FOXBORO, Mass. — The 2019 NFL playoffs already have begun for the New England Patriots.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Thursday his team “absolutely” is treating Saturday’s rematch with the Buffalo Bills like a postseason game. The 11-3 Pats can clinch their 11th consecutive AFC East title with a win over the 10-4 Bills.
“That’s what we’re here for,” Belichick said. “You work all year to put yourself in a position to play in a game like this where you can win the division. You couldn’t say that in Week 4 or Week 6 or Week 8 or whenever it was. Well, we’re saying that now, so now is the time for us to play and coach our best football. That’s what we’re all here for.”
New England narrowly defeated Buffalo in the teams’ first meeting, riding a blocked-punt touchdown and a dominant defensive effort to a 16-10 road victory at New Era Field. The longtime division rivals boast identical 7-3 records in the 11 weeks since that late September tilt, with the Patriots losing to the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs and the Bills falling to the Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and Ravens.
The Patriots and Bills both clinched playoff spots this past Sunday, and both remain in contention for the division crown, though Belichick’s club would need to drop its final two games to slip behind Buffalo in the standings.
Several Patriots players have referred to Saturday’s contest at Gillette Stadium as a de facto playoff game.
“This is a big game,” wide receiver Phillip Dorsett said. “We know that. They know that. Everybody in the building knows it. This is for the division — hat and T-shirt game. We’ve just got to put our best foot forward and just go out there and play as hard as we can.”
“It’s a playoff game,” safety Duron Harmon added. “It’s a playoff game before the playoffs.”
The Bills have won in Foxboro just twice since 2001: in 2014, when Tom Brady played just one half in a meaningless Week 17 game, and in 2016, when third-stringer Jacoby Brissett started at quarterback for the Patriots.