The wild card at Highmark Stadium will mark the third time the New England Patriots cross paths with the Buffalo Bills in 40 days.
The same goes for cornerback J.C. Jackson and wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
While not on a wire-to-wire basis, both products of the University of Maryland have grown acquainted through AFC East bouts. They split theirs in 2021.
“He’s one of the best receivers. You could say that,” Jackson said of where Diggs ranks among his matchups during a Thursday video conference with reporters.
In New England’s victory on Dec. 6 in Orchard Park, Diggs was held to four catches for 51 yards through seven targets and strong winds. In Buffalo’s victory on Dec. 26 in Foxborough, he answered back with seven catches for 85 yards through 13 targets and milder conditions.
Those targets included a conversion on fourth down as well as a touchdown on third down. Jackson was his primary coverage on both.
“I mean, the guy can get open,” added Jackson, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March after playing on the $3.384 million tender. “He’s got strong hands. He’s got pretty great routes. He’s not easy to defend on an island by yourself.”
Jackson recorded a pair of pass deflections against Buffalo during the regular season. He finds himself with four interceptions through eight career divisional meetings.
The undrafted arrival also finds himself with more passes picked than any player since he entered the league in 2018. At age 26, Jackson’s 25 stand in a tie with Lester Hayes and Everson Walls for the most through four seasons dating back to the merger.
But the next assignment stood atop the NFL in receptions and receiving yards during his first campaign with reigning All-Pro Bills quarterback Josh Allen. During his second, Diggs again eclipsed 100 receptions and 1,200 receiving yards.
It’s a third round that veteran Patriots safety Adrian Phillips, recently signed to a contract extension, knows his teammate is wired for.
“This is exactly what he wants,” Phillips told reporters on Thursday. “He wouldn’t have it any other way. Whoever the top receiver in the league is, he wants to guard that person. When he has a chance to go out there and go against Diggs, like, he’s locked in. He don’t want it any other way.”
Jackson finished second on the New England defense in snaps played before the page turned the playoffs. But fellow starting cornerback Jalen Mills, who finished third, currently resides on the Covid-19 reserve list alongside rookie Shaun Wade.
It is an added variable on a short week of preparations.
“We had to switch a few things up, but we still prepared the same,” Jackson said. “This is a big game for us, and it was tough not having him this week. But when a guy goes down, next man up. We’ve been preparing all week for the next guy. He’s going to be ready for this, and we’re looking forward to Saturday night.”
The 8:15 p.m. ET kickoff between the No. 3 seed and the No. 6 seed will bring familiarity. Time will tell whether it favors the Pro Bowl receiver running the routes or the Pro Bowl corner covering them.
“You got to go into the game with a dog mentality,” said Jackson. “I mean, each game is a little bit different. I know I played him twice this year, but I still got to be aware and know what to expect.”