After a thrilling 27-24 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, the Patriots have climbed their way back to .500, evening their season record at 4-4 and re-entering the conversation of AFC playoff contenders with the impressive victory.
With the win, Fivethirtyeight.com projected that the Patriots playoff chances jumped to 46 percent, while their average expected record is listed as 9-8. But with a new 17-game schedule and continued parity with shocking results coming every week, it's really tough to get a real gauge on where the Pats stand.
As the season rounds its halfway point over the next week (yes, 17 games are annoying for many reasons), it's a good point to take stock and try to make sense of how the AFC is stacking up, who could emerge and make a surprising playoff push, and how things will play out over the last two-and-a-half months.
Let's begin with the current playoff picture, the strength of their remaining schedule and 538's playoff chances for each.
|Team/Record||Remaining Schedule Rank||538 playoff chances||Notes|
|1. Titans (6-2)||28th||99%||at Pats Week 12|
|2. Raiders (5-2)||11th||65%|
|3. Ravens (5-2)||2nd||82%|
|4. Bills (5-2)||32nd||97%||vs. Pats twice in December|
|5. Bengals (5-3)||17th||63%|
|6. Steelers (4-3)||7th||40%|
|7. Chargers (4-3)||26th||67%||Patriots defeated Week 8|
|8. Patriots (4-4)||22nd||46%|
|9. Browns (4-4)||5th||33%||at Pats Week 10|
|10. Broncos (4-4)||19th||23%|
|11. Chiefs (4-4)||16th||48%|
|12. Colts (3-5)||23rd||35%||vs. Pats Week 14|
Key AFC Takeaways
- With the easiest remaining schedule in the league, the Bills are 97 percent locks to repeat as AFC East champions and should secure one of the top four seeds, along with the Titans. Despite losing Derrick Henry, they'll have an easy time facing Houston twice, Jacksonville and Miami to make up nearly half of their remaining schedule. The Bills and Titans seem like the only two teams anywhere close to sure things when it comes to playing at least one home playoff game.
- The Ravens aren't too far behind, but as part of the AFC North, they'll play one of the most competitive schedules down the stretch. Pittsburgh still has single games against the Browns and Bengals, and both games against the Ravens remaining. The Ravens have played just one divisional game in the most competitive division in the NFL. With all four North teams still very much in the playoff mix, the outcome of their interdivisional games will likely have the biggest impact on how the AFC plays out.
- Despite currently sitting in 11th place in the division, the Chiefs are still very much in the mix with a 45 percent chance to make the playoffs which would only increase with a win over the Giants tonight. With four divisional games remaining, including both against the West-leading Raiders, the Chiefs will still have a lot of say in how the seedings fall.
Key Patriots Takeaways
- The Patriots might be the only thing standing between the Bills and the top overall seed in the AFC. Buffalo is in the midst of a very easy stretch but in Week 11 they'll begin a stretch of six games against real playoff contenders, including a marquee matchup against the Bucs. If New England could win one or both of their games against Buffalo, it could open the door for another team to steal the only playoff bye.
- New England's current 4-1 record against the AFC is a nice plus and with five remaining games against conference playoff contenders, they're still very much in the driver's seat for their post-season hopes. Seven of their remaining nine games are in conference.
- The Pats should directly benefit as the drama in the AFC North and West play out. With all four North teams in the mix and three of the West teams contending, there should be some separation that opens the door for New England to make it into the top seven seeds.
- But make no mistake, the remaining games against the Browns, Titans and Colts will be of enormous importance, with the four-game stretch of vs. Titans, at Bills, at Colts, vs. Bills, likely determining where the Patriots end up in January.