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Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots: First-half open thread

First place is on the line this afternoon

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots face off today in a critical matchup in the AFC Playoff picture. The winner of today’s game will be in first place in the AFC East with control over their own destiny for the rest of the season. The loser is still in good shape for a Wild Card berth, and they could theoretically still win the division, but they’ll need some help.

For the Bills, a loss drops them to 8-7, squarely in the crowded pack of AFC teams vying for the seventh and final Wild Card spot. A loss would drop New England to 9-6, and that extra win is huge right now. According to the New York Times Playoff Machine, a loss today takes New England down to a 94 percent chance to make the playoffs, while a win gives them better than a 99 percent chance at qualifying.

The stakes are much higher for Buffalo. With a win, Buffalo has a 96 percent chance at making the playoffs. With a loss, their chances dip to just 57 percent, and that isn’t even talking about winning the division. The Bills would still have a better-than-80-percent chance at making the playoffs with a loss today and wins over the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets, but they’d be relying on others in that scenario. Buffalo needs a win today.

Will the Bills miss Star Lotulelei’s presence in their run defense? Will Mac Jones throw it a little more than he did during these teams’ last meeting? Will Josh Allen have enough time to operate behind a suspect offensive line? The answers to these questions and plenty more are about to be revealed.

Your first half open thread is here, friends. Finish off that Christmas eggnog, if that’s your thing. Toggle the comments to “oldest” to replicate the classic game-thread feel. Be civil to each other. And most of all, enjoy the game wherever you’re watching. We hope your holiday season has been a great one, and now we hope that the Bills deliver one last present before the calendar flips to 2022.

Go Bills!