matt Haack struggled last week against the Jets, although it’s not supposed to be quite as windy, which should help him. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see a big play on special teams matter greatly in the end. EDGE: Even.
Coaching: The enormity of the Week 16 matchup could be seen in how much both teams went for it on fourth down. The Bills were 3 of 4 in that category, while the Patriots went 5 for 6. There is no doubt that Bills coach Sean McDermott has more of the pressure on him in this game. That the Patriots made it this far with a rookie quarterback means they’re playing with house money. Given what was expected of the Bills, McDermott’s team can’t be one and done in the postseason. EDGE: Patriots.
Prediction: Bills 27, Patriots 19.