Twenty years ago the New York Yankees beat the New York Mets in a five game World Series. Independent Women Part I by Destiny’s Child was the number one song, Cast Away starring Tom Hanks the top movie and on December 12, 2020 the Supreme Court ruled on Bush v. Gore making George W. Bush the 43rd President of the United States.
Know what else happened 20 years ago this week? On Christmas Eve that year Bill Belichick coached a National Football League game without anything at stake for his team. His New England Patriots finished that season in the AFC Eastern Division cellar, and lost on the final day of the regular season to the division champion Miami Dolphins.
On the bench that day for the Patriots was rookie quarterback Tom Brady. The following year, Brady was pressed into duty when Drew Bledsoe was knocked out of action with an injury suffered against the New York Jets.
The rest, you might say, is history. In the 19 years Brady started in New England his team always had a record as good or better than every other division opponent. In 17 of those campaigns the Patriots participated in the playoff field.
Brady, who now plies his trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is back in the postseason this year. Which means Brady has never participated in a game that didn’t matter. Now, you can say that the Patriots played some meaningless games late in a season when they already clinched their division and were locked into a postseason seed. But even those games mattered, because what happened injury wise would affect contests that followed.
When the Patriots host the Buffalo Bills to close out Week 16 action they have no skin in the game.
The Bills do.
They still have the inside track on a second seed in the postseason by winning their final two games or winning one and having the Pittsburgh Steelers lose next Sunday when they battle the Browns in Cleveland. The Chiefs clinched the top seed in the AFC with yesterday’s victory at home over the Atlanta Falcons, advancing their season mark to 14-1.
The Bills could also fall as low as a fourth seed if they lose their last two games, tonight and next week at home against the Miami Dolphins, while the Tennessee Titans close out their regular season with a victory over the Houston Texans. The team that lands in the fourth seed in the AFC would play their second game, if they won in the Wild Card round, at Arrowhead Stadium against the Chiefs.
A second seed assures at least two home postseason games if the team wins their first.
So, while the Bills have something at stake, the question has to be asked, do the Patriots take advantage of their first spoiler role in twenty years?
When a team is locked into a playoff date and going against a team with nothing to play for other than changing their opponent’s seed, two things can happen. I’ve seen the team out of the playoffs perform like they were eyeing their draft position. I’ve also seen the team with no pressure and nothing left but to gain some measure of atonement for a bad year play their best game of the season.
What will it be for Belichick and his Patriots tonight?
Three weeks ago the Patriots scored 45 points while shutting out the Los Angeles Chargers on the road. Since that blowout victory, the Patriots have only managed 15 points in their last two games combined, losses to the Los Angeles Rams and Miami Dolphins.
Back home, and with nothing left to play for but to gum up the Bills postseason plans, I can’t bet against New England.
The public can.
They have piled on Buffalo like they are a sure winner, more than 77% of all wagers on this game are backing the visiting Bills and parlay cards are running 10 to 1 for the visitors. The books have reacted to their action by moving the line from an opening favorite role for the road Bills of 5½ points to 7 points. When they inch it up a half point higher, which they have done on a couple occasions today, money comes pouring in on the Patriots plus the 7½.
Whenever I say this it seems to be right, and that is a strong suggestion to not bet the Bills tonight, and still, I’m not interested in bucking a better Buffalo team.