A late-season showdown against the Buffalo Bills with the AFC East title on the line?
Talk about your delusions of grandeur.
Alas, here we are with the 10-4 Bills marching into the Patriots’ den with the thought of winning their first division title since 1995, a year before their quarterback, Josh Allen, was born.
It could happen. The Bills could march in and win a late-season game against a team still trying to figure things out. And sure, the Patriots could lose to the putrid Miami Dolphins, at home, in Week 17. Stranger things have happened, and remember the end of the 2015 season, when back-to-back losses against the Jets and Miami took away home-field advantage.
Nope. Sorry, Buffalo.
That’s not to say that the Bills couldn’t waltz right in and frustrate Tom Brady to the same level that they did during their first meeting this season. As far as scenarios are concerned, it’s entirely possible. The Bills are good. We think. Sorta.
After all, for all the bemoaning we’ve delivered the Patriots with their weak schedule over the early portion of the year, it hasn’t been much tougher in Buffalo. The Bills have had to play the same pathetic lineup of pasties from the NFC East, and have similarly lost to the Baltimore Ravens. If you’re looking for an impressive win, maybe it’s last week’s victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. I guess.
Nobody is denying that the Buffalo defense will be a problem for a Patriots offense still in flux of a solution, and possibly missing Julian Edelman for Saturday’s game. But is Josh Allen really going to march into Gillette, where the Patriots are nearly unbeatable, and reverse the script?
Patriots win the East. This week. Next week. Whatever.
They need to win both to assure that first-round bye, though. Which means the division celebration just doesn’t matter.
For one team, that is.
This week’s predictions
Joe Giglio, NJ.com: Bills (+6.5). Pats to win. “Bills leader Sean McDermott has done a tremendous job, and deserves Coach of the Year votes. New England will find a way, but this will be close.”
ESPN staff: Six out of nine pick the Patriots.
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Bills 20, Patriots 17. “Can the Bills win at Foxboro, where they are 2-16 since 2000? Yes, they can. The Patriots offense is limited, and that’s never a good thing against a good defense. The concern is the Bills offense against that Patriots defense. Even so, look for Josh Allen to play well as the Bills pull off the upset.”
CBS Sports staff: Six out of seven pick Buffalo (+6.5). Four of the seven pick the Bills straight-up.
Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Patriots (-6.5). “When even Bill Simmons knows the Patri*ts are cheating and has no defense for them at all, it’s bad. What an absolutely loathsome franchise.”
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 20, 2019
Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Bills (+6.5). “Maybe 13 days ago or so, it hit me that this game was going to have a 7-6 final score, one way or another. Nothing that’s happened in the two weeks since then has convinced me otherwise. I don’t know which team will have seven, I don’t know which team will have six. But that 7-6 final score looks like a guarantee. The only thing that could disrupt this plan is if Josh Allen throws multiple pick-sixes, which is a distinct possibility.”
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 23, Bills 13. “The Patriots wouldn’t lose to the Bills at home and drop three out of four games, would they? (Of course they wouldn’t.) New England survived the first matchup in Buffalo 16-10 and got well in Cincinnati last week — especially with the running game, defense and special teams — just in time for the rematch. Look for the Pats to stay grounded, as the backs have become the new focal points of the offense. The Bills have a tough pass defense, but the Patriots will get James White and Julian Edelman into the right matchups. Josh Allen’s passing also hasn’t been as strong against good defenses. Buffalo has won some big road games to get into the playoffs, but this won’t be another one. New England will clinch another AFC East title.”
Tadd Haislop, Sporting News: Patriots 20, Bills 14. “This isn’t exactly the defense Tom Brady and the Patriots’ struggling offense wants to see as they fight for playoff positioning in the AFC. Likewise, Buffalo’s offense is in for a struggle against the NFL’s top scoring defense as it attempts to steal the division title from New England. In what’s expected to be a close, low-scoring game, special teams and penalties will be factors. The Patriots have the edge in both areas.”
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 17, Bills 10. “At some point, the Bills will unleash Josh Allen as a runner. It likely won’t be this week, and that means the Patriots will be able to complete the sweep.”
Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 13, Bills 10. “The Patriots are slouching toward the postseason, but they’ll shut down the Bills’ offense and win this one.”
Five Thirty Eight: Patriots, 68 percent (-5).
Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com: Patriots 16, Bills 14. “Tom Brady and the New England offense are down to doing one thing well: not turning the ball over. That’s helped the Patriots build up a silly +24 turnover differential, including +3 when they snuck past the Bills in Buffalo back in Week 4. In a chilly game where I don’t trust either offense to move the ball, the Patriots will need Josh Allen to provide extra possessions and good field position again. Brady won a Super Bowl in 2001 with a familiar recipe: limited offensive mistakes, a fantasy defense, a playoff bye and good fortune. That appears to be that Pats’ only path forward this season, with two sub-standard offenses left on the schedule to dismantle before earning that bye.”
It says here: Patriots 34, Bills 17. Call the offensive explosion a hunch. Remember to get your T-shirts on the way out.