Final thoughts before New England Patriots/Buffalo Bills, Part II

FOXBOROUGH, MA - DECEMBER 23: Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 23, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - DECEMBER 23: Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 23, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills are set to clash in a game that has major ramifications on the AFC East – and the conference as a whole.

Two teams will enter Gillette Stadium on Saturday afternoon with one shared goal in mind.

If the New England Patriots take care of business at home and beat the Buffalo Bills, they’ll clinch the AFC East and ensure themselves of hosting at least one playoff game in Foxborough this January.

If the Bills beat the Patriots, Buffalo and New England would have the same 11-4 record on the season. The two rivals would have split their head-to-head matchups as well, and the division crown would come down to whether or not the Bills beat the Jets and the Pats beat the Dolphins in Week 17.

There’s no denying the fact that the odds are stacked against the upstart Bills. Not only do they enter this game with one fewer win and one more loss in their season record than the Patriots, but they also have to now beat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at Gillette Stadium, where the Pats have one of the most impressive records in the league over the past two decades.

Can it happen? Of course. Kansas City just came in two weeks ago and beat these same Pats in Boston, so it’s certainly doable. The Bills aren’t as potent offensively as the Chiefs this year, but they definitely have a better defense than Kansas City does.

The other difficult aspect of the equation if you’re a part of Bills Mafia is the Week 17 component. It’s not a stretch to believe Buffalo will easily dispatch the New York Jets at New Era Field next Sunday; what is a stretch is to think the Patriots will fall at home to the Miami Dolphins… especially if they lose to the Bills this week and know the division depends on their Week 17 game result.

New England absolutely dismantled the Dolphins in Miami way back in Week 2; this Patriots team today isn’t as dangerous or talented as they were back then in early September, but they’re still more than a match for the currently 3-11 Fins… especially at Gillette, especially in December.

But back to the game at hand. None of what happens in Week 17 really matters in terms of the divisional race if the Patriots do what they’re supposed to do – and what they’ve been doing for decades now – and beat the Bills in a football game.

Comparing defenses between Buffalo and New England this year is sort of a futile exercise. Both teams have been exceptional all year long at limiting their opponents’ ability to score points and accumulate yards. Both are terrific against the pass and solid against the run most of the time. Both can take the ball away in the secondary as well.

The two AFC East rivals have similar limitations on offense, too. Whereas Buffalo QB Josh Allen is a dangerous dual-threat weapon at his best and a reckless turnover-prone youngster at his worst, New England QB Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T. at his best and a 42-year-old shell of his former self at his worst.

Unfortunately for the Patriots, Brady has been at his worst for most of this season, whereas Allen has been at his best for the most part. The hope around Beantown is that Tom Terrific can put a right elbow injury and all the telltale symptoms of decline behind him now that it’s late December, and start playing up to his capabilities once again.

To do exactly that, he needs some help from his pass-catchers. Brady has suffered the second-most drops from his targets this year (Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys holds the top spot), and his main man Julian Edelman is as banged-up as he’s been all season. The Pats sent a second-round pick in next April’s draft to the Falcons to acquire Mohamed Sanu, and so far he’s been a raging disappointment in New England.

There’s hope that Edelman can somehow tough out his injuries and Sanu can start playing like a worthy addition to this roster before it’s too late. Rookies N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers have also shown flashes of usefulness at times this season, and James White is still around for Brady to use as a safety blanket.

Ultimately though, the fear around New England is that this year’s incredibly dominant defense may ultimately get wasted because of a subpar offense that can’t seem to get out of neutral. Stephon Gilmore could go on to win Defensive Player of the Year and this unit in general could go on to great things statistically this regular season, but if the Pats’ offense can’t find a way to score points and capitalize on the routinely-excellent field position they’re awarded by their defense, it might all be for naught.

New England will need to find a way around more well-balanced contenders like the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs if they hope to reach their fourth straight Super Bowl – never mind the elite competition from the NFC that would await them there.

Next. Are Nick Caserio and the Patriots headed for a split?. dark

The Patriots can start that journey off on the right foot by doing the one thing that every team sets out to do at the beginning of the NFL season: win their division. They just need to defeat the Buffalo Bills to do so, and the rest will play itself out before our eyes.