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Today’s game is the Patriots’ most important of the season

Related: Cam Newton thinks the Patriots’ ‘excuse basket is running real low’

Denver Broncos Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

It is October, and not only are the New England Patriots not leading the AFC East, they are in third place. They have a losing record at this point in the month for the first time since 2002, and are in danger of letting this season get away from them. That’s why this week’s game against the visiting San Francisco 49ers is so incredibly important — arguably more important than any other game on the schedule.

The Buffalo Bills currently have a two-and-a-half-game lead on the Patriots, and they are playing the 0-6 New York Jets this weekend, which means they are clearly going to win. If the Patriots win this weekend, they will still only be 3-3, but the pressure goes to the Bills to win the two teams’ matchup next weekend. A victory in Buffalo, meanwhile, would then send the Patriots to 4-3 and the Bills to 5-3.

Mentally, for a team that has consistently lost to the Patriots, you would have to imagine that is not a place the Bills would like to be in.

On the other hand, imagine the Patriots losing this weekend. A defeat against San Francisco would send them to 2-4, and they will go into Buffalo absolutely needing a win. If they were to lose the next two games, the season is all but over for them. At 2-5, with the Bills at 6-2, there is virtually no chance of coming back to winning the AFC East — and only an outside chance to earn a wild card spot in the increased playoff field. Barring a 1999-like collapse from the Bills, it would be almost impossible for the Patriots to catch them in the division.

This is somewhat uncharted territory for Bill Belichick’s Patriots.

While they have lost the division twice since 2001, they finished tied for first in both of those years and lost only because of a tiebreaker. Now, they are in danger of falling so far back in the division that they’re going to need a minor miracle to come back. That makes today’s game the most important one of the year: the Patriots need to get back on track if they want to build some momentum and have a realistic chance to compete for a championship this season.

Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast

Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats