We’re down to the final Monday Night Football game of the regular season. The NFL will not have a Thursday or Monday Night Football contest in Week 17, opting instead to have all 32 teams in action on the Sunday. That should create a wild afternoon of football.
There’s still plenty left to play for next week as well. Three teams can still win the NFC East, starting with the Washington Football Team. They’re in pole position — If they can beat the Eagles next week, they’re in the playoffs. If they lose, the game between the Giants and the Cowboys essentially becomes a play-in game. Whichever team wins that contest would represent the division in the playoffs.
The AFC also has a wild finish in store. The Chiefs, Steelers, and Bills have all secured their playoff spots, but the final four are still up for grabs. The Titans, Ravens, Browns, Dolphins, and Colts all sit at 10-5, and only four of those five teams can make the playoffs. The Colts are currently on the outside looking in, but ESPN’s FPI still gives them a 77% chance of making the postseason. The Browns have the toughest matchup vs. the Steelers, which gives them the worst playoff odds of the group. The Browns could’ve avoided this predicament by just taking care of business against the Jets on Sunday, but I guess that would’ve been too easy for Cleveland.
Speaking of the Jets, their win over the Browns has guaranteed that the Jaguars will be picking first in the 2021 NFL Draft. That likely means a chance to draft Trevor Lawrence, who will be given the unenviable task of turning around that franchise. Lawrence is considered a can’t-miss prospect à la Andrew Luck or John Elway, so the Jaguars’ four remaining fans are probably ecstatic at the moment.
As for tonight’s contest, these two teams really have nothing to play for. The Bills have already secured the AFC East crown, while the Patriots will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007. The Bills are expected to head into Foxborough and take care of business — they’re listed as massive road favorites — but can the Pats keep this closer than anticipated?
Let’s break this contest down and try to identify some potential betting value.
Buffalo Bills (-7) @ New England Patriots — 46.0 total
Moneylines: Bills -315/Patriots +255
This looks like a huge mismatch on the surface. The Bills have been arguably the second-best team in the AFC this season, while the Patriots have been dreadful. Buffalo ranked seventh in the league in Football Outsiders’ DVOA entering Week 16, while the Patriots are all the way down in 21st.
That said, I think the Patriots will be able to give the Bills everything they’ve got this week. They might not be able to win the game outright, but I think they can cover the seven-point spread.
The Patriots are not a good offensive team, but the one thing that they do well is run the football. That stems from their elite offensive line. They rank third in the league in adjusted line yards this season, and the Patriots rank fifth in the league with an average of 145.4 rushing yards per game.
On the other side, the Bills’ defensive front has been very weak against the run this season. They rank just 19th in adjusted line yards allowed, which makes this a huge mismatch in the trenches. Overall, Pro Football Focus gives the Patriots run game a +83% advantage. That’s one of the biggest mismatches of the week.
If the Patriots can get their run game going, it should help all aspects of their offense. Newton has struggled as a traditional passer this season, but he can still operate as a game-manager. If you can let him use his legs and get him into third and manageable situations, the Patriots should be able to put up some points.
The big injury to watch heading into this contest involves Damien Harris. He was able to practice on a limited basis all week, and he’s currently listed as questionable. The limited practices do put him on track to suit up, but he practiced leading up to last week’s game and was ultimately ruled out. Harris has operated as the Pats’ primary running back when healthy this season, and he’s averaged a robust 5.0 yards per carry.
Luckily, the Patriots do have a deep stable of running backs. Sony Michel was largely considered a bust heading into this season, but he has quietly turned things around. He’s averaged 5.7 yards per carry on 53 attempts, and he averaged 7.4 yards per carry in place of Harris last week. He has the potential to do some damage in this matchup if he earns another start.
When the Bills are on offense, expect them to lean heavily on the right arm and legs of Josh Allen. He has blossomed into one of the best quarterbacks in the league this season, and he’s coming off a monster performance last week. He finished with 359 yards and two touchdowns through the air, and he added another 33 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
That said, don’t expect him to win this game by himself. The Patriots have improved against passing attacks since the start of the season, and they still employ one of the best groups of corners in the league. Even with Stephon Gilmore sidelined, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, and Jason McCourty all stand out as strong cover corners.
Where the Patriots defense has really struggled this season is against the run, and the Bills don’t seem like the type of team to take advantage of that weakness. They pass the ball at the fifth-highest rate in one-score games, so they don’t usually turn to their rushing attack until they have a lead.
Allen put together arguably his worst game of the year in his first matchup vs. the Patriots this season. He completed just 11 of 18 passes for 154 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception. The Bills were able to win that game thanks to their rushing attack, but it was only by three points. They’re going to need a better performance this week to cover the seven-point spread.
The betting activity in this game has been interesting to monitor. The vast majority of bets and dollars are landing on the Bills, which is not surprising given how good they’ve looked recently. That said, there has been some recent sharp activity on the Patriots. This line got as high as Bills -7.5, but there has been some buyback on the Patriots at that number. That has caused this line to dip back down to Bills -7. There have also been some recent steam moves tracked on the Patriots at +7, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see this line dip a little further before kickoff.
Finally, the Patriots have a clear motivational edge in this game. This game means absolutely nothing to the Bills. They’ve already won the division, but they can’t catch the Chiefs for the top spot in the conference. The only thing that’s left to be decided is whether the Bills or Steelers will be the No. 2 seed in the AFC, but that doesn’t mean much since only the top seed gets a bye.
Meanwhile, the Patriots are playing for pride. They know that this has been a disastrous season, so this game vs. the Bills could very well be their Super Bowl. A lot of guys on that roster are also playing for jobs next season — including Newton — so they have plenty at stake.
Give me the hungry team over the fat and happy one every day of the week, especially when they’re getting seven points at home.