Well, we can all enjoy football again. The entire football community collectively held its breath until there was a positive update on Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, after he suffered a life-threatening injury on Monday Night Football against the Cincinnati Bengals. That game was declared a no contest, and nothing else mattered outside of the health and recovery of Hamlin. Earlier this week, Hamlin was able to breathe on his own and speak to family members and his teammates enough to allow everyone to celebrate and put aside their fears of the worst possible outcome.
The temperature will be close to 33 degrees, with winds less than 10 miles per hour. There will be a very small chance of rain with cloudy skies. This game is perfect football weather in Buffalo for January.
As far as injuries go, both teams are relatively healthy aside from injured reserve designations throughout the year. For the Bills, this is the best the injury report has looked all season, with none of their active players entering this game with an injury designation. Obviously, they have guys on Injured Reserve that fans would love to have active for the playoffs, but it’s truly a beautiful thing to see the report so empty.
The Patriots potentially being without two of their cornerbacks, Jonathan Jones (chest) and Jalen Mills (groin), would be very concerning for them going against Josh Allen and an offense that is so dynamic. Stefon Diggs started the game Monday apparently on fire, and will be looking to pick up where he left off before the game was suspended. Jonnu Smith (concussion) and Jakobi Meyers (shoulder) are also very difficult to replace in a game where the Patriots will need to put up points in order to beat the Bills.
Here are my thoughts and things to look for during this game.
- Normally, I start this off with Josh Allen. But this week, I’m starting off with coaching and team preparation. After such an emotional week, the team can come out one of two ways. Sometimes after emotional rollercoasters, emotions can wear guys out and cause the team to come out flat — or high energy at first, and then fizzle out to end the game flat. But I’m hoping for the opposite. This season has been full of tragedy, adversity, and resilience for the Bills and the Western New York community. From the racially motivated shooting in May, Kim Pegula’s health being a concern, Dawson Knox’s brother passing away, snow storms that disrupted the practice schedule and forced the team to essentially lose a home game, 44 people dying in the blizzard at the end of the year, five young children dying in a fire, and then Hamlin’s horrifying injury, it has been a very long year. The Bills have found a way to be a bright light in dark times for a community that needs a win. I see that being the case again this weekend, and for the playoffs. I don’t think anyone could have blamed the team if they folded earlier in the season with everything that could be viewed as emotional or mental distractions. Instead, they used everything as motivation, and found a way to win and give people something to feel good about. We need another one.
- Three weeks ago against the Miami Dolphins, Allen appeared to be back to his normal self when it comes to health. He was able to make throws all over the field as he torched the Dolphins for 304 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions. He didn’t appear to be limited in his throwing ability at all, so the hope and expectation is that his UCL has fully recovered for Buffalo at the right time heading into the playoffs. We weren’t able to see two consistent performances in a row due to the weather in Chicago. Winds of 50 miles per hour and double-digit negative temperatures made it difficult for Allen (or any quarterback) to throw the ball with precision. But the running game was the key to victory in the second half of that game, so it didn’t matter that Allen couldn’t move the ball with the ease Bills fans would have liked. What do we expect today? This weather is about as good as you can hope for in January when playing in Orchard Park, NY. No winds to contend with and 33 degrees will feel like a summer day compared to the weather they faced in Chicago. This is Allen’s tune-up for the playoffs, and I expect to see him dominate the Patriots’ depleted secondary.
- Last month when the Bills traveled to Foxborough to take on Mac Jones and the Patriots for their first matchup of the year, it was very difficult for the Pats to generate any real offense. Their lone touchdown came on a very well-designed play that essentially put Marcus Jones in a punt return out of the offense. Outside of that, Mac Jones was bothered all night, and Rhamondre Stevenson was limited to barely any space to run. Will the Patriots have a better plan to attack the Bills’ defense, or will this be a repeat of that game? Jones was visibly frustrated and screaming on the sideline for the offense to throw the ball deeper, but his receivers were unable to create any amount of separation and help him out. The matchup I’ll be looking at will be the Bills’ secondary against the tight ends and wide receivers again. Will the Bills be able to make Jones struggle again, and force the Patriots into multiple three and outs? I’m not concerned with the Patriots’ run game as much. The Bills rank in the top five in the league at stopping the run this season, and have remained consistently strong in that category even after Von Miller’s season ended on Thanksgiving.
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