This game looked like must-see football when the NFL schedule was announced several months ago. Now, tonight's match-up little more than a filler game of interest only to Bills and Patriots fans, plus the millions of us who will have action riding on the outcome.
For the first time in nearly two decades, New England (6-8) will be playing out the remainder of the season with no chance of making the playoffs. That's a bizarre scenario for Bill Belichick, who is used to winning in December and January. While New England did miss the playoffs twice since 2001, at least the late-season games had post-season possibilities. That's not the case tonight.
Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills (11-3) have evolved into one the top-five teams in the NFL (some rank them as high as second), and could be argued as the very best all-around squad at the moment based on how they've performed over the past month. Buffalo has won four straight games. They've covered the spread in six straight.
Laying -7 with the Bills looks easy. But wait!
Not so fast.
Let's remember – this is an intense division rivalry. It's also been historically dominated by the Patriots. That could mean the Bills will finally enjoy a payback game in prime time, and we can certainly imagine Buffalo making a definitive statement that the torch has now been passed from Foxboro to Orchard Park in the AFC East. Call this an opportunity to spike the ball.
New England will counter with their strength, which is defense. For all of this season's disappointments, the Patriots defense has played pretty well. The Bills will face the fourth-ranked pass defense here, which bodes well for a closer game than might be expected. The New England defense actually outranks the Bills (allowing just 21 PPG vs. 24 PPG for Buffalo). Patriots games have gone UNDER the total in six straight and their game plan will be to stifle the high-powered Bills and get into a game won in the trenches. Though they are outmatched everywhere else but coaching, that's New England's strength.
Indeed, let's agree the Patriots offense is a major concern. This is a unit that's been wildly inconsistent all season. However, with pressure now off, look for QB Cam Newton to show he still has the skills to keep the starting job, despite some pressure to give the backup QB Jarrett Stidham some playing time.
Prediction: Tonight's game should be better than it looks on paper and according to the stats, which favour the Bills balanced offensive attack. New England will be solely playing for pride and the opportunity to disrupt the Bills end-of-season winning streak should inspire a competitive effort. We think Buffalo ultimately prevails, but the home underdog will get the cover at +7.
Buffalo wins 26-20.
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