The New England Patriots got their season well above sea level thanks to that seven-game winning streak, which came to a close last week in Indianapolis. However, if they are not careful over these next few weeks, and particularly on Sunday when the Bills roll into Gillette Stadium, those positive strides may not be worth as much as they could be when they walk up to the playoff ticket counter at the end of the regular season.
According to FiveThirtyEight's playoff predictor, the Patriots have a 97% chance of making the postseason. However, the No. 1 seed and the division are still swimming in a bit of uncertainty. After falling to the Colts last week, the Patriots lost the inside track at the No. 1 seed in the conference to the Chiefs and are now only hanging onto the division lead by a thin margin.
A win by the Bills on Sunday would even up their season record with the Patriots, creating a tie for first place. With the head-to-head tiebreaker void in this scenario (thanks to New England's win back in Week 13), the top spot would then be determined by whoever has the best record within the division.
Currently, both New England and Buffalo are 3-1 in the AFC East and have two division battles remaining, including Sunday's tilt. In Week 18, the Patriots are visiting the Dolphins in Miami, while the Bills will host the Jets. With the Dolphins surging to make the playoffs in the AFC and the Jets sitting as one of the worst teams in the league, Buffalo has the easier path on paper, further heightening the importance of this head-to-head for Bill Belichick's club.
A Patriots win coupled with a Dolphins loss to the Saints on "Monday Night Football" would clinch the AFC East for New England. A loss to the Bills on Sunday, however, and their chances of winning a division title drops to 12% and effectively eliminates any outside shot at regaining the top seed and a potential first-round bye.
So while the Patriots are sitting pretty to return the playoffs after a one-year hiatus, they do have an opportunity -- with a win against Josh Allen and the Bills -- to move one step further towards bringing playoff football back to Foxborough for a least one game and possibly more if certain dominos fall in their favor.
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Bills missing two skill position players
The Bills will be without a couple of key pass-catchers when they play the Patriots on Sunday. Receivers Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis are both going to miss this matchup after each was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list this week. Both are reportedly unvaccinated, so that eliminated any chance of then testing out of protocols to make it onto the game-day roster, which is a big blow to the Buffalo passing attack.
Beasley ranks second on the team in receiving yards and receptions on the season, while Davis has proven to be a key cog in the passing game as well. Last week against Carolina, Davis caught five of his seven targets for 85 yards and two touchdowns. Those are two less receivers that New England will need to worry about in the secondary as they primarily look to shut down star pass-catcher Stefon Diggs.
Why Meyers chose Patriots
The Patriots have a strong history of being able to find diamonds in the rough on the undrafted free agent market. While Malcolm Butler and J.C. Jackson have been two notable names on the defensive side of the ball who have made it to Foxborough through that avenue, Jakobi Meyers has been a pleasant surprise in that regard at the receiver position.
Meyers went undrafted back in 2019 out of N.C. State and recently told teammate and Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy on his web series "Élite Eatz" that he chose New England in part because of N'Keal Harry, the team's first-round pick that season.
"So this is a story that I've never told anybody in my life," Meyers said, as transcribed by Zack Cox of NESN. "And you know N'Keal is my brother. I love N'Keal. We be with each other every day. But when it came down to picking teams, I had a couple teams. So I looked at all the teams who offered me, and it's: did they draft a receiver? And if they drafted a receiver, where did they draft him?
"The highest-drafted that was a receiver was the Patriots, and I said, so if they drafted a receiver in the first round, I'm going to go in there and show them I could play with a first-rounder. I was just kind of betting on myself."
Meyers has certainly developed himself into a key piece of New England's passing attack as he leads the team in targets (105) and receptions (65) this season.
Trio of Patriots selected to the Pro Bowl
The Pro Bowl rosters were announced this week and a trio of Patriots was named to the group of elite NFL players: cornerback J.C. Jackson, linebacker Matthew Judon, and special teams captain Matthew Slater.
This is the first Pro Bowl selection for J.C. Jackson, who enters Week 16 with seven interceptions (second-most in the NFL). Jackson has the most interceptions since entering the league back in 2018 and has allowed opposing quarterbacks to allow just 50.6% of their throws in Jackson's direction to be completed with a passer rating of 40.8. The 26-year-old is looking at possibly entering unrestricted free agent later this offseason, so this initial Pro Bowl nod will be another solid feather in his cap.
Meanwhile, this is Judon's third consecutive Pro Bowl nomination, but first since signing with the Patriots this past spring. Judon is in the midst of a stellar season that already has him with a career-high 12.5 sacks entering Week 16. That is tied with Chandler Jones and Mike Vrabel for the most sacks in a season under Bill Belichick. As for Slater, these Pro Bowl nods are old hat as this is his 10th time being selected, which extends his record for most special teams Pro Bowl nods in NFL history.
The 2022 Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, Feb. 6 in Las Vegas.
Mac Jones' Christmas gift to O-Line
It's customary for quarterbacks to get the guys that block for him all season a little something special around the holiday season and Mac Jones seemingly did just that with his offensive linemen in New England. On Friday, Jones surprised the Patriots linemen with Christmas gifts that left a number of his teammates impressed.
"He did an outstanding job," Karras said, via Mike Reiss of ESPN. "We got a big haul over here. I'll let him explain everything that he got, but it's a myriad of items each one cooler than the next. It's one of the best efforts, especially by a rookie, to show appreciation and wish us a merry Christmas. I'm very thankful to him and very glad to be his teammate here in this Christmas season. … We walked in after practice here just moments ago. Big crowd around the O-line area. Everyone kind of jealous. Some really cool stuff, and he's obviously been a huge part of our season and just a great person and leader and someone I admire and really enjoy blocking for."
One piece of that "big haul" was Jones gifting all 12 Patriots linemen Bitcoin, according to Bitcoin Magazine.