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Top 5 storylines for Bills vs. Patriots | Week 17 


There are just two weeks left in the regular season. Buffalo will have its final home game of the year on Sunday at 1 p.m. against the Patriots. The Bills are riding a three-game win streak, while New England has lost six out of the last eight.

Here are five things to know ahead of Week 17.

1. Playoff picture + Division chances

It's wild how quickly things can change over the course of just a few weeks. Heading into Week 15, not too long ago, the Bills were No. 11 in the AFC standings. Right now, they're No. 6 and hold a wild card spot. That doesn't mean that spot is guaranteed because a lot can happen over the next two weeks.

In fact, the Bills have a chance at the No. 2 seed if things pan out how we want them to. Here's how the AFC playoff standings look heading into Week 17.

  1. Baltimore Ravens (12-3)
  2. Miami Dolphins (11-4)
  3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-6)
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-7)
  5. Cleveland Browns (10-5)
  6. Buffalo Bills (9-6)
  7. Indianapolis Colts (8-7)

There's also a way the Bills could lock up a playoff berth this weekend. For that to happen, here are the scenarios.

With a win vs. New England:

  1. BUF win + PIT loss or tie + CIN loss or tie OR
  2. BUF win + PIT loss or tie + JAX loss or tie OR
  3. BUF win + PIT loss or tie + HOU loss or tie + IND loss or tie OR
  4. BUF win + CIN loss or tie + JAX loss or tie OR
  5. BUF win + CIN loss or tie + HOU loss or tie + IND loss or tie OR

With a tie vs. New England:

  1. BUF tie + PIT loss + CIN loss + JAX loss OR
  2. BUF tie + PIT loss + CIN loss + HOU loss or tie OR
  3. BUF tie + PIT loss + CIN loss + IND loss or tie OR
  4. BUF tie + PIT loss + JAX loss + HOU loss or tie OR
  5. BUF tie + PIT loss + JAX loss + IND loss or tie OR
  6. BUF tie + PIT loss + HOU loss + IND loss OR
  7. BUF tie + CIN loss + JAX loss + HOU loss or tie OR
  8. BUF tie + CIN loss + JAX loss + IND loss or tie OR
  9. BUF tie + CIN loss + HOU loss + IND loss

Getting the No. 2 seed wouldn't be finalized happen until after their last game is finished. For that to happen, the Bills need to win out and the Dolphins need to lose to the Ravens this weekend.

The New York Times playoff simulator says there's an 89% chance the Bills make it to the postseason. That number goes up to 97% if the Bills beat the Patriots and drops to 45% of the Bills lose to the Patriots.

2. Revenge against the Patriots

Buffalo is searching for its first win against the Patriots this season. The Bills faced New England in Week 7 but lost by four points due to a game-winning TD by tight end Mike Gesicki that happened with just 12 seconds left in the game. New England was able to force two turnovers and hold Buffalo to just 81 yards on the ground in that game.

If the Bills can get the dub against the Patriots this week, that'll make them 3-2 against the AFC East. Buffalo is favored by double digits — and the stats are in their favor as well — but that doesn't make it an easy path to a victory.

The Patriots sit at 4-11 with no chance at the playoffs as they were eliminated before Week 16. That means they're playing in Week 17 with not much to lose against a team in the Bills who need a win to guarantee a playoff berth and be in the running for the No. 2 seed.

ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky thinks this could be a trap game for the Bills but doesn't believe it'll work out that way due to the leadership on the team.

"It can be," Orlovsky told One Bills Live of the threat of a trap game. "It shouldn't be with the leadership of (Sean) McDermott, Josh (Allen), Stef (Diggs) and their offensive line and the defensive personnel. New England right now is playing with kind of a freedom and they aren't afraid right now…I don't expect them (Bills) to overlook this game knowing you come off last week and you almost overlooked Los Angeles and everything you've done over the past five weeks went to waste."

3. James Cook and Co. against one of the best run defenses

Buffalo's explosive run game could be tested against the Patriots defense on Sunday afternoon. New England has one of the NFL's best run defenses as they allow an average of 84.8 rushing yards per game (2nd in the NFL ) and only 3.2 yards per carry (1st). They've also only allowed 26 rushes of 10+ yds (2nd).

Since Week 12, Buffalo has the second best rushing offense averaging 165.5 rushing yards per game. James Cook also crossed the 1,000-yard mark last week to become Buffalo's first running back to collect at least 1,000 rushing yards since LeSean McCoy did it in 2017. The run game has been a big part of Buffalo's last few victories and diversifies their offense quite a bit.

Knowing that the Patriots are one of the best at defending the run and have only allowed an average of 59 rushing yards per game (1st) since Week 12, it will be interesting to see Buffalo's plan.

Will they try to lean on the run or will that be New England's top priority to eliminate?

Bills radio analyst and former Bills center Eric Wood thinks Stefon Diggs could shine in this game because NE will want to stop Cook.

"He's always trying to take away whatever you do best and make everyone else try and beat you, that's been Belichick's MO," Wood told One Bills Live. "Well if I'm looking at this Bills team right now and this offense, I'm taking away James Cook. And so, is this the week Diggs can then get his touches and he can eat on the outside because the focus becomes stopping the run and not letting Cook get those matchups on the outside."

The Patriots defense is allowing an average of 21.5 points per game (16th), 306.1 total yards per game (8th), 221.3 passing yards per game (15th), 36.7% third down conversion rate (8th) and 48.9% red zone efficiency rating (7th).

4. Why the Bills D could get back to taking the ball away

The Bills didn't have any takeaways in their victory against the Chargers, but they could get back to it against the Patriots. They'll be facing a QB in Bailey Zappe who has only played in eight games this season and 12 over his career. Buffalo has yet to face Zappe who is 2-2 in his starts this year.

Offensively, the Patriots rank near the bottom of the NFL in several categories. New England is averaging 14.12 points per game (32nd, last), 285.5 total yards per game (28th), scoring on only 21.6% of their drives (32nd, last) and converting third downs only 31.3% of the time (30th).

ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky thinks it'll be important to stop their RBs and TEs in this one.

"It is going to come down to this defensively, on early downs they are going to have to make sure that the linebackers group does a great job of covering Ezekiel Elliott," Orlovsky said on One Bills Live. "He's the person they're trying to get the ball to in the pass game right now. In the red zone, cover Mike Gesicki. If they do that consistently, they win the game."

The one area they've had success in is their ability to score touchdowns in the red zone. NE ranks just outside of the top 10 doing it 57.6% of the time. While this team can score in the red zone, Orlovksy thinks this is also an area where the Bills could come up with the football.

"In the red zone, he (Zappe) is very aggressive with the ball to Gesicki or Hunter Henry," Orlovsky explained. "He's very aggressive with the football to those guys, so those tight ends are going to be the focal point for Buffalo defensively. And they'll have their chance to get their hands on the ball, if they focus on those two guys."

This season, Zappe is 99 of 156 (63.5%) for 975 passing yards, averaging 121.9 passing yards per game, has six passing touchdowns and four interceptions and an 83.1 passer rating in eight games.

5. A chance at a franchise record

If Buffalo secures a victory over the Patriots on Sunday afternoon, they'll own a new franchise record.

A win would be Buffalo's 10th on the season, which would mean it's their fifth consecutive season with at least 10 wins.

Sean McDermott already became Buffalo's second winningest head coach earlier this season and currently owns a 71-41 record. McDermott is behind Marv Levy who has 112 wins.

If Buffalo secures at least a wild card berth this weekend, it would also be their fifth straight season with a playoff appearance. Defeating the Patriots would extend their win streak in December/January to 13 games and their record in December/January to 18-2 since 2020.

A win would also extend Buffalo's win streak to four games and be their first four-game win streak since the 2022 season.

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