Josh Allen has said it before, and he will say it again. He said it once more this week. The upcoming game is always the most important game of the season for Sean McDermott's Buffalo Bills.
Why? Because it's the next one.
It's an appropriate way to look at a game for a football team trying to remain even keel through the roller coaster of an NFL season. Cliches are cliches, but they also happen to be in a team's best interest. Take the weeks as they come, respect each opponent, stay committed to the process.
But for football fans, who have no such responsibilities – well, who doesn't like roller coasters?
And this game really does feel like the most important one, doesn't it? Because it's the next one, yes, but also for so many other reasons – 18 years' worth, for many.
So, throw your hands up. Scream a little. This ride is getting good.
It's the Bills and the Patriots on Monday Night Football. Here are 10 reasons to be excited.
1. The rivalry
How often have we been able to say that? The Patriots had losing seasons each year during the Bills' run of divisional dominance in the late '80s and early '90s. The Bills experienced a 17-year playoff drought that coincided with Tom Brady's dynastic career in New England.
We did get a brief taste of both teams in playoff form a bit less than two years ago, when the Bills – having clinched a postseason berth the week prior – traveled to Foxborough on a Saturday night. The Patriots pulled out a close one, 24-17, and clinched their 11th straight division crown.
The Bills made another leap last season while the Patriots, sans Brady, fell backward. Buffalo ended New England's reign atop the AFC East and won its first division title in 25 years.
Now, with a rookie quarterback and the same, hoodie-wearing head coach, the Patriots are back. They sit atop the AFC standings at 8-4, winners of six straight. The Bills, at 7-4, can pass them with a win.
Which brings us to our next point.
2. The stakes
Disclaimer: The Bills and Patriots play again in three weeks. This game is not the end all, be all.
But it will be very, very impactful. The Bills, with a win, would have a 76-percent chance to win the AFC East based on simulations conducted by The New York Times playoff machine. They would move a half-game up on the Patriots and two games ahead in divisional play – meaning they would own the tiebreaker over the Patriots so long as they take care of business against the Jets in Week 18.
Those odds drop to 24 percent with a loss. In that scenario, the Bills fall two games behind the Patriots, needing a win in their second head-to-head matchup to have a shot at reclaiming the tiebreaker.
And it's not just the division at stake. Both teams are still in play for the No. 1 seed in the conference, which comes with a first-round bye in the playoffs. The Bills will have a 23-percent chance at finishing atop the AFC with a win, according to The Times.
3. The streaks
The Bills have won nine straight games against AFC East opponents – one shy of a franchise record set from 1990 to 1991. They swept the Patriots last season, becoming the first AFC East team to do so since – well, also the Bills in 2000.
The Patriots have won six straight contests, ranking first in points scored (35.17) and points allowed (10.50) per game during that stretch.
Two more. According to NFL Research, Bill Belichick is 5-0 as Patriots head coach vs. divisional foes in Week 13 or later when both teams are within a game of first place. Belichick – without Brady – is also 0-6 against divisional opponents that enter three or more games above .500.
Something's got to give.
4. The quarterbacks
Could this be a budding rivalry between two franchise quarterbacks? The Bills have their man in Allen, who ranks second behind Brady with 28 passing touchdowns this season. Allen passed for 320 yards and four touchdowns when the two teams last met, a 38-9 win for the Bills in Foxborough on Monday night.
The Patriots now also seem to have their heir apparent to Brady in rookie Mac Jones, who's passed for 16 touchdowns and 2,850 yards. The Alabama product has had four games in which he's completed 70 percent of his passes and throw two touchdowns, tied with Robert Griffin III, Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, and Ben Roethlisberger for most by a rookie since 1950.
5. The record
Allen needs three passing touchdowns to tie Dan Marino for the most by any quarterback in NFL history through his first four Monday Night Football starts, with 14.
Allen's stat lines on MNF:
· Dec. 7, 2020 at San Francisco: 32/40, 375 pass yards, 4 TD, 0 INT
· Dec. 28, 2020 at New England: 27/36, 320 pass yards, 4 TD, 0 INT
· Oct. 18, 2021 at Tennessee: 35/47, 353 pass yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
6. The defenses
The quarterbacks might steal the headlines, but the defenses for both teams have ranked among the NFL's best this season. The Patriots lead the league in points allowed; the Bills lead in yards allowed.
According to NFL Research, this is the 15th time since 1990 that the No. 1 scoring defense (New England) has played the No. 1 total defense (Buffalo). The team leading in total defense has gone 11-3 in those matchups, going on to win the Super Bowl three times.
The Bills rank second to the Patriots in points allowed per game (16.6) but rank ahead of them in takeaways per game (2.3) and opponent passer rating (62.8).
7. The perimeter
One matchup to watch will be the battle between receiver Stefon Diggs, who has 259 receiving yards and four touchdowns over the past three games, and cornerback J.C. Jackson. Jackson ranks second in the NFL with seven interceptions.
Jackson lined up against Diggs on 88.9 percent of his routes when the Bills and Patriots met in Buffalo last season, according to NFL Research. He allowed five receptions for 84 yards but did manage to intercept Allen on one target to Diggs.
Diggs ran 65.7 percent of his routes when the two teams met again in Foxborough, this time hauling in four of six targets for 87 yards and two touchdowns.
8. The legends
Terrell Owens will lead the charge as the Legend of the Game, but he's not the only Hall of Famer in attendance. Andre Reed, Bill Polian, Billy Shaw, Bruce Smith, Joe DeLamielleure, Jim Kelly, and Thurman Thomas will all be on hand. That's eight gold jackets.
Once again, this is a big game.
9. The weather
It should be typical December football in Orchard Park. Forecasts call for temperatures below 30 degrees during the game and wind gusts near 40 miles per hour. Snow flurries could also enter the mix.
We bet it won't stop you from showing up.
10. The stage
Monday Night Football, in Orchard Park, with Bills Mafia in the stands – and the AFC East on the line?
Buckle up and enjoy the ride.