The New England Patriots were able to move the ball on the ground against the Buffalo Bills in their previous two games this season. Not counting kneel-down plays, they ran a combined 71 times for 379 yards, four touchdowns and an average of 5.3 yards per carry.
Heading into what projects to be a challenging wild card matchup played in single-digit temperatures, New England will likely rely on its rushing attack yet again to get the job done. The question is: Will it?
Using our crystal ball as well as numbers provided by DraftKings Sportsbook let’s try to find out what will happen on Saturday night.
RB Damien Harris: O/U 59.5 rushing yards
Even though he left the first matchup against the Bills early due to a hamstring injury, Damien Harris left his mark on the 14-10 contest. The former third-round draft pick gained 111 yards on just 10 carries and also scored New England’s lone touchdown.
Three weeks later, he again found plenty of success as a ball-carrier. While the Patriots ended up losing 33-21 in Week 16, Harris ended the day with 103 yards and three touchdowns on 18 attempts.
What will Saturday bring? The Patriots will likely rely on Harris and fellow running back Rhamondre Stevenson to put pressure on Buffalo’s defense yet again, and to lift some off of rookie quarterback Mac Jones. Whether or not that plan will come to fruition remains to be seen, but offensive Josh McDaniels will likely not abandon it even if his team falls behind.
Just look at it this way: Harris ran the ball nine times in each half against the Bills in Week 16 even with New England trailing 17-7 at intermission. He will get his chances again in difficult conditions, and he will likely gain a considerable number of rushing yards once more as a result.
RB Rhamondre Stevenson: O/U 40.5 rushing yards
After Damien Harris was lost in Week 13, Rhamondre Stevenson took over but was unable to duplicate his success. Stevenson ended the day with 24 rushing attempts but gained “only” 78 yards for an average of 3.3 yards per run. Three weeks later, he was inactive on the Covid-19 list.
The Patriots are expected to give the rookie his opportunities yet again, but with Harris expected to be fully ready those might look limited. Stevenson finishing the game with under 40.5 rushing yards could very much happen, even though he cracked that barrier in six of his last eight games.