The New England Patriots are breathing a sigh of relief as they host the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon, the final week of the NFL’s regular season.
New England is a 12-12½ point favorite at Don Best with an NFL betting total of 51 points. CBS will have the broadcast at 1:00 p.m. (ET) from Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots (12-3 straight up, 8-7 against the spread) can clinch the AFC’s top seed and home field advantage throughout the conference with a win or tie. The worst they can finish is the No. 2 seed, so a first-round bye is already wrapped up.
Coach Bill Belichick’s team feels relieved as it’s very fortunate to be in this position. After all, it fell behind 17-0 to Miami at halftime last week before rallying for a 27-24 win. A couple of second-half Dolphins turnovers really aided the cause.
The Patriots did fail to cover as 9-point home favorites. They’re just 1-4 ATS in their last five games at Gillette.
The 51 combined points scored last game just snuck ‘over’ the 50-point total. The ‘over’ is 5-0 in the Patriots last five games, with the offense scoring 32.4 PPG and the defense allowing 23.6 PPG. The ‘over’ is 11-1 in their last 12 division games.
Tom Brady threw for 304 yards last game and was just 187 behind Dan Marino’s 1984 season record of 5,084. However, New Orleans’ Drew Brees (5,087 yards) just broke the record on MNF. Brady was sacked three times in the first half against Miami and pressured many others, but got better blocking after Belichick’s halftime tirade and also had success with the no-huddle.
The offensive line could be key this week again with starting tackles Matt Light (ankle) and Sebastian Vollmer (back) both questionable after missing last game. Starting left guard Logan Mankins (knee) is also questionable after getting hurt last game.
The Buffalo defense (24 sacks, ranked 31st) doesn’t produce nearly as much pressure as Miami (39 sacks). It’s also allowing 36 PPG in the last four road games. The Patriots won’t wait as long to go no-huddle if they unexpectedly struggle again.
Rookie running back Stevan Ridley has been getting increasing carries and could be stealing the featured role from BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Ridley is more explosive, but the dependable Green-Ellis will also have a role with the weather getting colder.
Buffalo (6-9 SU, 6-8-1 ATS) is feeling much better about itself after a 40-14 home win over Denver as 2½-point ‘dogs. That snapped a miserable 7-game losing streak (1-6 ATS) that ruined a 5-2 SU (4-2-1 ATS) start.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had 196 passing yards and C.J. Spiller had 111 on the ground. The defense returned two interceptions for touchdowns and special teams contributed a score via a punt return. The team had scored just 14.3 PPG during the losing streak compared to 30.1 PPG the first seven.
Coach Chan Gailey needs to have a balanced offense this week and keep the ball for large chunks of time (and Brady on the sidelines). Spiller is a shifty speed back, similar to Miami’s Reggie Bush who burned the Pats for 113 yards on 22 carries last week. Spiller needs at least 20 totes this Sunday.
The Patriots pass ‘D’ made Matt Moore (294 passing yards, three TDs) look like Bob Griese at times last week. Fitzpatrick’s quarterback rating has plummeted since signing his contract extension back in October and his 19 picks are tied for league-most. New England gives up more passing yards than anyone (295 YPG), but does have 19 picks (tied for sixth).
Buffalo is one of just three teams to beat New England this year. That was back at home in late September, 34-31 as 7-point underdogs. Ryan Fitzpatrick had 369 passing yards and two interceptions, while Brady had 387 yards, getting picked off four times.
Brady has just seven interceptions in his other 14 starts (one in the last seven) and will certainly use that as a motivating factor this week.
New England had incredibly won the previous 15 meetings between the teams, although Buffalo has covered the last two in Foxborough.
The Bills have ruled out starting offensive linemen Demetrius Bell (knee) and Kraig Urbik (leg). They’ve been hit hard with injuries overall, including starting running back Fred Jackson (934 yards) going out in November.
Weather for New Year’s Day is projected to be mostly sunny and in the 30s. That’s about as nice as can be expected this time of yea