This is new territory for the New England Patriots.
When they finish the season Sunday at home against the New York Jets, it will mark the first time since 2008 that the last game of the regular season won't be a tune-up for the playoffs.
At 6-9, New England will endure its first losing year since 2000, the first year Bill Belichick coached the team.
"Let's finish what we started," said Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater. "We started a race and obviously, we're not going to win that race, but if we have that ability to do so, let's finish that race and let's finish it the right way.
"Let's go out and represent ourselves in the best way possible, and not just ourselves: all the people that made the season possible for us."
As recently as Week 14, it appeared there might be a path for New England to play January football. After a 45-0 shellacking of the Los Angeles Chargers, it was 6-6 and appearing to peak when Belichick teams tend to.
But the Patriots' offense, a source of concern all year, simply petered out in the last three games. New England has scored just one touchdown -- Cam Newton's 9-yard run in the second quarter of Monday night's 38-9 blowout loss to Buffalo -- and 24 points.
That was the lone highlight for Newton, who was pulled in the third quarter after throwing for just 34 yards on 5 of 10 accuracy. Jarrett Stidham took over and wasn't much better, going 4 of 11 for 44 yards.
Speculation is rife on whether Stidham will start against the Jets, although one might have better luck stopping Michael Jordan in his prime than getting Belichick to reveal the identity of his quarterback in Week 17.
"I think it's a combination of things that we can all do better," Belichick said about the offense.
Meanwhile, New York (2-13) may have disappointed those that were hoping for an 0-16 finish, but it's pleased itself with back-to-back wins over playoff contenders.
After getting the bagel out of its win column with a 23-20 decision at the Los Angeles Rams in Week 15, the Jets kept Cleveland from clinching last week with a 23-16 verdict in the Meadowlands.
The consecutive victories aren't likely to keep coach Adam Gase from getting fired after the season ends. And they kept New York from possibly drafting Clemson's Trevor Lawrence with the top overall pick, but they've given rookies like wide receiver Denzel Mims hope for the future.
"I think we just sat down, watched film and saw all the mistakes we were making," he said. "We saw all the plays we left on the field. We're just trying to do everything we can to get better."
In the wins, quarterback Sam Darnold has looked like the guy capable of propelling the Jets to contention. After going 22 of 31 in his return to Los Angeles, the former USC star hit two crucial touchdown passes against Cleveland. And in both games, the mistakes that have consistently derailed this offense didn't occur.
"Winning cures everything," Darnold said. "When you win, the guys have more energy throughout the week."
New York will play without starting running back Frank Gore (chest/lung) and backup La'Mical Perine (COVID-19). Ty Johnson will get most of the carries in New England.
--Field Level Media