It wasn't pretty and they no doubt benefited from the absence of Kyler Murray, but the Patriots took care of business in Arizona on the first leg of the trip out to the desert. By doing so New England nudged ahead of the Jets and Chargers based on tiebreakers and are inside of the current playoff structure for the time being as the seventh seed.
It was the first of two must-wins for the Patriots as a loss in Vegas against the equally moribund Raiders would cripple the team's playoff chances. The outlook will change dramatically from week to week as we veer down the home stretch, but at the moment it looks like 10 wins will be the magic number. That means the Patriots need to win three of their last four games, which won't be an easy task.
AFC Playoff Picture
Now is the time to start scoreboard watching and trying to figure out which teams to root for. The Patriots certainly have a chance, but it won't be easy to rip off the wins that are necessary to ensure a postseason spot without worrying about how others fare. As of today, here's a snapshot of how things look at the moment.
|Buffalo||10-3||2-2||7-2||Mia., at Chi., at Cin., NE|
|Kansas City||10-3||4-0||6-3||at Hou., Sea., Den., LV|
|Baltimore||9-4||3-0||6-3||at Cle., Atl., Pit., at Cin.|
|Tennessee||7-6||3-1||5-4||at LAC, Hou., Dal., at Jax|
|Cincinnati||9-4||2-3||6-3||at TB, at NE, Buf., Bal.|
|Miami||8-5||2-1||6-3||at Buf., GB, at NE, NYJ|
|New England||7-6||2-2||5-3||at LV, Cin., Mia., at Buf.|
|L.A. Chargers||7-6||3-3||5-4||Ten., at Ind., LAR, at Den.|
|N.Y. Jets||7-6||2-3||5-5||Det., Jax, at Sea., at Mia.|
Obviously, things can and will change often in the coming weeks, and the tiebreakers that exist today won't necessarily be in place when all is said and done. The Jets loss in Buffalo allowed the Patriots to jump into the playoff structure after Monday night's win, but the Chargers win over Miami also allowed L.A. to keep pace and create a three-way tie for that final spot. Based on conference record (again, not all teams have played the same amount of conference games at this point), the Patriots hold the edge.
Looking at the remaining schedules, the Patriots slate would seem to be the most dauting of those three. Miami's recent offensive struggles put that game in a different light, but finding three wins to get to 10 won't be easy. The Chargers have the easiest road with four very winnable games against Tennessee, at Indy, the Rams and at Denver left. Winning three of those four gives them 10 wins
Assuming Miami splits its remaining four games – not a given with trips to Buffalo and Foxborough on tap – that would give the Dolphins 10 wins. The Jets could find their way to 10 by winning three of four against Detroit, Jacksonville, Seattle and Miami.
If any two of the Dolphins, Jets and Chargers wind up with 10 wins, the Patriots would need to win three of their last four to get into a tie. That won't be easy.
The situation surrounding Mike White and the Jets continues to fascinate. Zach Wilson was not playing well enough to continue as the starter and few would argue that point. But of much greater consequence was his apparent place in the locker room among his teammates.
Given the way the Jets have embraced White, even in defeat the last two weekends, it's obvious there's much more going on with the team than a simple replacement. It's clear the Jets players love their new quarterback, whether it's shown by wearing T-shirts to support White or from the comments that came after the loss to Buffalo, when veteran tackle Duane Brown lavished him with praise for his toughness after getting knocked out of the game twice only to return in an effort to lead a valiant comeback that wasn't to be.
Suddenly the Jets aren't just about defense and have a quarterback capable of moving the ball and scoring points. It was tough sledding in terrible weather in Buffalo, but even under those conditions White passed for 268 yards and had a chance to tie it late despite being under siege the entire afternoon.
New York hasn't been in this situation in a while and is currently dealing with the league's longest playoff drought having not qualified since 2010, but it's hard not to think things might be different. Their remaining schedule isn't overly daunting on paper, although the suddenly red-hot Lions won't be a pushover on Sunday.
It will be interesting to handicap the final month of the season.
Week 14 tidbits
In terms of the playoff picture, the Patriots did catch a huge break Thursday night when the Raiders melted down in the closing minutes. Up 16-3, Vegas couldn't finish off the Rams and lost in the final seconds. A win would have brought the Raiders to 6-7, a game behind the final playoff competitors, and a Raiders win in Vegas over the Patriots would have given them a realistic shot. Awful loss to a banged-up team going nowhere with a quarterback who was with the team for less than 48 hours. … Truth be told I've never really gotten the league-wide fascination with Niners coach Kyle Shanahan but I have to admit what he's done with rookie Brock Purdy the last two weeks has been impressive. Purdy, Mr. Irrelevant as the last pick in the 2022 draft, came off the bench to help the Niners beat Miami last week, and in his first-career start he demolished Tom Brady and the Bucs. Not bad. … Speaking of Brady, I'm not quite ready to call it but the end certainly seems near. Brady looked old and slow Sunday as the vicious Niners defense swarmed all around him. He was off target a number of times and just seemed like an angry man throughout, alternating yelling at his teammates, coaches and the officials. In fairness he also yelled at himself more than once, taking responsibility for a number of bad plays. Brady may indeed have more left in his illustrious career, but it's hard to view the 6-7 Bucs as a viable threat even in the weak NFC. … Injuries continue to wreak havoc with virtually every contending team. Cincy lost wideouts Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd early in their win over Cleveland while Baltimore lost backup quarterback Tyler Huntley in the Ravens victory in Pittsburgh. The most impactful injury of the week came in San Francisco where Deebo Samuel was carted off the field with what looked like a serious knee/ankle injury. Shanahan told reporters after the game that he avoided major issues but could be dealing with a sprained MCL and an ankle sprain. The Niners need Samuel's toughness and if those reports are true he should be a factor in the postseason.
- Buffalo (10-3) – The Bills continue to show growth with their grit and toughness in bad weather and tight games.
- Philadelphia (12-1) – The Eagles are as balanced on both sides of the ball as any team in football, and Jalen Hurts is playing at an MVP level.
- Kansas City (10-3) – The Chiefs legitimately have a turnover problem, and if Andy Reid can't fix it they will fail to reach their Super Bowl goals.
- San Francisco (9-4) – First time I've included the Niners this season, and based on the tenacity of their defense and versatility on offense they belong.
- Cincinnati (9-4) – The Bengals are as hot as any team in football having won nine of 11 after an 0-2 start.