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How the Bills could have won the AFC East and saved us from the Patriots’ tyranny

Buffalo fell short in its task to save us from the Patriots.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Update, 12/21: And like that, our hopes of a world without the division-winning, high-seeded Patriots shan’t be. The Bills fell to the Patriots in a very competitive game on Saturday, which clinched the AFC East for New England. Buffalo is still in the playofs as a wild card team. Here’s how the Bills could’ve won the division, though.

It’s 2019 and the world remains under foot of Bill Belichick and the Patriots. But heroes often arise from the most unlikely of places — places like ... Buffalo, apparently? The Patriots are already guaranteed a spot in the playoffs for the 11th consecutive season, but they have yet to lock up the AFC East division, which they have won for the past 10 years.

This means there is still a chance they could be a wild card team. That would force Tom Brady and friends to play an extra playoff game on the road, something that NFL fans would love to see after well over a decade of New England oppression. For that to happen, the Josh Allen-led Bills need to rise up and take the division themselves.

Such a scenario was considered unlikely weeks ago and it still feels unlikely today. Still, with only two games remaining in the regular season, there’s room for the Patriots to make a mistake and allow the Bills to gain control of the AFC East.

The Patriots have looked more vulnerable this season than they have in a long time, though take that with a grain of salt as they are still a double-digit-win team. The Bills also have double-digit wins for the first time since 1999 and have already clinched a postseason berth. Winning the division would be icing on the cake.

There are only a couple things that need to happen for the Bills to unseat the Patriots in the division. However, one of the steps is fairly implausible. Still, let’s go over exactly what needs to happen.

First, the Bills have to beat the Patriots in Week 16

Buffalo is a game back of New England right now and already lost to the Patriots once this season. To win the division, the Bills need to finish with a better record than New England, and that starts with avenging that first loss.

That loss came in Week 4, when we were still unsure what the Bills were even going to look like this season. But it wasn’t a blowout. In fact, Brady had one of the most pedestrian performances of his career, throwing for just 150 yards and an interception without a touchdown.

The problem for Buffalo: Allen had one of his worst performances too, throwing for 153 yards, no touchdowns, and a whopping three interceptions. He was sacked four times for a loss of 31 yards and eventually left the game with an injury. He did have a rushing touchdown, though, and the Patriots still only managed to win, 16-10.

Since then, both teams are 7-3 and have relied on a strong defense. New England is coming off a win over the Bengals in which Brady threw for only 128 yards, while the Bills had a 17-10 comeback victory against the Steelers.

The Bills beating the Patriots this season wouldn’t be surprising, though winning in New England is always a tall task.

Second, the Bills have to beat the Jets in Week 17

New York is a hard team to gauge. The Jets occasionally get some very good performances from Sam Darnold, and occasionally they get some extremely poor ones. When these two teams met the first time, Darnold was somewhere in the middle.

Buffalo wound up winning the first meeting, 17-16, but it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. The Bills had to come back from a 16-point deficit. Allen threw and rushed for a touchdown, and he also tossed a pair of interceptions. John Brown was the big playmaker for the Jets, with seven catches for 123 yards and a touchdown.

Still, that was in Week 1 and the Jets have mostly improved since then. They lost seven of their first eight games, but have won four of their last six. Most recently, they scored a last-second win over the Dolphins before falling to Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.

Buffalo will be favored, as it should be. If the Bills can beat the Patriots and then the Jets, then all they have to do is wait and see if the Patriots falter in the final step. But it’s going to be a long shot ...

Third, and most unlikely, the Patriots have to lose to the Dolphins in Week 17

Here is where things are no longer in Buffalo’s hands. The Patriots will host the Dolphins, the hapless team that early on looked like it could end up 0-16. During that period, the Dolphins suffered a 43-0 beatdown against the Patriots in Miami.

That doesn’t give us much confidence that the Dolphins can do anything to turn the tables this time around. In the first meeting, Ryan Fitzpatrick started and looked downright terrible. At one point in the second half, he threw pick-sixes on back-to-back drives. He was eventually benched for Josh Rosen.

And a few weeks later, Rosen was then benched for Fitzpatrick. After rattling off a couple wins against the Jets, Colts, and Eagles, the Dolphins got back to their losing ways, including two straight against the Jets and the Giants.

There’s nothing to suggest the Dolphins will even be able to compete with the Patriots in Week 17. The best we can come up with is that they split the series last year — and even that took a miracle. This remains the most unlikely portion of this scenario.

To sum things up, the Bills have to win out and the Patriots need to lose out for Buffalo to earn the AFC East crown.

If all of that happens, then the Patriots would be 11-5 while the Bills would be 12-4. If the Patriots lost to the Bills and then beat the Dolphins, they would finish with the same record, and it would go down to the common opponent tiebreak, which the Patriots would win.

Either way, both teams are in the playoffs. The Patriots have looked vulnerable and even if they win the AFC East, there’s a good chance one of teams that has already beaten them this season — like the Ravens or Chiefs — can unseat them before they appear in yet another Super Bowl. We can still be free of the Patriots’ vise grip on the NFL.

Then again, it’s probably best to just assume they’re going to win it all again and not engage in any of that “false hope” stuff.