The stakes will be incredibly high for both the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills in Sunday's Week 16 game at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots (9-5) saw their seven-game win streak ended in a frustrating 27-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts last Saturday. The Bills (8-6) beat the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, which halted a two-game losing streak for Buffalo.
The winner of Sunday's much-anticipated showdown in Foxboro will occupy first place in the AFC East division. If the Patriots win, they'll have a two-game lead over the Bills with two games remaining in the regular season. A Bills victory would give both teams a 9-6 record, but Buffalo would move ahead of New England in the standings via the division record tiebreaker (4-1 to 3-2).
Here's an analytical look at how the outcome of Sunday's matchup will impact the Patriots' chances of reaching the playoffs, winning the division and earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC (via FiveThirtyEight's predictive model).
The Patriots are a good bet to make the playoffs even if they lose to the Bills on Sunday, but as the chart above shows, their chances of winning the division and getting the No. 1 seed drop dramatically with a loss.
Conversely, a win would make the Patriots a near-lock to claim the division title and remain a strong threat to the Kansas City Chiefs in the race for the No. 1 seed. Even if the Patriots don't get the No. 1 seed, being a division winner would guarantee them at least one home playoff game at Gillette Stadium in January.
The Patriots haven't played a late-season game with huge division title implications in a while. Sunday's game is enormously important to both teams. The stakes, at least as far as the division is concerned, couldn't be higher.