For the first time since 2000, the New England Patriots will take the field Monday night knowing they have no chance of qualifying for the NFL playoffs.
Their opponent: Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills, who enter as the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
My, how things have changed in the AFC East.
Here’s what to watch for in this Week 16 matchup:
Time: Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Location: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.
Spread: Bills -7
The Patriots are 6-8 against the spread this season. The Bills are 9-5 ATS. Ten of New England’s 14 games have gone under, including each of its last six.
The Patriots were run over by the Miami Dolphins, allowing a season-worst 250 rushing yards in a 22-12 loss that officially eliminated New England from playoff contention.
All 12 Patriots points came on Nick Folk field goals. They’ve failed to score a touchdown in each of their last two games.
At 6-8, New England is assured of its worst finish since 2000, snapping a streak of 19 consecutive winning seasons.
The 11-3 Bills destroyed the Denver Broncos 48-19 last Saturday to clinch their first AFC East title in 25 years. Buffalo is 7-1 in its last nine games, with the lone loss coming on Kyler Murray’s Week 10 Hail Mary.
A whopping 20 Patriots players as listed as questionable for Monday night:
C David Andrews (calf)
LB Ja?Whaun Bentley (shoulder)
OLB Tawshawn Bower (ankle)
DT Adam Butler (shoulder)
LB Shilique Calhoun (knee)
LS Joe Cardona (ankle)
DT Byron Cowart (back)
OT Jermaine Eluemunor (ankle)
K Nick Folk (back)
DT Lawrence Guy (shoulder)
RB Damien Harris (ankle)
OL Justin Herron (ankle)
CB J.C. Jackson (knee)
LB Anfernee Jennings (shoulder)
CB Jonathan Jones (neck)
G Shaq Mason (calf)
WR Donte Moncrief (thigh)
OLB John Simon (hamstring)
WR Matthew Slater (knee)
RB J.J. Taylor (quadricep)
All 20 players practiced in a limited capacity Saturday.
Harris and Moncrief both missed last week’s game. Andrews, Bentley and Simon left the game with injuries.
The Patriots’ front seven, which has struggled mightily against the run of late, is in rough shape. Chase Winovich, Josh Uche and Terez Hall are their only fully healthy linebackers, and Deatrich Wise and Akeem Spence are the only D-linemen not listed on the injury report.
Last week’s biggest loss, though, came in the secondary. Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore suffered a season-ending torn quad against Miami and was placed on injured reserve this week.
The Patriots also placed third-string tight end Jordan Thomas on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Buffalo ruled out tight end Reggie Gilliam (knee, hamstring) and listed safety Jaquan Johnson (ankle) and offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe (groin) as questionable.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Cam Newton, Patriots quarterback
Jarrett Stidham time? Not yet. Even with their playoff hopes kaput, the Patriots are expected to start Newton at quarterback again Monday night. Newton improved as a passer last week but lost a fumble and had a few costly misses, including one to an open Jakobi Meyers in the end zone.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Saturday the Patriots are confident in their evaluation of Stidham despite his lack of game reps. That he remains stuck behind an ineffective Newton speaks volumes.
Josh Allen, Bills quarterback
At the other end of the QB spectrum, Allen is enjoying a fantastic season for Buffalo. A first-time Pro Bowler, he ranks in the top 10 in nearly every passing category, including fourth in passing yards and touchdown passes, sixth in completion percentage and seventh in yards per attempt in passer rating. Newton’s a fan, saying this week he “wouldn?t be surprised” if Allen is the NFL MVP.
Allen wasn’t asked to do much when the Patriots and Bills met in Week 8, attempting a season-low 18 passes for 154 yards. He did throw one interception in that game, though, his sixth in four career matchups with New England.
J.C. Jackson, Patriots cornerback
The Patriots’ most notable Pro Bowl snub steps into the spotlight this week with Gilmore now done for the year. His first challenge: slow down Stefon Diggs, who entered the week ranked first in the NFL in catches with 111 and third in receiving yards with 1,314.
Jackson squared off against Diggs in Week 8 (Gilmore missed that game with a knee injury) and the latter finished with six catches for 92 yards. Jackson pulled down an interception in that game, though, one of eight he’s nabbed this season.
Reserve cornerback Joejuan Williams, who was relegated to Healthy Scratch Land last week, also could play a larger role with Gilmore sidelined.
Devin Singletary/Zack Moss, Bills running backs
We mentioned Allen playing a relatively minor role in the first Pats-Bills meeting. That’s because Buffalo brutalized New England on the ground, rushing for 190 yards and three touchdowns.
The Patriots have allowed 185 or more rushing yards in four of their last nine games, with the Los Angeles Rams (186 yards) and Dolphins (250) taking similarly run-focused approaches in the last two. If New England hopes to limit this high-powered Bills offense — which ranks fifth in points per game, fifth in yards per game and sixth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA — it’ll need a better performance from its front seven.