Somehow, even with the football world turned upside down by Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin’s terrifying injury Monday night, the band will almost certainly play on this Sunday.
Especially with the news out of Hamlin’s camp getting increasingly more positive, with the fallen Bill back to consciousness and able to interact with family members, it feels unlikely Week 18 gets postponed in any way.
That means the Bills and Patriots will remain on a collision course in a game that matters significantly for both teams. For the Patriots, it’s win-or-potentially-go-home; they’d need a bunch of things to go right for them if they lost Sunday. The Bills, meanwhile, are still in the hunt for the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC, though their chances of obtaining it might’ve been lost assuming Kansas City wins in Week 18 and their game with the Bengals is permanently suspended.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday the league is weighing several options to level the playing field, including a neutral-site AFC Championship game or allowing the No. 1 and 2 seeds a choice between having home-field advantage or a first-round bye. So there’s definitely a world in which the Bills opt not to play their starters against a Patriots team with little else to lose, thereby increasing New England’s chances of getting into the postseason – and likely face the Bills again at Highmark Stadium in short order.
But there’s also a realm in which the moment proves too powerful for the Bills to ignore: an opportunity not just to stay alive for the conference’s top seed but also to band together for Hamlin, their fallen brother, and play the game as hard as they can.
As much as strategy, coaching and execution matter on the field, football, at its core, is an emotional game. When all things are equal, it really can just come down to who wants it more.
On one hand, this matchup is still far from a fair fight on paper, even with the injuries and damage the Bills have suffered in the last week alone. They still have Josh Allen, one of the three best quarterbacks in football, and a supporting cast on both sides of the ball that simply has too much talent for the Patriots to match straight-up.
But the Xs and Os, to an extent, might not matter for this one. We know what things look like under normal circumstances between these two teams. But this is far from normal, and there’s no predicting how the Bills, in particular, will handle this week after everything that’s happened to them.
One wouldn’t blame them for coming out emotionally flat, especially in a game that won’t make or break their season at this point.
But it also wouldn’t be hard to envision the no-holds-barred division battle some thought they’d see when previewing this matchup Monday morning with both teams playing bringing a desperate energy to the field.
In such a battle, who would win? An underdog Patriots team nearly down to its last bullet looking to empty the chamber at a division rival who’s owned them the last three seasons? Or a Bills team playing for something bigger than the game itself, that’s carrying a beaten-up city and Hamlin’s spirit with them along with Super Bowl expectations?
If the Bills show up to play, they’ll probably still have the edge. But in a game like this, all bets are off.
One thing we can all expect, though: there will be plenty of love, hugs, thoughts and prayers being passed around after the game. After the week everyone’s had, that will be good to see no matter the outcome.