When New England hosts Buffalo on Sunday afternoon in the regular-season finale, it's a tough game to handicap because the Patriots have absolutely nothing to play for. They are 3.5-point favorites on BetOnline NFL odds with a total of 44.
Thank You Bengals!
New England (12-3) had to assume that it was going to have to play all out in this game. The Patriots no doubt thought Peyton Manning would go into Cincinnati on Monday night and beat the Bengals. Thus the top seed in the AFC would have still been up for grabs in Week 17. However, Manning was picked off four times in sloppy conditions and lost his first-ever game to Cincinnati. The locked up the top overall seed for New England. That result had a huge impact on this line as the Patriots had opened as 10.5-point favorites at sportsbooks.
Now what's the point of playing a single starter against Buffalo? If you know anything about Patriots coach Bill Belichick, he's not going to tell you what's going to happen. He answered this way Tuesday morning when asked how long some starters would play if at all: “We’ll do the same thing we always do, so it won’t be any different this week than it’s been any other week, it won’t be any different this year than it’s been any other year: we’ll do what we feel is best for our football team. Period. Whatever is best for our team, then that’s what we’ll try to do.”
Belichick certainly wasn't happy with how his team played in Week 16's 17-16 escape at the New York Jets so he might want his starters in there to get some sort of rhythm before getting next week off. Tom Brady threw for only 182 yards against the Jets and was sacked four times, and New England managed just 231 yards of offense. The Pats did play without two key offensive starters: left guard Dan Connolly (knee) and receiver Julian Edelman (concussion). I'd be shocked if they play this week. Ditto star tight end Rob Gronkowski with how injury prone he is. Gronk doesn't need the reps. That could cost him the receiving TD title as with 12 he's two behind No. 1 Dez Bryant of Dallas.
Belichick's next win will be his 231st career including playoffs and give him sole possession of fourth on the all-time list. He's currently tied with Curly Lambeau.
New England is 9-6 against the NFL betting spread this season and 9-6 'over/under.'
Drought Continues for Bills
Buffalo will miss the playoffs for a 15th straight season, the longest streak in the NFL. The Bills (8-7) had a shot if they had won last week in Oakland and then this game and gotten a bit of help. However, Buffalo got caught in a major letdown game against the Raiders a week after upsetting Green Bay. Oakland won 26-24, the most points allowed by that excellent Buffalo defense since Week 6.
Kyle Orton had big numbers with 329 yards and three touchdowns but also two interceptions. Buffalo ran for only 13 yards, the franchise's worst total since Nov. 23, 1997, despite the return of No. 1 tailback C.J. Spiller from injury. He had minus-4 yards on four carries. The Bills swore they wouldn't overlook the Raiders but it was quite clear they did. The Buffalo defense allowed Oakland's last-ranked rush attack to gain 140 yards.
Buffalo lost two key defenders to injury in the game: Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to a knee injury and cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a concussion. Really no reason to push those guys to play this week. How important is Dareus? Buffalo allowed 5 yards on six carries against Oakland before his injury and 135 yards on 30 carries after.
If you are a Bills fan you might be thinking it's better for Buffalo to lose here and potentially improve draft position, but Cleveland holds the Bills' 2015 first-round pick from the Sammy Watkins deal. Really the only thing Buffalo has to play for is the franchise's first winning record since 2004.
Buffalo is 8-7 against the spread and 3-12 'over/under' on NFL odds.
In Week 6 in Buffalo the Bills were actually 1-point favorites on NFL odds but that's when we weren't really sure what New England was. The Patriots won 37-22. Brady was brilliant, going 27-for-37 for 361 yards and four touchdowns. Brandon LaFell caught two of those scores, while Gronk had seven catches for 94 yards. Orton was 24 of 38 for 299 yards with two TDs and a pick. Watkins was largely a non-factor with two catches for 27 yards. It was New England's sixth straight win in the series.
NFL Free Picks: Tough, tough call here. New England has never lost to Buffalo at Gillette Stadium as the Pats' last home loss in the series was in 2000. I'm going to presume the Patriots play most of their starters at least for a while. Nobody likes to enter the playoffs off a loss. Give the points and go 'under.' New England has covered four straight at home. The 'under' is 7-0 in Buffalo's past seven after a loss. If Belichick says Brady won't play, flip this and make Buffalo your NFL pick.