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Three reasons Patriots will upset Bills on Super Wild Card Weekend: Mac Jones, defense lead the way

All the marbles are up for grabs when the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills meet on Super Wild Card Weekend. Of course, unlike their previous two matchups during the regular season, the loser’s Lombardi hopes will come to a swift end on Saturday night, while the other will advance to the divisional round. 

Highmark Stadium will certainly be a hostile environment, but the Patriots have already shown they can go into Buffalo and earn a win as they did back in Week 13. Naturally, things will be a bit different than in that game — which featured 40 mph winds — and it seems unlikely New England will be able to get away with throwing the football just three times.

So how can the Patriots pull off this upset and advance to the next round? Here are three factors that could help them edge out a win. 

Defense comes up with timely stops 

Over the last few weeks, as it finished out the regular season, New England’s defense reverted back to its struggles from the start of the year where it was unable to get off the field in timely situations. Allowing a back-breaking fourth-quarter touchdown to Colts running back Jonathan Taylor in Week 15 and a fourth-and-1 conversion by Josh Allen in Week 16 are some recent examples where the defense couldn’t put the clamps down on its opponent. To win this game, the defense will need to be a bit sharper in that area. 

Statistically, the Patriots have been very good defensively on the road. They gave up just 284 yards per game and 157 passing yards per game on the road, which ranked No. 1 in the NFL this season. They lined up in Cover 3 on 46% of their defensive snaps on the road this season, which was the second-highest rate in the NFL. That does play well against Josh Allen, who hasn’t played particularly well against Cover 3 defenses. Against that scheme, Allen averaged 7.4 yards per pass attempt (19th among 31 qualified QBs) and has thrown six interceptions (second-most) this season.

The Patriots have struggled to stop the run, but Buffalo isn’t a run-first team so that weakness may not be as dire against this particular opponent. However, that’s an area where they’ll need to be much more stout to win. 

Mac Jones-led offense starts hot

Bill Belichick admitted recently that the Patriots have not been able to start games on a positive note. That has especially been the case coming out of the team’s Week 14 bye. Over that four-game stretch, the Patriots have been outscored by their opponents 38-7 in the first quarter with that lone touchdown coming in Week 17 against the Jaguars. If they fall in a similar hole on Saturday, the season is in real jeopardy of coming to an end. 

One wrinkle that the Patriots could attempt to get the offense rolling sooner is allowing Mac Jones to throw the football. Out of all four quarters, the first quarter is where Jones throws the football the least (89 attempts). However, he has completed 78.5% of his passes and has a 98.9 passer rating, which are both highs among the four-quarter splits. 

Of course, the Patriots could also double down on the running game as well with Damien Harris, who has enjoyed success against Buffalo this season. He rushed for a season-high 111 yards in Week 13 and then added another 100-yard rushing performance in Week 16, where he also tallied a career-high three rushing scores. The Bills have given up the most rushing touchdowns out of all the teams in the playoffs, so this could be an area of attack for New England. 

No matter if it’s through the air or on the ground, the Patriots can’t come out of the gate sluggish offensively. 

Avoiding drive-extending penalties

This one is pretty straightforward but has been an issue for the Patriots this season. Just last week, New England gave Miami new life after Lawrence Guy lined up over the center and was called for an illegal formation penalty on a fourth-and-1 punt attempt. That gave the Dolphins a new set of downs and they marched down the field to add three points to their lead. The Patriots had another fourth-down penalty call against them back in Week 16 against the Bills when Christian Barmore was called for encroachment that turned a fourth-and-7 into a fourth-and-2. Buffalo went for it, converted, and eventually scored a touchdown on the drive. 

This game needs to be a disciplined effort wire to wire from Belichick’s team. If costly penalties are assisting teams in moving down the field and putting up points, the Patriots will be sent packing pretty quickly. 



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