The New England Patriots did not put on their cleats in Week 14 but they were still among the winners of the weekend. Watching from their bye week the Patriots saw their closest rivals for the AFC East title suffer a second straight loss: the Buffalo Bills were beaten by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to drop to 7-6 on the season.
The Bills’ game against their long-time foe — ex-Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, currently the starter in Tampa Bay — looked like it would end in blowout fashion early on. The Buccaneers took a 24-3 lead into the half while in total control of the contest.
The second half, however, saw Buffalo fight back. The team scored 17 straight to force overtime, even receiving the opening kickoff to start the extra period. However, the Bills were forced to punt the ball back to Brady and Tampa Bay’s potent offense and they made them pay: Brady hit Breshad Perriman for a 58-yard touchdown to win the game 33-27.
Now at 7-6, the seventh-seeded Bills keep looking up to the Patriots: at 9-4, New England continues to hold the top spot in both the conference and the division as well as the head-to-head tiebreaker over Buffalo.
But while Bill Belichick’s team should feel good about itself at the moment, neither the AFC’s top playoff seed nor the AFC East title are secure just yet. The race for the No. 1 seed, for example, has three teams tied at 9-4 — a record the Patriots are sharing with the No. 2 Tennessee Titans and the No. 3 Kansas City Chiefs.
The race for the AFC East also continues to be a tight one, despite Buffalo losing back-to-back games. The two teams will still meet in Week 16, after all, and the Bills own one important tiebreaker over New England in case the two rivals split the series and end up with the same regular season records: they have a better in-division record, the next tiebreaker after the head-to-head competition.
If the Patriots lose against Buffalo they will therefore likely have to win their other three games down the stretch: at the Indianapolis Colts, versus the Jacksonville Jaguars, and at the Miami Dolphins.
The Bills, for comparison, are facing a relatively easy schedule outside of their game in New England: they will host the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets.
Long story short, the Patriots cannot afford to drop any games. Obviously, though, Buffalo’s overtime loss in Tampa Bay helps put some additional space between the two teams and puts New England in a more comfortable spot.