The Patriots played 13 straight weeks before finally taking a rest over the weekend. It was time well spent.
While resting up for the final playoff push, New England sat and watched a couple of AFC foes go down, thus strengthening its position both inside the division and within the conference.
First and foremost, the Buffalo Bills suffered a devastating overtime loss in Tampa when Tom Brady once again sent a dagger through their hearts. After blowing a 24-3 lead and being fortunate to get to overtime, the Bucs won it when Brady found Breshad Perriman for a 58-yard walk-off touchdown.
The loss dropped the Bills to 7-6, two full games behind the Patriots in the AFC East. The division isn't quite wrapped up yet, but now the Patriots have some wiggle room. New England travels to Indianapolis to take on the Colts Saturday night. A win, which would be the team's eighth straight, would allow the Patriots to remain in first place regardless of the outcome of the Week 16 rematch with the Bills in Foxborough. A loss to the Colts, however, would likely allow the Bills a chance to regain the top spot assuming they take care of Carolina in Week 15.
That would make both teams 9-6 heading down the home stretch, and the Bills would hold the tiebreaker based on division record. For now, though, the Patriots are in control thanks to Tampa's heroics.
Elsewhere, the Baltimore Ravens suffered another devastating injury, losing Lamar Jackson to an ankle injury, and in turn lost to the Cleveland Browns. Although the Ravens are still in first in the AFC North at 8-5, it's hard to imagine the team being able to withstand many more injuries to remain in the battle for the No. 1 seed. They dropped to fourth with the loss.
Those two game highlighted the positives for the Patriots, although Cincinnati's overtime loss to San Francisco didn't hurt. That prevented the Bengals from jumping into first place ahead of the Ravens and moving just a game behind New England. It also knocked Cincy out of the playoff structure for now.
The remaining playoff challengers took care of business as Kansas City rolled over Las Vegas, 48-9, while Tennessee shut out Jacksonville, 20-0. Those results allowed both to pull into a tie with the Patriots at 9-4, but New England's conference record (7-1) gives it the edge in the tiebreakers.
The one big development within the playoff structure also involved a team on the bye as Indy jumped into the sixth seed by virtue of the Bengals loss.
Here's a current look at the standings in the AFC with each team's remaining schedule:
- Patriots (9-4) at Indy, Buf., Jax, at Miami
- Kansas City (9-4) at LAC, Pitt, at Cin., at Den.
- Tennessee (9-4) at Pit., SF, Mia., at Hou.
- Baltimore (8-5) GB, at Cin., LAR, Pit.
- LA Chargers (8-5) KC, at Hou., Den., at LV
- Indianapolis (7-6) NE, at Ari., LV, at Jax
- Buffalo (7-6) Car., at NE, Atl., NYJ
The Bengals, Browns and Broncos are all 7-6 while Pittsburgh (6-6-1) is just a half game back. Miami at 6-7 has won five in a row, so the Dolphins aren't dead yet either. It all adds up to what should be a fascinating last month of games.