By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots find themselves in a rare spot heading into Week 17. The final week of the regular season will also be the final week of the 2020 New England Patriots.

Brace yourselves for the Cam Newton vs. Jarrett Stidham debate to hit its peak over the next few days.

The Patriots have nothing to play for but pride when they host the New York Jets next Sunday afternoon. Well, pride and the chance to take another look at the team’s younger players. After sticking it out with Newton all season, could this finally be the week that Belichick turns to second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham as his starter?

“Haven’t made any plans for next week, obviously being it’s 15 minutes old,” Belichick growled following New England’s 38-9 defeat to the Buffalo Bills on Monday night.

Belichick once again said that Newton was not the problem for the New England offense after Monday night’s loss. But Newton was once again ineffective, throwing for just 34 yards against the Bills. He also rushed for 24 yards and the team’s only touchdown, but following a three-and-out on New England’s first possession of the second half, Belichick decided it was time to give Stidham “a chance to play.”

Now Belichick has to decide if Stidham gets a “chance to play” an entire game in Week 17. The 2019 fourth-round pick has been relegated to relief appearances this season, and he’s been …. OK in those stints. He’s looked pretty good one some throws and pretty bad on others. Stidham was 4-for-11 for 44 yards against the Bills in just over a quarter of action.

But starting his first pro game would be a big stepping stone in Stidham’s progress. He would obviously love the chance to lead the team for an entire game, but said that is not his call. So he’ll prepare for Week 17 like he has all season.

“I think everybody in the game of football wants to be playing every single week. So, yeah, I would absolutely love to have that opportunity,” he said of a potential start next weekend. “But that’s not in my control and I’m not going to focus on it. It’s not going to change the way I prepare. I prepare like I’m the starter, even going back to last year. That’s how I’ve always prepared each and every week. So, that’s not going to change my mindset and I’m just going to keep grinding and get better next week.”

Newton spoke after Stidham on Monday night, and didn’t want to engage in questions about who would be under center for New England against the Jets.

“I’m not going to get into no back and forth with nobody. Like I said, my job is to be the best teammate I can possibly be, be the best player I can be for this team, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do,” said Newton.

The Patriots have seen all they need to see out of Newton, and really, the only reason to keep playing him is so the veteran hits his playing time incentive. Newton will need to get some snaps on Sunday in order to get that bonus.

After he took a team-friendly deal over the offseason, the Patriots seem set on Newton hitting that incentive and earning his bonus money. So don’t be too surprised if Newton is New England’s starter for the 15th time this season when they close things out against the Jets.

But that doesn’t mean the team won’t take an extended look at Stidham later in the contest. And really, they should take as long of a look as they can.

For Stidham, the more experience he has in game-action, the better chance he has to grow. Even if he isn’t the ultimate answer at quarterback for the Patriots, continuing Stidham’s growth should be one of their main goals over the final 60 minutes of football of the season.

“That’s obviously one of the biggest things for development, is just getting experience. I’ve loved to have gotten each and every opportunity that I’ve had. I wish, obviously, that they’ve gone better and we could put some more points on the board,” Stidham said Monday. “But, yeah, I think game experiences, there’s nothing like it. So, I’m just going to continue to grind and work my butt off every single week and just be ready for whatever opportunity that I get.”

Whether that opportunity comes at the beginning of the game or in the middle of one doesn’t matter to Stidham.

“At the end of the day, whatever opportunity I’m given, I want to try and make the most of it. Whether that’s in the third quarter, the fourth quarter, whenever that is, I need to go out and make the most of it,” he said. “That’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”

In five games this season, Stidham has completed 22 of his 44 passes for 256 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. It’s in the Patriots’ best interest to use their 2020 finale to see what the young quarterback can do over a full game of action.

Tune in to Sunday’s Patriots-Jets game on WBZ-TV — the television home of the New England Patriots. Pregame coverage begins at 11:30 a.m. with Patriots GameDay, kickoff is set for 1 p.m., and after the game switch over to TV38 for full reaction and analysis on Patriots 5th Quarter!

CBSBoston.com Staff