The Patriots chances to win the AFC East took a serious hit on Sunday as Buffalo came to Foxborough and left with a convincing 33-21 win and took control of the division in the process. The Bills need only to win their last two games – home tilts with Atlanta and the Jets – in order to capture their second straight division crown.
Despite the setback, New England remains very much in control of its playoff fate. With victories over Jacksonville and at Miami, the Patriots would finish 11-6 and be guaranteed of at least a playoff spot. If Buffalo were to slip up down the stretch, the Patriots could still win the division and host a playoff game.
At this point both the division and top seed in the AFC are almost out of reach, however. Kansas City's shellacking of the Steelers put the Chiefs at 11-4, two full games ahead of the Patriots. The Chiefs would have to lose both remaining games for the Patriots to have a shot at the top spot.
Not all was lost, though, as the Patriots playoff chances did receive a slight boost from an unlikely source. The lowly Houston Texans traveled to LA and took down the Chargers, dropping them to 8-7. Now the best the Chargers can finish is 10-7, and the Patriots hold the head-to-head tiebreaker edge should the teams finished even in the race for a wild card spot. Things get far more complicated should multiple teams tie at 10-7, but we'll save those varied scenarios for another day.
For now this is how it stands: the Patriots win the last two and they are in. No questions asked, no help needed elsewhere. Lose to Miami in the finale, and have the Dolphins win out (including their game in New Orleans Monday night), and things get sticky.
Depending on which teams tie with 10-7 records, there is a scenario the Patriots could be left out. There are many permutations that could take place over the final two weeks as several teams in the mix are facing each other (KC-Cincy, Las Vegas-Indy, Miami-Tennessee, etc.). So there's a lot still to be determined.
Here's how things currently stack up with the Dolphins game against the Saints potentially determining the final playoff spot. EDIT: Updated to include Miami's Monday night win over New Orleans.
|Rank||Team||Record||Conf. Record||Remaining Schedule|
|1.||Kansas City||11-4||6-4||at Cincy, at Dencer|
|2.||Tennessee||10-5||6-4||Miami, at Houston|
|3.||Cincinnati||9-6||7-3||KC, at Cleveland|
|4.||Buffalo||9-6||6-5||Atlanta, N.Y. Jets|
|5.||Indianapolis||9-6||7-3||Las Vegas, at Jacksonville|
|6.||New England||9-6||7-3||Jacksonville, at Miami|
|7.||Miami||8-7||5-3||at Tennessee, NE|
The Titans huge Thursday night win over San Francisco puts them back in the No. 2 seed while the Bengals kept first place in the North with a rout of the reeling Ravens. Baltimore is clinging to life but barely with a tough schedule remaining and a host of injuries to deal with. Indy remained hot with a road win in Arizona Christmas night and appears to be in the driver's seat for a wild card spot. (The Titans swept the season series against the Colts and therefore are in control in the South despite holding just a one-game lead). The Dolphins have won seven straight and can make the playoffs by winning out. The Raiders (8-7) and Chargers (8-7) are also very much in the mix in a battle that will go down to the very end of Week 18. If Las Vegas wins out and joins Indy, Miami and the Patriots at 10-7, New England would be on the outside looking in. So even with just two weeks left a lot is still to be decided.