Bills/Patriots

Buffalo Bills safety Micah Hyde (23) celebrates after making a play during Buffalo’s Week 13 loss to the New England Patriots at Highmark Stadium. The Bills will host New England Saturday night for an AFC Wild Card game.

The last time the Bills hosted a sold out playoff game was December of 1996 at then-Rich Stadium, Jim Kelly’s final game in Buffalo, a 30-27 loss to the Jaguars.

And that streak won’t end Saturday night in Orchard Park.

Yeah, the Bills will face the Patriots in the wild-card round, but there will be vast numbers of empty seats at Highmark Stadium.

As of today, there are thousands of playoff tickets available on the secondary market for preseason prices. You don’t have to look hard online to find one for $30.

There are several reasons those tickets are available — fans boycotting over having to show proof of vaccination to enter the stadium and for, Canadian fans, the myriad Covid requirements to cross the border — but, by far, the biggest issue is tomorrow night’s weather forecast.

No precipitation is expected, but temperatures will be in the low single digits and even light breezes could drop wind chills to between 5-and-10 below zero.

That prediction has turned off many older season-ticket holders who are dumping their seats at way-discounted prices to watch the game on TV in the comfort of home.

Still, Saturday’s crowd will likely be eight times larger than last season’s two home playoff games when coronavirus restrictions limited attendance to just under 7,000.

OF COURSE, the most impacted people inside the facility will be the players and coaches.

“We’ve been getting outside a little bit each week,” coach Sean McDermott said of his team’s approach. “Weather definitely adds another layer to what you have to think about both in preparing for the game and making those in-game decisions.

“That’s where the preparation comes in … you do the best you can with the information you have. But when the game’s kicked off, sometimes things change and you have to adjust.”

And that’s particularly true of the players, especially quarterbacks.

“It’s going to be cold for both teams … it’ll be a challenge,” Bills QB Josh Allen admitted. “It’s not fun getting hit in the cold, it’s not fun catching hard passes in the cold … even getting off the ground it’s a little more exhausting over the course of a game.

“You try to get used to that. It’s more of a mental barrier than a physical barrier. But we’ve got to do our best not to let the elements limit us in what we can do.”

But Allen has his own concerns.

“The thing for me, I don’t know whether I have bad circulation in my feet but my toes get really cold and they get numb a little bit so keeping them as warm and dry as possible,” he said, having that experience dating back to his college days at Wyoming. “Also my hands … that’s a big emphasis for quarterbacks because you need them to throw.

“Throughout the course of the game, though, when you’re on the field you don’t really feel (the cold) too much. You’ve got adrenalin flowing and your mind’s on so many different things. It’s not a crazy, difficult thing to overcome, but early on it can be tough.”

ALLEN added, “It’s an even playing field for both sides of the ball but you’ve got to stay as warm and stretched out as humanly possible. When you’re sitting on the bench for an extended period of time your body will start doing different things, you feel a little tighter … more so for skill guys that they’re ready to go.

“But both sides will be cold, the fans in the stands will be cold, it’s just what it is and you’ve got to deal with it.”

He concluded, “It’s going to be hard for both teams to catch the ball, to hit and break tackles. Whichever team figures that out is going to have faster success and a better chance of winning the game.”

And, weather conditions notwithstanding, Buffalo’s players and coaches are excited about the matchup with their division rival and so much at stake.

“It’s going to be so nice … we’re looking forward to it, the noise, our fans, it’s going to be an electric atmosphere,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “It makes it hard on the opposing team, so we’ve got to try our best to give (our fans) something to cheer about.”

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