Commentary

In what was supposed to be Buffalo’s year, the Patriots are still a nuisance that won’t go away

Isn’t this just Buffalo’s luck? 

Buffalo Bills fans. AP

COMMENTARY

How do you think all this is playing in Buffalo? 

When the Bills won the AFC East for the first time in 25 years last season, it was supposed to signal the beginning of a new era. After a rotating list of characters failed to take the role over two decades, Josh Allen emerged as the team’s bona-fide, MVP-caliber quarterback. Head coach Sean McDermott helped build one of the league’s most fearsome defenses. The franchise even signaled the belief it had in the team’s viability by trading for Stefon Diggs, one of the game’s most talented wide receivers.

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What do they get for it all? Instead of creating a new era of distinction, the Bills are, once again, looking up at the same team that has dominated its division for a generation. 

It’s a very “Buffalo” narrative. 

If the NFL season ended today, the 8-4 New England Patriots would, once again, be champs of the AFC East, ending a dry spell of all of two years. The 7-4 Bills would be left with the sixth seed and a wild card matchup against the debilitated Tennessee Titans. 

Should they lose to New England Monday night, the Bills could be sitting on the postseason bubble. 

It’s strange that the Patriots and Bills have yet to meet this late in the season, but it’s almost as if the NFL scheduling wizards could foresee the enormity of these late-season showdowns. Even in what was supposed to be the Bills’ moment of triumph, they now have to deal with the thorn in their side, an upstart Patriots team that just won’t go away.

What happened to the Cam Newton Patriots, the team that Buffalo figured would be easy fodder for its team for years to come? At least based on the results of last season, and particularly considering the 38-9 blowout in the penultimate game on the schedule, Buffalo seemed valid in its belief that its time had come. 

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Instead, here they are, dealing with the same team that has strangled their hopes for nearly a quarter-century. 

Things could change in a hurry Monday night when the Patriots and Bills face off for the first time this season. If the Bills are able to deliver New England its first road loss of 2021, it will re-establish their claim to be, perhaps, the best team in the AFC. The Patriots won’t have gone away, not with a second showdown looming in December, but a win will go a long way toward reminding the rest of the league why Buffalo was such a Super Bowl darling in the NFL preseason. 

On the other hand, a pair of losses and the Patriots could also help end their season over the course of the next four weeks. 

If it’s been difficult to get a firm grip on how to categorize the Patriots, winners of six in a row after their 36-13 win over the Titans Sunday afternoon, the answers may develop on Monday. It was the Titans who were supposed to play the role of worthy competition, but the former No. 1 seed is a shell of its former self, arriving at Gillette Stadium without its top two wide receivers and its game-changing running back. 

It was supposed to be the Cleveland Browns, a team the Patriots ruined earlier this month as a precursor to the Browns’ late-season collapse. It was also supposed to be the San Diego (I know) Chargers, the second team the Patriots played in their current streak, a win that played as a defensive coming out party. 

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But with each week came various flaws in the competition’s overall build. Can we really judge the Patriots’ Super Bowl chances based on what they managed to do in Atlanta? 

Well then, here are the Bills, a true looming test for any critics who still aren’t convinced by what Bill Belichick has managed to build in Foxborough. 

If the Bills are who they think they are, Buffalo should be able to handle the Patriots. A pair of head-to-head wins would not only clinch the division, but it would also send the hated Patriots back into the purgatory of fringe playoff teams where the bulk of America probably figures — and hopes — they really belong. 

Then again, you could argue (and we have almost weekly in this space) that the Patriots should be a one-loss team. They should have beaten the Dolphins. They made the wrong coaching decisions at pivotal moments in losing to the Bucs and Cowboys. If you’re digging for characteristics, the Patriots have played much more like the best team in football than they have a “surprise” team in the NFL. 

Isn’t that just Buffalo’s luck? 

The Bills rebounded from their embarrassing home loss to the Colts with a Thanksgiving victory over the New Orleans Saints, one that came with the price of star cornerback Tre’Davious White, who suffered a torn ACL. They also have not won in consecutive weeks since Oct. 10, the only time the Bills have beaten a team with a winning record (Kansas City) this season. 

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When the season began, the Bills had the third-best odds to win the Super Bowl. Three months later, they are still in the conversation, but also find themselves in much more familiar territory; looking up at the Patriots in the AFC East. 

This was supposed to be Buffalo’s year. Finally. 

Instead, here come the Patriots, writing an all-too recognizable script along the way.

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