By Terry Eliasen, WBZ-TV Exec. Weather Producer

BOSTON (CBS) — Whether Bill Belichick admits it or not, weather plays a HUGE role in football this time of year.

I’m sure if you asked him he would say something like, “It is what it is.” And to a certain extent, he’s right.

But, I would say that if anything, the weather has been a major factor in the Patriots success in the past few decades.

It seems that all my memories of the Patriots playing in the snow, wind, or bitter cold are of them absolutely destroying the opponent.

Is that because they are better prepared than other teams? Or is it that they are more used to the winter weather? Either way, it sure seems as though the worse the weather, the better the Patriots play.

Can we still assume that to be true?

The answer is we just don’t know. The jury is still out.

Tom Brady has been replaced by Mac Jones, who, until recently, has spent the majority of his life playing football in Florida or Alabama.

Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski have been replaced by Nick Folk, a native of California who played his college career in Arizona.

That brings me to the big Monday Night Football game. The Patriots will be playing the Buffalo Bills in what is undoubtedly the biggest game of the year, to this point, for both teams. And, it will also likely be the worst weather either team has played in thus far.

The forecast includes heavy rainfall during the day Monday in Buffalo before it ends in the afternoon. Temperatures drop sharply in the evening. By game time, temperatures will be in the low 30s with winds gusting 20-40 mph. It will feel like 15-20 degrees for most of the game.

The “X factor” will be the snow. Buffalo sits on the eastern shore of Lake Erie. This time of year, before the lakes are frozen over, is primetime for lake-effect snow. Conditions on Monday night will be quite favorable for lake-effect snow band production.

The cold, Canadian air will be flowing readily over the relatively milder lake waters. This causes immediate and dramatic cloud formation over the lakes (almost like a summertime thunderstorm). Lake moisture is essentially scooped up and dumped downwind as snowfall.

Because these snow bands tend to be small in diameter, wind direction is key with lake-effect snowfall. A change of just a few degrees of direction can mean a whole lot of snow in one town and nearly nothing a few miles away.

On Monday night, Buffalo will be right on the edge of the snow bands. Current thinking is that the heaviest snow will be just to the south of Buffalo, with winds forecasted to be mainly out of the west. However, a very minute change in wind direction, to a bit more southwesterly, would bring the snow bands right into Highmark Stadium in Buffalo.

(WBZ-TV graphic)

Either way, Monday will be a very windy and cold night, that is a guarantee. How will Mac and Nick and the rest of the Pats hold up? That remains to be seen. Clearly, the Bills have some experience playing in these conditions as well. It may come down to who has the better running game. Passing the ball deep down the field will likely be very difficult.

Something else to watch for…this could be one of those games where the coin toss is vital. Not so the team can choose which half to receive the ball, but instead they may want to choose the end zone to defend and kick into in the 4th quarter.

Bills Stadium is oriented from northwest to southeast on a diagonal, with winds out of the west that are largely a cross wind. That’s not necessarily good for either team or kicker. However, kicking and throwing into the end zone on the southeast side will likely have more of a tailwind, albeit with a bit of a leftward push. Kickers will undoubtedly be out on the field early before each half testing their limits and see just how much they have to adjust for the wind. They will likely try to keep the kicks low in an attempt to lessen the impact.

I believe this will be a low-scoring game. Both coaches will try to minimize the mistakes which could be exacerbated or enhanced by rough weather conditions. More running plays than passing plays. This plays to the Patriots strengths more than the Bills in my opinion. The Bills’ high-flying offense with stud receivers and Josh Allen’s big arm should be neutralized to a degree. The Pats certainly have the better running game and the smarter coaching staff.

My final prediction: Pats 20, Bills 17. The Bills game-tying field goal attempt goes wide, and the Pats walk off with a huge win, thanks in part to the weather!