Two AFC East rivals will square off in upstate New York on Sunday, as the New England Patriots will go on the road to face the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots came up with a huge win in Week 17 against the Miami Dolphins, defeating them by a final score of 23-21. As most NFL fans and many people know, Buffalo’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night was suspended. The Bills’ prior game in Week 16 came against the Chicago Bears, whom they defeated 35-13.
The Bills and Patriots played one other time this season, with Buffalo claiming a 24-10 victory in early December.
We’ll take a look at three narratives surrounding this pivotal contest.
Emotional Bounce Back?
There’s no precedent for what the Buffalo Bills are currently dealing with. Their teammate, safety Damar Hamlin, collapsed during Monday night’s game and suffered cardiac arrest. He’s been in a Cincinnati hospital since that time, and as of this writing, Hamlin remains in critical condition. Bills players were visibly distraught after the incident took place, and their thoughts focused solely on the well-being of their fallen teammate.
It’s pretty hard to guess how this severe concern will manifest itself on Sunday. There will undoubtedly be an outpouring of love in the stadium, and frequent well wishes expressed for Hamlin. It’s possible the Bills will appear distracted and not come out with their best performance. Conversely, they might rally together and try to continue their strong season for Hamlin as he fights for his life.
New England’s Motivation
New England’s playoff hopes received a major boost last week. Their victory against Miami means that they now control their own destiny, and will qualify for the postseason with a win against Buffalo. It’s a stunning turn of events, as the Patriots appeared to be a longshot, especially after their crushing defeat against the Las Vegas Raiders a few weeks ago.
At this point of the season, it seems very unlikely that New England will be able to muster enough offense to win a shootout against Buffalo or any competent offensive team. Their winning formula has involved ball control and timely defensive takeaways. They’ll need to establish that tone early against the Bills if they want to secure their second consecutive playoff berth.
It’s difficult to separate the Hamlin situation from the game that needs to be played on the field, but this contest is extremely important for Buffalo in the standings. It’s not clear what the NFL will decide to do with the suspended game, but as of now, the Bills still have a chance to wrestle away the number one seed in the AFC with two victories.
Being able to play two playoff games at home might be a tremendous advantage for them, considering that their recent seasons have ended away from Orchard Park. If it’s possible to get over the emotional distress of the Hamlin episode, Buffalo has plenty of incentive to defeat the Patriots with their eventual goal of winning a Super Bowl.