The Bills are inching closer to their second consecutive AFC East title. The Patriots are fading in their chances to retake the division.
Buffalo won at New England in Week 16 to even the season series between the rivals. That also improved the Bills’ overall record to match the Patriots at 9-6 going into Week 17 and the final two games of the 2021 NFL regular season.
Here’s a breakdown of what the result means to Bills’ and Patriots’ division championship hopes:
NFL playoff picture: Bills vs. Patriots in AFC East race
The Bills and Patriots are tied in the division standings and each team beat the other on the road. The next tiebreaker is division record. The Bills improved to 4-1, only losing to the Patriots at home. The Patriots dropped to 3-2, also losing to the Dolphins
That puts the Bills in first place and in complete control of winning the division the final two weeks. They close with a very favorable schedule, drawing the Falcons (7-8) and Jets (4-11) in consecutive home games. The Bills are only 4-3 at home, but will be heavy favorites in Buffalo in both games.
The Patriots, now on a two-game losing streak, also will have good chances to rebound. They host the Jaguars (3-12) in Week 17 before closing with a road rematch at the Dolphins (7-7) in Week 18. New England will be heavily favored against Jacksonville, while Miami again will feel like more of a tossup.
However you look at it, the Bills are the best bet to win the AFC East now. They are the current No. 4 seed behind the Bengals (9-6), who have the better conference record as the tiebreaker. But the Bengals play the No. 1 seed Chiefs (11-4) at home as underdogs in Week 17. The Bills did beat the Chiefs, but that doesn’t help when two games down. The Titans (10-5) are the No. 2, a game ahead of the Bills, whom they beat in Week 6.
Buffalo is looking at either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs. New England is at No. 6, between Indianapolis (9-6) to whom it lost in Week 15, and Baltimore (8-7), over whom it holds a strong conference-record tiebreaker.
While the Patriots finish with the Jaguars and Dolphins, the Colts close at home against the Raiders and on the road at the Jaguars. New England is looking at either No. 5 or No. 6 seed.
If the Bills get to No. 3 and the Patriots stay at No. 6, they would play each other a third time, in Buffalo, during the wild-card playoffs. A rubber match seems appropriate to decide which AFC East team makes it to the divisional round as one of the four last teams standing in the conference.