No Time To Let Up
Buffalo, NY - The New England Patriots are hitting their stride at just the right time, displaying their usual December dominance and rolling toward what they hope is another 11-win season.
This time, however, 11 wins might not be enough.
Even if the Patriots win their regular-season finale at Buffalo on Sunday, they'll need some outside help to avoid being home for the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Oddsmakers from Online Sportsbook Sportsbook.com have made the Patriots –6.5 point spread favorites for Sunday’s game against the Bills. Current NFL Public Betting Information shows that 86% of more than 7,065 bets for this game have been placed on the Patriots –6.5.
The five-time defending AFC East champions are tied for the division lead with Miami, but they would lose the tiebreaker with the Dolphins, meaning that in order to capture another division crown, New England (10-5) needs the rival New York Jets to beat Miami later Sunday afternoon.
The situation could have been even more dire for the Patriots had Seattle not beaten the reeling Jets 13-3 last Sunday. A New York victory in that game would have all but eliminated New England from the division race, but instead coach Bill Belichick could now find his team's fate on the shoulders of former assistant and current nemesis Eric Mangini's club, which has lost three of four.
"I think, rather than being a fan here and a cheerleader, the best thing we can do is go out there and play good football on Sunday in Buffalo," Belichick said. "Without that, nothing else will matter."
New England can also earn a wild-card berth, but only if struggling Jacksonville defeats Baltimore Sunday. If the Patriots win and neither scenario plays out, they will join the 1985 Denver Broncos as the only 11-5 teams to miss the playoffs.
"We have no one to be frustrated with but ourselves," guard Logan Mankins said. "We lost five games."
New England (10-5) has weathered the losses to injury of reigning league MVP Tom Brady and several defensive starters, but has nonetheless come to resemble last year's 16-0 team recently, totaling 96 points the last two weeks in comfortable victories over Oakland and Arizona.
They thoroughly dismantled the AFC West champion Cardinals on Sunday, allowing only 45 total yards through three quarters en route to a 47-7 win. Not only did Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan help the Patriots roll up 183 yards on the ground in snowy conditions, but quarterback Matt Cassel threw for 345 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
"I've never played in the snow before," said Cassel, a Southern California native. "It was a lot of fun."
He may have to play in the snow again this week, with forecasts predicting a possible wintry mix for Sunday's game in Orchard Park, N.Y.
The Patriots have won three straight games even with Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison and Adalius Thomas among their injured defenders. With starting safety James Sanders also out, Belichick tested rookie wide receiver Matthew Slater as a defensive back against the Cardinals.
With last Sunday's victory, New England moved to an NFL-best 23-2 in December since the beginning of 2003. The team has also won at least 11 games in five of the past seven seasons, all under Belichick, qualifying for the playoffs six times and winning three Super Bowls over that span.
Beating up on the Bills (7-8) has been a constant for Belichick's Patriots. They have won 10 straight and 15 of their last 16 against Buffalo, outscoring the Bills 150-40 in their last four visits to Ralph Wilson Stadium and holding them to 168 total yards in a 20-10 win in Foxborough on Nov. 9.
That game occurred in the midst of the Bills' dramatic second-half slide. After a 5-1 start, Buffalo dropped seven of its next eight games before finally rebounding with a 30-23 victory at Denver last Sunday.
The Broncos gained nearly twice as many yards as Buffalo, but the Bills won the turnover battle 2-0 and Fred Jackson's eight-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter broke a 23-all tie.
"Based on what Buffalo did (Sunday) on the road in Denver, I think that right there tells you how they're going to play," Belichick said. "They are a good football team."
Quarterback Trent Edwards returned for the Bills after a two-game absence due to a groin problem, replacing the struggling J.P. Losman and efficiently throwing for 193 yards and a touchdown.
The Bills may have to face New England without running back Marshawn Lynch, who aggravated a shoulder injury against the Broncos, and they may also be playing for coach Dick Jauron's job.
"Everybody reads the media and knows what's going on, and we know he's under a lot of heat," linebacker Kawika Mitchell said after last week's victory. "We wanted to win for ourselves and we really wanted to win one for him."
Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
NEW ENGLAND is 20-11 against the spread versus BUFFALO since 1992
NEW ENGLAND is 22-11 straight up against BUFFALO since 1992
20 of 32 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
NEW ENGLAND is 4-1 against the spread versus BUFFALO over the last 3 seasons
NEW ENGLAND is 5-0 straight up against BUFFALO over the last 3 seasons
3 of 5 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at BUFFALO since 1992
NEW ENGLAND is 10-5 against the spread versus BUFFALO since 1992
NEW ENGLAND is 10-6 straight up against BUFFALO since 1992
9 of 16 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at BUFFALO over the last 3 seasons.
NEW ENGLAND is 2-0 against the spread versus BUFFALO over the last 3 seasons
NEW ENGLAND is 2-0 straight up against BUFFALO over the last 3 seasons
1 of 2 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries
(!) [QB] Tom Brady IR - Knee - 09/07/08
[CB] Jason Webster IR - Ankle - 12/03/08
[CB] Terence Wheatley IR - Wrist - 11/17/08
[FS] James Sanders missed last game, "?" - Abdominal - 12/14/08
[LB] Adalius Thomas IR - Forearm - 12/05/08
[LB] Eric Alexander IR - Hamstring - 11/21/08
[LB] Gary Guyton injured last game %27?%27 - Ankle - 12/14/08
[LB] Pierre Woods IR - Jaw - 12/13/08
[LB] Shawn Crable IR - Shin - 11/05/08
[LB] Tedy Bruschi injured last game, downgraded to expected to miss the rest of the season. - Knee - 12/09/08
[OT] Matt Light injured last game %27?%27 - Shoulder - 12/14/08
[RB] Laurence Maroney IR - Shoulder - 10/17/08
[S] Rodney Harrison IR - Knee - 10/21/08
[S] Tank Williams IR. - Knee - 08/09/08
(!) [QB] Trent Edwards is upgraded to probable - Groin - 12/17/08
[CB] Ashton Youboty IR - Foot - 11/07/08
[CB] Jabari Greer missed last game, "?" - Knee - 12/14/08
[DB] Dustin Fox missed last game, "?" - Groin - 12/14/08
[DE] Aaron Schobel IR - Foot - 12/07/08
[DE] Chris Ellis IR - Ankle - 12/06/08
[DT] John McCargo IR - Back - 11/29/08
[LB] Alvin Bowen is expected to miss the rest of the season. - Undisclosed - 11/08/08
[LB] Angelo Crowell IR - Knee - 09/04/08
[LB] John DiGiorgio IR - Knee - 10/20/08
[LB] Marcus Buggs IR - Ankle - 11/21/08
[WR] James Hardy expected to miss rest of season - Knee - 12/15/08
Posted: 12/24/08 11:05AM ET