Before we dive into any analysis on what is certain to be one of the most emotional games in recent NFL history, three honest questions to consider…
Honest Question #1: Do you feel comfortable picking against the Bills this Sunday?
Honest Question #2: Do you feel awkward rooting for the Patriots against the Bills?
Honest Question #3: Do you think the Patriots have any chance against the Bills?
To say it’s been a unique week in the NFL is an understatement as big as saying we’re collectively relieved, as people and football fans, to learn of the progress Bills safety Damar Hamlin has been making. On Thursday, news of Hamlin’s father Mario calling the team via Zoom, as well as the doctors at University of Cincinnati Medical Center providing very positive updates on Hamlin’s prognosis, marked major steps forward for the family, the Bills and fans everywhere in returning to a semblance of normalcy. Or at least moving on with life and football, specifically Week 18. The Bills returned to practice Thursday and the mood was definitely the best it had been all week since the jarring events Monday night in Cincinnati.
Now, to the questions…collectively we’ve all spent the better part of the week sending thoughts, prayers, good vibes and well wishes to Buffalo, the Bills and specifically Damar Hamlin and his family. We’re all well aware of how fanatical and passionate Buffalo is about their team, and what a win Sunday would mean for them in the gradual healing process. Which version of the Bills we get Sunday is the real wild card before we get to Super Wild Card Weekend. Will Buffalo be, understandably so, a bit scattered or unfocused, a team resembling the anxiety and sleeplessness that came with their focus on a teammate’s critical health? Or will a talented team that’s competing for the top seed in the conference (or at least a neutral site AFC Championship) with Super Bowl dreams come in full of fire and focus, powered by the passion of their fans, riding the wave of emotion certain to come from Hamlin’s progress and a nation’s support?
We used to joke about “New England vs. Everyone” especially during the peak of Brady/Belichick and DeflateGate. But this truly may represent the time when everyone who doesn’t claim the Patriots as their team is rooting for Buffalo, and understandably so. Wouldn’t blame anyone anywhere if they were pulling in some capacity for the Bills and the city, even in a game with this much on the line. But football is football. No one would tell you that more than Damar Hamlin himself.
As far as the Patriots themselves, removed from any emotional Buffalo considerations…we know what trouble they’ve had scoring this season. Buffalo has won the AFC East three straight seasons, and taken five of the last six contests against New England, the most recent a lopsided 24-10 Thursday night affair in Foxborough. Winning the game represents the best and most direct entry for the Patriots to the postseason; win and you’re in. That was already a tall task given the talent of each team, well before this week’s events. New England can also make the postseason in defeat Sunday courtesy of the Jets defeating the Dolphins in Miami, the Jaguars beating the Titans in Jacksonville, and the Browns beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Can’t imagine too many people would be fired up for an 8-9 Pats team playing on Super Wild Card Weekend, likely against…the Bills, once again, in Buffalo. But hey, it is what it is. And it will take the best effort of the season, maybe in a long time from a Bill Belichick coached team, to win outright in that unique and emotional environment Sunday. The Pats will be healthier than they’ve been in weeks, especially in the secondary, but will that be enough to escape victoriously?
Quite the scene, full of joy and tears and cheers, awaits both teams and a national audience eager to see some normalcy and unity on Sunday. Challenges aplenty will be presented for both teams. The CBS A-Team of Nantz & Romo will be on the call where Buffalo is a seven point favorite. Let’s see what the experts, the ones who felt comfortable making picks and weighing in on the games this week, had to say.
By a 4/5ths majority The Athletic is on the Bills.
The Eagle Tribune has the Bills winning big.
The Los Angeles Times picks the Bills to win and cover.
Bleacher Report is unanimous in their selection of the Bills.
NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal has the Bills covering.
The CBS Sports experts are overwhelmingly on the Bills.
A majority of ESPN.com experts favor the Bills.
The Ringer is all about the Bills.
The Sporting News has the Bills with a W and a cover.
Yahoo! Sports is overwhelmingly in favor of the Bills.
MLive surprisingly picks the Patriots at +7.
Mike Reiss at ESPN.com has the Bills.
The folks at Patriots.com have the Bills, too.
We have the Bills triumphing in an emotional and unforgettable affair, 27-20. The pregame scene will be surreal in the best way possible, and the game more closely contested than some may expect. As for the Patriots’ postseason chances…two of the games that can impact their Wild Card dreams also go off at 1pm, so be sure to tune in to The 6 Rings Postgame Show on WEEI for full analysis and breakdown of Bills-Pats and everything that affects the oncoming NFL playoffs. Something we are all grateful for will likely take place thanks to the heroic efforts of people like Denny Kellington.
Get well, Damar. And enjoy the football, everyone.