While Patriots fans will obviously be rooting for New England to take down the Bills this weekend, there are plenty of other games that will have a direct impact on the Pats' division and playoff hopes. With so much parity around the AFC this season, and just two games separating the second seed in the conference and the 13th, there will be plenty of jockeying going on over the last three weeks of the season.
Here's an easy way to know who to root for in Week 16 to maximize the Patriots' chances at the AFC East championship and the highest playoff seed possible.
Patriots clinch AFC East with a win over Buffalo and a Miami loss
Dolphins at Saints - The Patriots will take on Buffalo at 1pm on Sunday but if they win, they'll have to wait until Monday night's Dolphins at Saints results before knowing they won a hat and t-shirt that comes with the AFC East championship. Miami has been streaky this season, beating the Pats in the opener then losing seven in a row before turning things around and now riding a six-game win streak that has evened their record at 7-7. But in that time they have just one win over a winning team (Baltimore) and now face a fellow 7-7 Saints team that has won two in a row, including a 9-0 defeat of Tom Brady and the Bucs last week.
This will be Miami's toughest test of late, they'll travel to Tennessee next week before closing out the season by hosting the Patriots. The Saints have battled significant injuries all year and have now lost both of their top quarterbacks to the COVID list, but with a top-notch defense and Alvin Kamara back in the mix, they should put up a pretty good fight.
Pats fans say: Go Saints!
The Patriots' playoff clinching scenarios are a little more complex, starting on Thursday night, where they'll be rooting for Jimm Garoppolo and the 49ers to knock off the Titans. Here are the permutations:
New England clinches playoff berth with:
- NE win + LV loss or tie + LAC loss OR
- NE win + IND loss or tie + CIN loss OR
- NE win + IND loss or tie + BAL loss + PIT loss or tie OR
- NE win + IND loss or tie + LAC loss OR
- NE win + BAL loss + CLE loss or tie + PIT loss or tie
Thursday Night Football: 49ers at Titans - The Titans are getting healthy at wide receiver but are still waiting on Derrick Henry's return, as they're 1-3 in their last four games and rapidly falling down the AFC standings. The 49ers are making a push, winning five of their last six, Garoppolo has thrown 10 touchdowns to three interceptions during that period. Pats fans should get a familiar feeling rooting for their old backup QB.
Pats fans say: Go 49ers!
Colts at Cardinals - A Colts loss is part of three different playoff-clinching scenarios, but let's be honest, after last week it's probably something Patriots fans are rooting for regardless. The Cardinals owned the NFL's best record for most of the season, but are coming off a shocking loss to the Lions, their second-straight defeat after losing to the Rams the week before.
Pats fans say: Go Cardinals!
Ravens at Bengals - This is a tough one because there's one scenario for the Patriots to clinch if the Ravens win and two ways to clinch if the Bengals win. The Ravens have been ravaged with injuries this season and have lost three in a row, while the promising Bengals are looking to stake their claim on the AFC North.
Pats fans say: Go Bengals! (but no big whoop if the Ravens win)
Browns at Packers - If the Bengals win, one scenario will require a Browns loss as well but it's a tall order facing Aaron Rodgers and what many consider to be the best team in the league.
Pats fans say: Go Pack Go!
Broncos at Raiders - The Pats need a Raiders loss or tie in one of their simplest formulas to clinch a playoff berth. The Raiders knocked off the COVID-riddled Browns on Monday night and knocked off the Broncos 34-24 in their first meeting this season.
Pats fans say: Go Broncos!
Chargers at Texans - A Chargers loss to the Texans is part of two different scenarios but might be the longest shot of all these potential outcomes. Though Houston did just get their third win of the season, coming over the Jaguars.
Pats fans say: Go Texans!
Steelers at Chiefs - This is a tough one because, on one hand, a Pittsburgh loss is a part of two different scenarios, but if the Patriots want to maintain any hope of nabbing the top seed they need to be rooting for a Chiefs loss in their final three games, which include this one against the Steelers, then road games against the Bengals and Broncos. The Chiefs also have major COVID-19 issues going into the contest, so despite what the formulas say, this might be the best chance for Kansas City to lose a game, and since the Patriots would require two other favorable results in both scenarios with the Steelers, the best thing this week would probably be to root for the Chiefs to drop one now.
Pats fans say: Go Steelers!