The seven-game winning streak wasn't the only thing the Patriots lost Saturday night in Indy. That defeat, coupled with Kansas City's overtime win in LA, gave the Chiefs the top spot in the AFC standings and the inside track for the lone first-round bye.
Kansas City now controls its destiny down the stretch and can wrap up the top seed by winning its final three games – Pittsburgh, at Cincinnati, at Denver.
All is not lost for the Patriots, however. New England can go a long way toward capturing the AFC East title by taking care of the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. That would eliminate the Bills from contention in the division and would force Miami (7-7) to win to keep pace. Even if the Dolphins do so by beating the Saints in New Orleans, the Patriots would only need to beat lowly Jacksonville at home in Week 17 to take the title.
Additionally, if the Chiefs falter in one of their remaining games, the Patriots can climb back on top by winning out. So, there's still plenty at stake despite the loss in Indy.
That's mostly due to the jumbled nature of the standings in the AFC. Injuries and COVID losses are impacting teams throughout the league and Baltimore and Tennessee are feeling those losses as much as anybody. Both lost over the weekend with the Ravens dropping a 31-30 heartbreaker to Green Bay while the Titans committed four turnovers in Pittsburgh and lost 19-13.
The Titans loss kept the Patriots one spot ahead of Tennessee in the second seed while Baltimore fell out of the current playoff structure at 8-6. Cincinnati (8-6) took the top spot in the AFC North by virtue of its 15-10 win in Denver while COVID-ravaged Cleveland fell at home to Las Vegas.
The Colts, Chargers and Bills all sit at 8-6 and currently occupy the three wild card spots and seeds 5, 6 and 7, respectively. Meanwhile, Baltimore also sits at 8-6 just ahead of the 7-6-1 Steelers, with the Browns, Raiders, Dolphins and Broncos all still in the mix at 7-7.
Here's a look at the current standings in the AFC and each team's remaining schedule:
- Kansas City (10-4) Pit., at Cin., at Den.
- New England (9-5) Buf., Jax., at Mia.
- Tennessee (9-5) SF, Mia., at Hou.
- Cincinnati (8-6) Bal., KC, at Cle.
- Indianapolis (8-6) at Ari., LV, at Jax.
- LA Chargers (8-6) at Hou., Den., at LV
- Buffalo (8-6) at NE, Atl., NYJ
The Patriots stellar conference record (7-2) still gives them a leg up in potential tiebreaker scenarios, although Indy's head-to-head victory would supersede that in a tie with the Colts. At this stage, the Patriots would host the Bills in the wild card round, but with three weeks still to go that will surely change.