But it might be even more of a must-win for the Patriots. Really. No, seriously.
Why? Because against the Jets and Dolphins over the last four-plus years, the Patriots have played to a near draw. New England’s only sweeps over either of those teams in that time came during the unbeaten regular season of 2007. Since 2006, the Patriots are a collective 10-6, but were 2-2 in 2006, ’08 and ’09.
One thing that separates the Patriots from the Dolphins and Jets? From 2006-09 they are 8-0 vs. Buffalo. In that same timeframe, the Jets are 4-4 vs. Buffalo, and Miami is 3-5. Pretty hard to believe, but it’s true.
The Jets loss — their third in four meetings with their archrivals — drops the Patriots to 2-3 vs. New York since 2008. So New England has some work to do to even get the split with the Dolphins and Jets that it did in 2008 and ’09.
If the Patriots can get there, games like Sunday can make the difference. Not only is simply a “taking care of your business” scenario, in winning the ones you should win, it could also play into the tiebreaker system if a couple of clubs are tied atop the division at the end of the year.
For example, say the Patriots, Jets and Dolphins all split with one another. Say they all finish 10-6. And say that the two teams split with the Bills, and the other one sweeps them. That would mean that win over Buffalo would be the determining factor in crowning the East champion.
So this one might … Actually, not “might”, it definitely lacks the juice of a showdown with the Jets or Dolphins. But this game against the Bills is a big one in its own right.