The New England Patriots can clinch the AFC East division title and at least one home playoff game with a win over the Buffalo Bills on Saturday.
Who could have possibly predicted way back in August that the AFC East would be hanging in the balance between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills come the end of December?
Heck, even just two months ago right around Halloween, it looked like the Pats were going to be wrapping up the division by Thanksgiving at the latest. Back then, the defending champs were 8-0 at the midway point of the season, and there was serious talk around whether or not this team could go undefeated during the regular season.
Here we are now less than a week away from Christmas, and the Patriots seem practically fortunate just to be 11-3 and currently projected for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye to open up the playoffs. The mood and general feeling around this team right now is apprehensive at best, and downright terrified at worst.
Where to begin?
Tom Brady looks like he’s either more bothered by a nagging right elbow injury than he’s letting on, or perhaps he’s finally starting to show his age at 42. He’s in the midst of one of his worst statistical seasons as a pro ever.
Bill Belichick – and by extension team ownership at large – are mired in yet another highly-publicized scandal involving allegations of cheating. Respected journalists and members of the media are calling for severe penalties if the Patriots are indeed found guilty for Spygate 2.0, and even if they’re ultimately exonerated, there’s now yet another blemish and potential “asterisk” on the Patriots dynasty thanks to this latest controversy.
Julian Edelman is about the only consistent weapon the Pats have on offense, and he may be dealing with a serious knee injury that could prevent him from suiting up in the playoffs at all. To add insult to injury (literally), the reigning Super Bowl MVP just got inexplicably snubbed from the Pro Bowl as well.
Mohamed Sanu has been a major disappointment since the Patriots traded a second-round pick for his services back in late October. Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown are both long gone – from both New England and from football altogether. Sony Michel has yet to run for over 100 yards in a game this season after doing so six times in 2018 as a rookie – including twice in the postseason.
The Patriots have no tight end production to speak of, the offensive line hasn’t gelled for much of the year, and their current placekicker last played in the Alliance of American Football before joining the New England roster.
On the bright side, the Patriots are still 11-3, they have the best defense in the NFL, and they’re one win away from clinching their 11th straight division title (which would extend their own record).
They also have the added security of knowing that even if they do falter at home and lose to Buffalo this week, they can clinch the division next Sunday at home against the Miami Dolphins, who are currently 3-11 on the season.
Of course, is the Patriots lose to the Bills at home, New England might have bigger problems than all the ones listed above. Brady has never lost to Buffalo at home in a game he plays from start to finish, and he surely doesn’t intend to break that absurd record streak now.
Unfortunately for Brady and his teammates – and for Patriots fans in general – this is easily one of the most talented and dangerous Bills teams of the past 20 years.
Head coach Sean McDermott and coordinator Leslie Frazier have built a defensive juggernaut, highlighted by true superstars like Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde, Lorenzo Alexander, and Tremaine Edmunds. The Bills are third in the NFL in yards allowed this season behind the Patriots and the 49ers; they’re also second in points allowed behind the Patriots.
Sunday’s game ultimately should come down to whether these two mediocre offenses can get any traction against these two exemplary defenses.
In the first meeting between the rivals in Orchard Park back in Week 4, the Pats eked out a 16-10 victory largely thanks to an 11-yard blocked punt return touchdown by Matthew Slater and a successful Stephen Gostskowki point-after attempt. Without those seven points, the Patriots would have fallen short to the Bills, 10-9.
Granted, New England’s defense also harassed Buffalo second-year QB Josh Allen into making some costly mistakes. Allen threw three interceptions and took four sacks before getting knocked out of the game and replaced by Matt Barkley, who threw a pick himself.
By comparison, Brady didn’t have any touchdowns, but he only had one interception – though it was a costly one that came deep in the red zone.
The biggest obstacle for the Patriots in this game defensively is going to be trying to contain Devin Singletary, Frank Gore, and the Buffalo run game. The Bills have the fifth-best rushing offense in the league, and are averaging nearly 135 yards on the ground per contest.
We’ve seen this super Patriots defense get gashed at times this year by opposing running backs – it happened just last Sunday against Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon. New England actually ceded 135 rush yards exactly to the Bills in Week 4 – 109 of them to Gore, and the other 26 to Allen himself.
Singletary wasn’t healthy enough to play in that game, but he should be good to go for this one – which is a scary thought if you’re a Pats fan. The third-round rookie running back out of FAU is averaging 5.4 yards per rush this season, and he’s rumbled for 75 yards or more in four out of his past five games.
Here’s all the info you need to take in this week’s big game:
Date: Saturday, December 21, 2019
Kickoff time: 4:30 pm EST
Location: Foxborough, Massachusetts
Stadium: Gillette Stadium
TV channel: NFL Network
Live stream: fuboTV (try for free)
Betting odds: New England -6.5 (Over/Under: 37.5), courtesy of The Action Network
Weather updates: 28 degrees F; partly cloudy; 0% chance of precipitation
Will the Patriots defeat the Bills to clinch the AFC East, or will the Bills avenge their Week 4 home loss to New England with a win at Gillette on Saturday? Let us know your final score prediction in the comments section below!