The Patriots enjoyed the bye week more than most as they got to sit at home and watch some of their top competitors in the AFC go down in defeat. At the top of that list was the Buffalo Bills, who dropped a gut-wrenching 19-16 decision in Cleveland to drop to 6-3, a full two games behind New England in the AFC East.
Those two teams will meet once again in Week 16, but the clubs won’t know exactly when until Tuesday. When the league’s schedule was announced back in the spring, the Bills-Patriots contest was listed as TBD with Dec. 21 or 22 as possible dates.
That was one of five games the league designated as being played on either Saturday or Sunday that week with a plan to place three of them on Saturday as part of a tripleheader.
In addition to the Bills visit to New England, the NFL listed the Rams at the 49ers, Texans at the Bucs, Raiders at the Chargers and the Lions at the Broncos as possibilities for either day of the weekend. The plan is to have games kick off at 1 p.m., 4:25 p.m. and 8:20 p.m. on Saturday with the remaining two games moved to Sunday. The league will announce the dates and times for those five games on Tuesday following the completion of Week 10 Monday night.
In an effort to forecast where the Patriots might land, there would seem to be two options for prime time at this point: Patriots-Bills and Rams-49ers. The Bills loss takes some of the luster off that game as a potential battle for the top spot in the AFC East, but the slumping Rams dropped to 5-4 after their loss in Pittsburgh as well.
All things considered, San Francisco (which will host Seattle Monday night) is the lone unbeaten team and a win over the Seahawks would seem to ensure them a spot in prime time come Week 16.
Assuming that’s the case, the Bills-Patriots game could be in line for a 1 p.m. kick on either Saturday or Sunday. As host teams, the 49ers, Broncos and Chargers all would be out of the running for a 1 p.m. due to their time zones, so it would be either 4:25 p.m. or prime time. It’s possible the league could put the Patriots at 4:25 p.m. and move two West Coast/mountain games to Sunday as well.
We will find out at some point on Tuesday, but given the need to keep those three games out of the 1 p.m. window it would seem the Patriots have a good chance to kick off Saturday at 1 p.m.