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Pollock: Plenty at stake for the Buffalo Bills vs. the New England Patriots

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By Chuck Pollock, Sun Senior Sports Columnist

Sunday will be an interesting afternoon for the Bills and not because it precedes the calendar switch to 2024.

Buffalo’s crazy year, which began with predictions of a Super Bowl berth, to “the season is over” 12 games in, to “it’s all right there in front of them,” finds the Bills with plenty at stake in the NFL’s penultimate weekend.

You see Buffalo, with a win Sunday afternoon over the Patriots at Highmark Stadium (1 o’clock, CBS-TV 95.7 FM, 100.1 FM, 550 AM) can clinch a playoff spot, depending on the results of a couple games AND could set themselves up for a fourth straight AFC East title, based on another team’s result. However, a loss to the Patriots (4-11) would likely doom the Bills’ postseason hopes.

YOU SEE, after Buffalo endured that embarrassing 37-34 overtime loss to the Eagles, Thanksgiving weekend in Philadelphia, the Bills fell to 6-6 and their chances of making the playoffs tumbled to 21% with games at Kansas City, the Chargers and Miami and a visit from the cruising Cowboys at Orchard Park still to come.

It seemed too heavy a lift.

But Buffalo edged the Chiefs, decimated Dallas and slipped past the Chargers in consecutive weeks to improve to 9-6 and sixth place among the AFC’s seven-team postseason qualifiers after 15 weeks. Its playoff odds ballooned to 92%.

Of course, one of the reasons is that New England is seemingly viewed as a sure win by Las Vegas has set the Bills as a 14-point favorite, longest odds on the board.

Yet these are the same Patriots who conjured a 75-yard, eight-play drive in less than two minutes, scoring with 12 seconds remaining to steal a 29-25 decision over Buffalo at Foxborough back in late October.

And, two years ago, coach Bill Belichick, with a below-average quarterback, fashioned a game plan for an Orchard Park windstorm where the Pats threw only three passes but ran 46 times for over 200 yards en route to a 14-10 victory.

Indeed, Belichick has played Bills counterpart Sean McDermott 14 times and holds an 8-6 over Buffalo’s seventh-year boss.

Of the NFL’s third-winningest coach, McDermott allowed, “He’s accomplished so much. Most coaches, if not all, are learning from coach Belichick, trying to get to where he’s been for years.

“He’s changed the game in a lot of ways just speaking big-picture and I think the league has listened to some of his recommendations. He’s an extremely smart person and he does a great job of taking his personnel on the field and making the most of what he has and I think you’re seeing that the way his team has come on this year.”

He added, referencing the defeat by the Patriots earlier this season, “I think you learn a lot going through any game, let alone a loss. They’re a good football team. As I’ve said before, the NFL is up for grabs every week, records do not matter.

“(Last week) they played a good football team in Denver and beat ‘em. They’re playing good football, they’re well-coached as we all know. And we have a lot of respect for what they’ve done.”

SO WHAT has to happen Sunday for the Bills’ to punch their playoff ticket?

First, of course, they must beat New England, then get some help. Specifically, they need losses by two of of these three 8-7 teams: Jacksonville, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Jacksonville hosts Carolina (2-13) at 1 p.m., the Steelers visit Seattle (8-7) at 4:05 and the Bengals are at Kansas City (9-6) at 4:25.

But, even if Buffalo doesn’t get those two needed losses, it’s still alive for a playoff spot in season-ending Week 18.

But at least some eyes at Highmark will be directed toward the scoreboard Sunday afternoon. Simultaneously with the Bills-Pats meeting, the Dolphins (11-5), who have already clinched a playoff berth,  will be playing at Baltimore (12-3). The significance of that game for Buffalo is that should Miami lose, the AFC East title would come down to those two teams next Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium. A win by the Bills would give them the division title based on sweeping the head-to-head series with the Dolphins.

But McDermott maintained,  “I’m trying to win one game … I’m not really focused on watching the scoreboard. I’m trying to figure out a way to beat New England because they beat us the first go-around.”

BUT THIS game could come down to two factors: injuries and weather.

As of Friday’s final injury report, no Bills were listed as out. Questionable were four players, all non-starters: defensive end A.J. Epenesa (ribs), safety Damar Hamlin (shoulder), defensive tackle DaQuan Jones (pectoral) and wide receiver Justin Shorter (knee).

As usual, the Patriots had a monster injury report containing 16 names (Belichick’s way of yanking the NFL’s chain: Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is out with an ankle problem. Six starters are questionable: Tight end Hunter Henry (knee), safeties Jabrill Peppers (hamstring) and Kyle Dugger (illness), cornerbacks Myles Bryant (chest) and Jonathan Jones (knee), linebacker Anfernee Jennings (knee). Also questionable are special teams ace Matthew Slater (hamstring) and top reserve defensive lineman Christian Barmore (knee).

Weather-wise, game-time temperatures will be in the mid-30s with a 60% chance of snow.

Bills 23, Patriots 17

(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@wnynet.net.)

Read more from Chuck:

Pollock’s playoff picture

 It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win for the Bills

• The Bills need a win, not a blowout

• McDermott deserves praise after win vs. the Dallas Cowboys

• On this day, the Bills manhandled the Cowboys

• The Bills win at KC turned the heat down on McDermott and Miller

• At last, another teams gaffe helps the Bills win

• The Bills must beat the Chiefs and distractions

• Who is this Ty Dunne?

• Why Chuck Pollock returned to writing and covering the Bills after a two-week “retirement”

• Flags? Taking a knee before the half? Buffalo Bills’ apologists are whining in the wrong place

• Was Dorsey the latest sacrificial lamb?

• POLLOCK PREDICTION: McDermott will fire Dorsey next

(You can support the work of our journalists and keep this site free with a PayPal donation HERE)

• Awkward press conference for the Bills and McDermott

• If season ended today, the Bills are out of the playoffs

• Are the Bills a playoff team?

• Bills produce a third straight stinker

• An ugly win for the Buffalo Bills

• The AFC is wide open with Buffalo injuries

• Injuries were worse than a loss in London

• Bills prepare for Jacksonville

• The passing of Russ Francis and what it was like covering the Bills in the 1970’s

• News and notes from a costly win by the Bills over Miami

• A look a high school, college and NFL blowouts

• Did the Bills find a middle linebacker in win vs. Washington?

• Pollock Predicts: Take the Bills over Washington

• Why Week 2 has the makings of a must-win

• The new look AFC East after one week

• Pollock on the Week 1 loss

• Bills season prediction

• A pre-season final win erases memories of the Steelers loss

• Where were the tight ends in the preseason win?

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