Patriots

Here's the likeliest wild card playoff opponent for Patriots after Week 16

Patriots

The New England Patriots would really have to melt down over the final two weeks of the 2021 NFL regular season to miss the AFC playoffs for the second consecutive year.

But the chances of them making it as AFC East winners are pretty slim. Sunday's Week 16 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium dropped the Patriots from the division leaders and the conference's No. 2 seed all the way down to the No. 6 seed as a wild card team.

New England has just a 12 percent chance of winning the division but a 93 percent chance to make the playoffs, per FiveThirtyEight.

Given the likelihood of the Patriots entering the playoffs as a wild card team, who is their most likely opponent in the AFC Wild Card round of the postseason?

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Well, according to ESPN's Football Power Index model, it's a third game against the Bills.

The Patriots and Bills split their two meetings in the regular season, with New England winning 14-10 in Week 13 and Buffalo earning a 33-21 victory in Week 16. Each team won on the road. 

The Patriots and Bills have met in the playoffs only once -- the 1963 AFL Divisional playoff, where the "Boston" Patriots won 28-6 on the road before losing to the San Diego Chargers in the AFL Championship.

 
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New England has twice faced an AFC East team three times in a season since head coach Bill Belichick took over in 2000.

The first instance happened in 2006 when the Patriots and Jets split their regular season series before the Pats won in the AFC Wild Card game. These two rivals played three times in 2010, too, and after again splitting during the regular season the Jets prevailed with a AFC Divisional Round upset at Gillette Stadium.

There's still plenty of football remaining in the regular season and the standings could change in many different ways. That said, it would pretty fun if the Patriots and Bills played for a third time.