Bills/Patriots advance

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) celebrates a touchdown during the team’s Week 17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at Highmark Stadium. Buffalo will host the New England Patriots tonight in an AFC Wild Card game at the stadium in Orchard Park, where single-digit temperatures are expected.

It’s been a while, just over 58 years to be exact.

That’s when the Bills and Patriots met in the playoffs for the only time in the two inaugural American Football League franchise’s 62-year history.

The site was Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium, appropriately nicknamed “The Rockpile.”

There, on Dec. 28, 1963, the Patriots, who then called Boston home, prevailed 26-8.

Over the years, these division rivals have met 124 times and the team that now identifies as New England has won 77 of them.

Indeed, there was a galling streak between December of 2000 and the end of the 2019 season that the Pats won 35 of 39 meetings.

But things changed last year with Hall-of-Fame-bound quarterback Tom Brady, architect of all those victories, off to Tampa Bay, Buffalo rediscovered its footing. The Bills swept the Patriots en route to their first AFC East title since 1995.

This season, they split, New England winning 14-10 in a brutal windstorm at Orchard Park and Buffalo handing the Pats a 33-21 defeat in Foxboro.

And that set up tonight.

The Bills (11-6), having won a second straight division title, host the Patriots (10-7) at Highmark Stadium in what’s expected to be no worse than the second coldest home playoff game in franchise history. That dubious honor belongs to the then-L.A. Raiders in a 1993 playoff game which Buffalo won, 28-23, in January wind chills that reached 32-below.

But this evening (8:15, CBS-TV, 95.7 FM, 100.1 FM, 550 AM) won’t be much better as temperatures will be in the single digits and even light winds could make it feel like 5-to-10 below.

AND WHILE much of this week’s focus has been on the weather, Bills coach Sean McDermott has other concerns … namely the Patriots.

“They’re a good team and good teams put themselves in a position to make the playoffs, which they’ve done by having a good season,” he said. “You look at who’s made the playoffs and who hasn’t … year-after-year they’ve made the playoffs almost every season as long as I can remember.

“They came in here and beat us five weeks ago and that’s the reality of our situation. This is a good football team and I don’t think you have to look any further than the fact they (came in) and beat us here.”

THE BILLS, a four-point favorite, shook off a late midseason 1-3 stretch and won their last four games while the Pats dropped three of four to close the regular campaign.

Still, these two teams are statistically close in key areas.

Buffalo is first in the NFL in fewest points (17) and yards surrendered (273) per game while New England is second in points (18) and fourth in yards (311) given up.

The Bills are third in scoring (28 per game) and the Patriots sixth (27).

Buffalo is seventh in takeaway/giveaway ratio (plus-8) while New England is eighth (plus-7).

Defensively, the Bills are first in fewest passing yards surrendered per game (163) and the Pats are second (187).

BUFFALO quarterback Josh Allen mused, “playing at home against our division rival, a team that’s been the standard for success in the NFL for the last (20) years, it’s going to be a great challenge and we’re super excited for the opportunity. They beat us at home last time and it’s going to be another dogfight.”

Then there’s the win-or-go-home playoff aspect.

“The game has a different flow to it, a different situation, a different feel,” he said. “The leadership that we have, the trust we have in one another … we’re going to need that Saturday night because it’s hard to beat a team twice in a season and, obviously, that speaks for both sides because we’re 1-1.

“They beat us at home and that’s where we’re playing this game. We’ve got to be ready for whatever they throw at us. It’s going to be a 12-round slugfest and take all four quarters to win.”

OF COURSE, there’s also the specter of Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his six Super Bowl titles.

“They do so many great things, especially on the defensive side of the ball,” Allen said of Belichick’s specialty. “They’ve got a lot of smart, savvy veteran players. They play to their strengths and they’re extremely well-coached. When you have that type of defense, they’re relying on the offense to make mistakes because they’re so sound fundamentally.”

He admitted, “Obviously, ball security is the No.1 priority going into this game and trying to end every drive with a kick. Playing a team three times in a season, we know each other extremely well. They know us and we know them so it’s whoever can adjust quicker, whoever can show a different look that maybe hasn’t (been) seen.

“That’s why coach Belichick is one of the, if not THE greatest coach of all time … his ability to switch things up for (an opposing) quarterback. As a football fan it’s fun to watch but it’s a tough thing to go against as a quarterback.”

AND, IN A one-and-done situation, there’s genuine urgency.

“Every play counts so much … every first down you get can change the course of the game,” Allen said. “We’ve only got 70, 75 plays (in the game) and we need to make every one of them count. At the end of the day we’re not promised another game so we have to leave our best out on the field and try to find a win no matter how we can do it, whether it be running the ball 45 times or throwing the ball 45 times.”

He concluded, “Obviously, playing at home is a big benefit in the playoffs, you can feed off the emotion of the crowd, you don’t have to do a silent cadence. It’s the Patriots (here), that’s something you dream about and an opportunity that doesn’t come around too often. The energy’s going to be high and we have to be ready for that moment and play our best football.”

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