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Saturday NFL Playbook

Would Bills' win over Patriots signal changing of guard in AFC East?

It's understandable that nearly all the attention in Western New York on Saturday will be focused on the Buffalo Bills' game at the New England Patriots. Will it really signal a changing of the guard in the AFC East?

However, there are two other games on the Saturday schedule for Week 16 in the National Football League and both figure heavily in the postseason picture.

Five of the six teams in Saturday's tripleheader are in the postseason picture. The outsiders are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, playing at home against the Houston Texans. Although they have been eliminated from postseason consideration, the Bucs remain a dangerous opponent because of they are third in the league in scoring, capable of piling up yards and points against most opponents.

The Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers game Saturday night will have a bearing on both the NFC West division race and the NFC wild-card situation. It's a must-win game for the Rams. The Niners have clinched a playoff berth.

Houston is not yet in the playoffs. The Texans will clinch the AFC South with a win or a Tennessee loss on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. A loss by the Texans and a Titans win would set up a Tennessee-at-Houston showdown next week for the division title. The loser could get knocked out of the playoffs if the Steelers win their two remaining games on the road against the Jets and Ravens.

The Texans are only 4-3 on the road, and one week after a signature home win over the Patriots, lost at home to the struggling Broncos.

San Francisco is tied with Seattle for first place in the NFC West at 11-3. They meet next week in Seattle. A win Saturday by the 49ers would knock out the Rams (8-6) from wild-card consideration and put the Minnesota Vikings (10-4) in the playoffs, at least as a wild card. Minnesota will be home to Green Bay (11-3) in an NFC North showdown on Monday night.

A capsule look at Saturday's Week 16 NFL games:

Bills (10-5) at Patriots (11-4)

TV: Ch. 7, NFL Network, 4:30 p.m.

The line: Patriots (-6 1/2).

Record ATS: Bills 9-5; Patriots 8-6.

Over/under: 37 1/2.

Times over/under: Bills 3/11; Patriots 8/6.

The scoop: Beware. Reports of the demise of the Patriots and Tom Brady may be slightly exaggerated or a lot of wishful thinking. Also be wary of that long New England injury list. Pats were penalized for hiding injuries a few years ago, and Belichick responded by reporting every hangnail or shoe blister. ... Forgotten fact is that rookie RB Devin Singletary was not active for first Bills-Pats game in Week Four. He's vital piece of offense now.

Outlook: If Bills' "deep thinkers" (as the late Larry Felser used to call them) couldn't come up with answers for "Wink" Martindale's defense, what will they do against a Belichick plan? Patriots, 16-13.

Texans (9-5) at Buccaneers (7-7)

TV: NFL Network, 1 p.m.

The line: Texans (-3).

Record ATS: Texans 7-7; Bucs 5-8-1.

Over/under: 49 1/2.

Times over/under: Texans 5/9; Bucs 12/2.

The scoop: This should be a display of offensive fireworks in TV lead-in to Bills-Patriots taffy pull. Bucs are third in league in total offense and Texans are sixth. ... Texans QB Deshaun Watson is fun to watch, a combination of Patrick Mahomes/Lamar Jackson/Russell Wilson. WR DeAndre Hopkins (99 receptions), like Michael Thomas of the Saints, always seems to be open and never seems to drop even toughest passes. ... Jameis Winston of Bucs is hottest QB in the NFL, although still erratic. Became first in NFL history with two 450-plus passing games in a row last week and has 30 TD passes. Leads league with 4,573 passing yards. That's 103 yards per game on average more than the Bills.

Outlook: With no running game (91.4 average) to speak of and a defense that is in the middle of the pack, Bucs' Bruce Arians has restored his reputation as coach who can get a team organized and on right track. Tampa Bay has been shut out only seven of 56 quarters this season. Buccaneers, 35-31.

Rams (8-6) at 49ers (11-3)

TV: NFL Network, 8:15 p.m.

The line: 49ers (-6 1/2).

Record ATS: Rams 8-6; 49ers 6-8.

Over/under: 45.

Times over/under: Rams 6/8; 49ers 7/7.

The scoop: Old Pacific Coast rivals meet in their most meaningful clash in a while. They have met just once in postseason. That was in 1989 NFC championship won by Niners, 30-3, who went on to rout Broncos in Super Bowl. ... Niners' loss at home to Falcons last week was shocker, but not when all S.F. injuries are considered. Two other losses were understandable, to Seahawks by field goal in overtime and by three on last-play field goal at Ravens. ... Rams got supposed modern offense on track with high-scoring wins over Cardinals and Seahawks then were shredded at Cowboys last week. L.A. has been unpredictable all season after 3-0 start.

Outlook: Two of the 49ers' losses have come at home, where they have whipped Steelers, Browns and Packers. Winning 48-46 game at Saints also impressive. Niners of Bill Walsh era were household names. Current group? Who had heard of Matt Breida (undrafted), Raheem Mostert (undrafted) and TE George Kittle (fifth round in '17). Somebody (John Lynch?) knows what they are doing in S.F. front office. 49ers, 31-20.

Last week: Favorites were 10-5 straight up; 9-5-1 ATS (Bills-Steelers was pick'em); Road favorites were 5-2 straight up, 4-2-1 ATS. Eleven games were over, five were under.

Last week's results: 9-6 straight up; 7-7-1 ATS.

Season's record: 130-76-1 straight up; 103-101-3 ATS.

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