Columnists, Sports

First and Goal: Road to Super Bowl may run through AFC East

When the Kansas City Chiefs lost to the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday, the road to the Super Bowl suddenly developed a new fork heading northeast.

It should still be expected that Kansas City will secure the No. 1 seed in the playoffs because of its recent victory over a Cam Newton-less New England team, but that loss to Las Vegas opens the door for both the Patriots and the Buffalo Bills.

The American Football Conference East may suddenly find itself as the most interesting divisional race for the first time in a while. Tom Brady had steamrolled the division for the past 20 years and made the divisional title chase a foregone conclusion most seasons. Brady’s departure seemed to be the Patriots’ death knell until Newton’s arrival showed they are still one of the teams to beat.

The Bills have been chasing the Patriots for almost two decades and got the closest they’ve been in a long time to winning the division last season. It came down to Week 16 last year when the Patriots narrowly closed out the Bills 24-17 at Gillette Stadium. 

The Bills are currently 4-1 and hold the top spot in the division, but they have not played either of their two games against New England yet, including another Week 16 game that could once again decide the division.

Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen is a rising star in the league and currently has the Bills on pace to win the division for the first time since 1995. Allen has the mobility of a running back when in open space and has a cannon for an arm he isn’t afraid to use.

Allen has already thrown 14 touchdowns this season, putting his pace well ahead of his career-high of 20 touchdowns last year. He’s also turning the ball over a lot less with fewer fumbles and interceptions on his way to a quarterback rating of 122.9, good for third-best in the league.

The Bills’ formidable defense seems to have lost a step from last season, but they are still capable of shutting down a team. Buffalo has the 12th best-run defense in the NFL and will need all hands on deck to shut down New England’s power run led by Newton and the three-headed beast of James White, Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel.

The Patriots have the second best-run offense in the league as they carve up their opponents for 179.8 yards on the ground per game. The addition of Newton under center has jump-started the offense to an unbelievable level. The threat of Newton either taking a designed handoff or scrambling on a pass play has kept defenses honest to the point where the running backs are free to pick up a few yards before contact.

Buffalo has a pretty hard schedule coming up with games against Kansas City and the Seattle Seahawks, both of whom beat New England earlier this season. At this point in the season, the Patriots’ schedule has gotten much easier with cupcake matchups against the injury-riddled Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers.

A few slip-ups by either team will doom their chance at winning the division, and don’t count out the scrappy Miami Dolphins who took Seattle to the brink and clobbered San Francisco.

If the road to the Super Bowl does run through the AFC East, many teams may not make it very far. As shown by the great success of New England at home over the past 20 years, a January trip up to frigid Gillette Stadium is often a one-way trip.

Unfortunately for the Bills, a home playoff game would most likely be without fans or with very limited attendance. The lack of fans in Buffalo for a playoff game would be robbing us of one of the most raucous fan environments in all of sports. 

On normal Sunday afternoons, the Bills Mafia throws questionable objects onto the field. What would they do if it were a playoff game?

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