Buffalo Bills (8-6 SU, 8-5-1 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (11-3 SU, 9-5 ATS)
NFL Week 16
Date/Time: Sunday December 24th 1:00 PM EST
Where: Gilette Stadium
by Mike M, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: BUF +11.5 / NE -11.5
Over/Under Total: 47
The 2017 AFC East champion Patriots welcome the Bills to Foxboro for a Christmas Eve matchup that will be the second game played between the teams in a 21 day span. It will also carry additional importance due playoff implications with the postseason right around the corner, as the Patriots will likely need to win out to lock down home field advantage and Buffalo needing to keep pace with the rest of the AFC as they look to secure a Wild Card bid.
New England comes into the game off of a thrilling 27-24 win against the Steelers at Heinz Field that put them in the drivers seat for securing the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Quarterback Tom Brady led his 53rd fourth quarter or overtime comeback of his career as he drove the team down the field for the game winning score with under a minute left and then watched from the sidelines as the Patriots defense was able to stop Pittsburgh as their final drive fizzled inside the ten yard line when Eric Rowe tipped an errant and ill-advised Ben Roethlisberger pass and Duron Harmon was able to grab it out of the air to secure the victory.
Much has been said about the Jesse James catch being overturned and while the rule is frustrating to deal with, they did call it exactly as they have done throughout this entire season along with previous year catches as well (Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant). And the fact of the matter is the Steelers still had the ball with three plays to win the game, but instead they did what Seattle and Atlanta did most recently in Super Bowls against the Patriots and over thought things and it ended up costing them the game in the long run when Roethlisberger threw the terrible pass across the middle on a miscommunicated fake spike play. Listening to the Steelers post game locker room comments it was very easy to see why they have been so dominated by New England in recent years as all you heard was whining and excuses (including Roethlisberger blaming the coaching staff for the fake spike play) with little to no accountability whatsoever.
A major reason for the Patriots success against the Steelers was the play of star tight end Rob Gronkowski, who finished the game with nine receptions for 168 yards including a crucial two point conversion catch in the final minutes that put the Patriots up three and prevented the Steelers from being able to kick a field goal for the win. He was near unstoppable in the second half when Pittsburgh for whatever reason decided to switch to man coverage and were simply overmatched in attempting to slow him down in anyway. Gronkowski will certainly need to keep his head on a swivel on Sunday against the Bills, who will undoubtedly be gunning for him after his cheap shot hit on the Buffalo TreDavious White after the whistle had blown during their previous matchup to start December.
As much as some of the Bills may want payback, their fans will be hoping they keep their focus on the field as this is the first time since 2004 that they have played a meaningful game late in the season with playoff implications and have little to no room for error in their hope of securing one of the two AFC Wild Card berths. Buffalo is currently tied with the Ravens and Titans for the final two spots with all sporting 8-6 record, though it appears as though they are more than likely batting Tennessee and the Chargers (7-7) for the last opening as Baltimore has a cake walk of a schedule remaining with easy games against the hapless Colts and Bengals. That would just leave those three teams going after the sixth seed, and the Bills find themselves in a tough spot with two away games remaining, including the one this week at New England in which they are underdogs by a whopping 11 points, which is the most they have been dogs by all season and the first time they have gotten double-digit points in a game since October of 2013 when they played on the road against New Orleans.
Thankfully for Buffalo they were able to get through their game last weekend against Miami with not only the 24-16 victory, but also without suffering any further injuries to their banged up offense and especially to quarterback Tyrod Taylor, as no one in their right mind wants to relive the unmitigated disaster that was the Nathan Peterman show. Recently traded for receiver Kelvin Benjamin was able to survive the game unscathed and will hope to continue to play out the rest of the season with a torn meniscus and wait for surgery once they have been eliminated from postseason contention or the playoffs themselves.
The Bills defense was unfortunately not so lucky, as oft-injured starting cornerback EJ Haines was forced to leave the game in the third quarter due to a knee injury and his availability for this weekends game against New England remains in question. Buffalos pass defense has limited teams to the least amount of passing touchdowns in the league this season with only 11 allowed thus far, though keeping Tom Brady and the Patriots out of the endzone when missing one of your top corners is never an easy thing, especially seeing his last game against the Bills was Bradys just 2nd in his past 25 against Buffalo without throwing a touchdown and he has never gone a full season against any AFC East team without throwing at least one score against them during any two game span.
Buffalo will be plenty motivated going into the game, not only with a bit of revenge on their mind but more importantly as they are in position to possibly make their first playoff appearance since 1999 and finally end their longest in the NFL postseason draught at 17 seasons. Some may expect the Patriots to suffer a bit of an emotional letdown after their huge win against the Steelers last weekend, but they can nary forget their final two week of the season choke job in 2015 when they lost their final two games of the season as favorites against AFC East opponents, which eventually cost them home field advantage in the playoffs and watched as they lost in Denver to the Broncos and cost themselves a chance at playing for yet another Super Bowl title. I cannot imagine Belichick allowing that to happen again and will be taking him and the Patriots to get the win and cover at home against the Bills on Christmas Eve.
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