New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has warned his team to treat Saturday's clash with the Buffalo Bills like a playoff game as the Super Bowl champions attempt to clinch an 11th straight divisional title.
The Patriots will be assured of top spot in the AFC East once again if they take care of business against a dangerous Bills side who have already booked their ticket to the postseason.
In previous seasons during the Belichick era, a visit to Gillette Stadium by the Bills has been regarded as a foregone conclusion for the Patriots.
Quarterback Tom Brady has never lost a home game against the Bills when he has played in all four quarters, and is an incredible 31-3 against Buffalo throughout his career overall.
But Saturday's game at Foxborough, the penultimate round of the regular season, has more than a whiff of potential upset about it.
The Bills arrive with a respectable 10-4 record, and only narrowly lost to the Patriots in their home game earlier this season, going down 16-10.
Head coach Sean McDermott's side also has the third best defense in the NFL -- a red flag for Belichick given the Patriots recent offensive problems -- and an increasingly reliable quarterback in the shape of Josh Allen.
Throw in the fact that the Bills are 6-1 away from home this season, and it is easy to see why Belichick is taking nothing for granted.
- 'Our best game' -
"We know we'll have to play our best game to win, that's what we'll try to do," Belichick said, agreeing that the Patriots were preparing for the game with a postseason mentality.
"Absolutely," Belichick said Thursday. "That's what we're here for. 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 four, or week six, or week eight. 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."
Belichick would not be drawn on the speculation surrounding Brady's form. The 42-year-old quarterback's pass completion rate has fallen sharply in recent weeks, averaging 56 percent over the past five games.
"We're really focused on this Buffalo game," Belichick said. "Looking at statistics, numbers is not where we're at," he added.
Brady meanwhile insists the only statistic that matters is the final scoreline.
"You want to go out and throw touchdowns, because that means points. You want to throw for yards, because that means production and the opportunity to score points," the quarterback said this week.
"But at the same time, the object of the game is to win. However you do it, that's why we're playing. I feel like there's more statistics now than there's ever been. But in the end, the one for me that matters the most is winning."
- Rams on knife-edge -
The Patriots-Bills game is one of three fixtures scheduled for Saturday as the regular season reaches its climax.
A potentially pivotal game in the NFC West is the other highlight on Saturday, where the Los Angeles Rams, last year's beaten Super Bowl finalists, must defeat the San Francisco 49ers on the road to keep their season alive.
The Rams, thrashed 44-21 by the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday, need to win their final two games and hope the Minnesota Vikings lose both of their remaining fixtures to snatch the NFC's sixth seeding.
Quarterback Jared Goff believes the Rams are well-equipped to bounce back from last weekend's rout in Dallas.
"I know these guys, I know this team, I know who we are," Goff said.
"We've faced adversity a handful of times this season and have responded the right way and I don?t expect this to be any different."
On Sunday, meanwhile, all eyes will be on the battle between the Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East crown.
The Cowboys and Eagles are both deadlocked with seven wins and seven defeats each at the top of their division.
A win for Dallas, who have already beaten the Eagles at home this season, would guarantee them a playoff berth.
The game could ultimately seal the fate of Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who has been sweating on a shoulder injury that has restricted quarterback Dak Prescott in practice this week.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick face a dangerous Buffalo Bills side on Saturday
Jared Goff is backing the Los Angeles Rams to bounce back in their must-win game against the San Francisco 49ers