Inconceivable as it may sound, the Patriots’ chances of winning the AFC East — and possibly even making the playoffs — might be over by dinnertime Sunday.
Such is the precarious position in which the Patriots find themselves playing at Buffalo on Sunday. The Bills have the rare chance to bury the Patriots before Thanksgiving.
A Bills win would give them a 6-2 record and a 3½-game lead over New England, which would drop to 2-5 with its fourth consecutive loss. The Patriots enter the game having lost three in a row for the first time since 2002.
Since 2001, the Patriots have a 92-25 record against AFC East opponents. They’ve won their past seven games against the Bills, who are seeking their first AFC East title since 1995.
Now, thanks to spotty quarterback play post-Tom Brady with Cam Newton struggling and their top receiver Julian Edelman out with a knee injury, the Patriots are reeling.
There was even a report during the week that New England is ready to start selling off its roster, readying for a massive rebuilding process — beginning possibly with cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a former Bill.
That’s all shocking stuff, considering that the Patriots have won the AFC East title the past 11 seasons and in 16 of the past 17 years.
Newton, who was benched during last week’s blowout loss to the 49ers, but will remain the starter, has thrown just two touchdown passes to seven interceptions while rushing for five scores. It’s hardly out of the question, if he struggles again Sunday, that Bill Belichick would turn to Jarrett Stidham again.
Newton this week has acknowledged that his job is in a tenuous place.
“Losing is not acceptable in this locker room, in this county, in this state, in this area, in this region,’’ Newton said. “So, Cameron Newton, you need to pick your ‘expletive’ up.’’
The chances are Belichick is going to lean heavily on his running attack — which has been New England’s strength, ranked fourth in the league in average yards per game with 155. And, defending the run has not been a strength for the Bills, who have allowed 126.7 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry.
Neither Buffalo coach Sean McDermott (0-6) nor quarterback Josh Allen (0-3) has beaten the Patriots. In three games against New England, Allen has completed just 48.4 percent of his passes for 578 yards, three TDs and five INTs.
The matchup of the game figures to be Gilmore against Bills top receiver Stefon Diggs — if Gilmore plays. With his name a part of trade rumors this week, Gilmore appeared on the New England injury report with a knee ailment. If the Patriots truly are trying to move Gilmore by the Tuesday trade deadline, it’s possible they won’t play him in order to avoid the risk of injury.
McDermott, despite the chance to separate from the Patriots, has predictably stayed away from giving off that impression at all.
“We’re focused on one game right now,” he told reporters. “We’re in late October-early November. That’s really what we’re focused on right now.”
Asked if he saw the game as a chance for the Bills to prove themselves, McDermott said, “You prove yourself every week in the NFL.”
Bills center Mitch Morse echoed McDermott’s caution.
“I see a Bill Belichick-run team that is still very solid,” Morse said, according to the Buffalo News. “I think that 2-4 record doesn’t show how talented this football team is. And I think we’re treating it like we’re playing the New England Patriots, and that’s a team that’s formidable and a team that’s well-coached. If we don’t bring our absolute, very best, we can be embarrassed come Sunday.”
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