The Ravens/Bills matchup presents an interesting catch-22 for Patriots fans, as either team’s victory puts an obstacle in New England’s playoff path.
It’s time for New England to look past a dismal showing in Houston and focus on January football, since the Patriots have all but officially clinched a playoff berth. The team finds itself in a very rare position this December: actually being threatened by a division rival.
With a 9-3 record, the Bills sit one game back from the 10-2 Patriots, with a Week 16 game between the two teams looming enormously. If Buffalo comes out strong that week and topples New England, the Pats could see themselves falling all the way down to the No. 5 seed.
In order for that to happen, however, the Bills have to defeat a frightening team in the Baltimore Ravens, who’ve run one of the hottest offenses in recent history to an eight-game winning streak.
The scenario seems simple enough for Patriots fans. Shouldn’t we want Baltimore to win to keep New England safely beyond Buffalo’s grasp? Actually, no.
A Buffalo Bills victory will not only help the Pats secure the No. 1 seed in the conference; it could also put them on track for the Super Bowl.
I’m basing my pitch on the idea that these three teams can win out on their remaining schedules (besides Buffalo at New England obviously, since they face each other). The Ravens face the Browns, Jets, and Steelers, teams which are very unlikely to pull an upset. Coincidentally, the Bills also end the season against the Jets and Steelers, and should also win both games.
Here come the cries of pessimistic Patriots fans…
“But our offense is awful, how are we even going to beat the Chiefs or the Bills in the first place?”
It’s a legitimate concern, as New England’s offense has looked a bit hopeless for the last month. However, there’s a reason the Pats should win their remaining games that isn’t named Tom Brady or Bill Belichick: home-field advantage.
Three of New England’s last four games are played in Foxborough, with the only away game being in Cincinnati against the 1-11 Bengals in a match that the Pats presumably can’t lose. New England hasn’t lost at home since Week 4 of the 2017 season; meanwhile, they’ve lost eight away games in that same span.
The Chiefs and Bills have to come to Gillette Stadium, and the Patriots have a great shot at beating both. The Chiefs have a lackluster defense, and the Bills have an inconsistent offense. Coach Belichick knows how to attack weaknesses like no other coach, and the Patriots in general play their best when the stakes are at their highest.
Even though the annual hot takes are flying about the end of Brady’s reign, I believe New England has a great shot at winning out.
That being said, even if the Patriots finish the season at 14-2, they need the Ravens to lose in order to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs – an advantage that seems pretty pivotal for this particular Pats squad. If the Ravens win out, they’ll have the head-to-head tiebreaker win over the Patriots that gives their 14-2 record the edge.
New England will have a very difficult time taking down the Ravens if the AFC Championship Game is played in Baltimore, but if the same game is played in Foxborough, the Pats should be slightly favored. As electric as QB Lamar Jackson is, the nerves of entering Gillette for the AFC Championship should never be underestimated.
The team with the best shot at taking Baltimore down is Buffalo. Therefore, even though they’re right on our heels, we Patriots fan have to be Bills fans on Sunday afternoon.
Before we’re done, let’s look at the possible consequences of a Buffalo win: they could also take down the Patriots in Week 16, and both teams would end the season at 13-3. Then what?
Well, both teams beat each other once, so they’re tied evenly there. The next place to turn would be their divisional records… oh, they’d both be 5-1. The THIRD option is to compare their records against teams they’ve faced in common, which are the AFC North and NFC East. This is where the Bills falter; they lost to the Browns and Eagles, which would hand the Patriots the division title.
There you have it! Even if Buffalo and New England end the season with identical records, the Pats still secure the No. 2 seed. Traveling to Baltimore for the AFC Championship might be too tall a task for this year’s team, so the Ravens have to lose this weekend (or be upset against another team) for the Patriots to stand their best chance of making a fourth straight Super Bowl appearance.
Now, as far as the match itself is concerned, I doubt the Bills get lucky enough to take down Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. They may only be one win apart, but the Ravens have been destroying good opponents, while the Bills have been squeaking by mediocre ones.
The worst case scenario is for New England to drop two of their next four while Buffalo wins out, letting the Bills totally overtake them for the division title. If the Patriots were to go from 8-0 to 12-4, then let’s be honest, they’d probably deserve the No. 5 seed anyway.