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New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 21: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots reacts after defeating the Buffalo Bills 24-17 in the game at Gillette Stadium on December 21, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

The New England Patriots are in a rare spot on Saturday. They have a playoff rematch with a team that beat them in the regular season for the eighth time under Bill Belichick, and facing a division opponent in a playoff “threematch” for only the third time total.

Historically, how have Belichick’s Patriots performed in rematches, specifically coming off a loss? The results are mixed. They’re 10-5 in the regular season against division opponents that won the previous game, but 2-5 in the playoffs against all opponents that beat them in the regular season. Their only playoff wins coming off a loss are an ’06 wild card win over the Jets, and Super Bowl XXXVI over the 2001 Rams.

If this historical data has any bearing on Saturday’s wild card matchup between the Patriots and Bills, then it certainly favors Buffalo, who won 33-21 in Week 16 at Gillette Stadium.

Of those five playoff teams that beat the Patriots after beating them in the regular season, four of them went on to win the Super Bowl. That includes the 2011 Giants, who beat the Patriots 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI; both of Peyton Manning’s championship runs, with the 2006 Colts and 2015 Broncos; and the 2012 Ravens, who beat the Patriots 28-13 in the AFC title game in Foxboro en route to a Super Bowl win over the 49ers.

The stats may not tell us much in the end, since we’re combining different seasons, teams, etc. But if it tells us anything, it’s that these teams were simply better than the Pats in their given year, and the playoff result was the better team proving it was better.

Which brings us to the biggest question of all: are the Bills and Josh Allen in the class of those Super Bowl-winning teams and quarterbacks? Are they simply better than the Patriots? That’s what most people believed entering the season, so it’s up to the Bills to finish the deal.

  • Other recent history favors Patriots

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 26: Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills looks to throw the ball as Christian Barmore #90 of the New England Patriots applies pressure during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 26: Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills looks to throw the ball as Christian Barmore #90 of the New England Patriots applies pressure during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

    There’s another way to look at this. What if you looked at all threematches over a similar timeframe?

    That’s what Boston Sports Info did, and the results are interesting: since the 2002 realignment, the road team is 9-6 in the third matchup against a divisional opponent in the playoffs. The road team has also won the last five in a row.

    Again, different teams and seasons, arguably conflated with no real correlation to success or failure. But the home/road split is an eyebrow-raiser, and one that Patriots fans should feel pretty good about entering this game on Saturday night.

  • Other Factors

    Dec 21, 2019; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick shakes hands with Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott after their game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 21, 2019; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick shakes hands with Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott after their game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    It’s always fun to see what historical data tells you, but at the end of the day, every single game can stand on its own. Every game has its own challenges and situations, which makes NFL games uncommonly hard to predict. The kind of chaos that can’t be captured in simple wins and losses, even over a large sample size.

    The weather looks like potentially a major factor in Patriots-Bills on Saturday. Forecasts are calling for temperatures in single digits, with the possibility of zero degrees at kickoff. With or without wind and precipitation, that kind of cold has a way of affecting players, one way or another.

    Belichick and his experience may be the ultimate X-factor. He could simply come in with a sound gameplan, out-prepare Sean McDermott, and get the most out of his players on his way to pulling the upset.

    “Each game has its own unique circumstances and matchups,” Belichick said Wednesday. “The plays won’t get called against the same defenses or vice versa. We’ll have to see how things play out. I don’t think we want to make up our mind on how this game is going to go in any phase of it. We’ll execute the things we do as well as we can and if we have to make adjustments, then we’ll make them in game, but that’s kind of the way it is every week. I don’t really see a big change here for us.”

    McDermott has proven that he’s more competent than most coaches, and has gotten a couple of checkmarks over Belichick in recent years. But the Belichick Patriots in the playoffs are a new challenge for him. And we all saw how it went for him last time he had to play in abnormal weather.

  • Are the Bills just better?

    Dec 26, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) is sacked by Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver (91) in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 26, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) is sacked by Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver (91) in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Just to circle back to the 2-5 playoff record against teams that beat them in the regular season, it’s possible that the Bills are simply better than the Patriots and closer to a Super Bowl. Perhaps they will prove that by beating the Pats again on a bigger stage than that last one. If you believe in history repeating itself, that seems like the most likely result.

    The pressure is really on the Bills, because this may be their best shot at a Super Bowl win with Allen. So if they really are just better than the Patriots overall, it’s on them to take care of business, unlike the 2001 Rams.

    But it’s also on the Patriots to bounce back after a bad loss. That was often a hallmark of their success with Tom Brady. It just didn’t happen as much when they’re going up against a better team in January.

  • “Maybe we learned something”

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 26: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on from the sidelines during the second quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 26: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on from the sidelines during the second quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

    For Belichick, he knows the Patriots could make adjustments for Saturday based off the last time they played the Bills. But the media and fans can worry about the history. What’s important to the Patriots is focusing on the game in front of them.

    “Look, I think the big thing any time you play a team a second or third time, or whatever it is, it’s a new game. We’re starting from scratch,” Belichick said. “Don’t think or assume the game is going to go like another one did. Be ready to play it out, play it as you see it, and make the necessary adjustments and decisions that come up in this game.

    “Whatever happened in some other game happened. We learned something from that, but we have to play this game as it plays out. It’ll be different than any other game. As long as we do that, we’ll be OK.”