With just two weeks remaining in the regular season and the question no longer being if but when the Patriots play in the playoffs, it's time to look ahead at New England's various postseason scenarios.
With a 10-5 record and a bye week on the horizon, the Patriots can finish anywhere from the No. 2 seed through No. 6. Here's a look at how New England can situate itself in those spots and anywhere in between.
The current standings are as follows:
- Pittsburgh (12-2) – Need a win or Oakland loss to clinch top seed
- Oakland (10-4) – Clinched AFC West and need win over Denver or New York Jets for No. 2 seed
- Patriots (10-5) – Win coupled with Jets loss clinches AFC East
- New York Jets (9-5) – Two wins clinches AFC East
- Miami (9-5) – One win or Seattle loss clinches playoff berth
- Baltimore (9-5) – One win or Seattle loss clinches playoff berth
The Patriots lone remaining game is at Carolina (1-13) on Jan. 6. With a win over the Panthers, the 11-5 Patriots would finish no lower than fourth in the AFC and would host a first-round playoff game at minimum. An 11-5 mark also could earn them the AFC East division title if the Jets lose one of their two remaining games.
In fact, that could earn New England the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye as well. But things would really need to fall into place for that to occur. First, the Jets would need to lose at home on Sunday to Buffalo and then defeat Oakland in the season finale. The Raiders in turn would need to lose at Denver and at home to the Jets. In that scenario, the Jets and Raiders would finish 10-6 while the Patriots would be 11-5, AFC East champs and thus would earn the right to watch the first round of the playoffs.
If Oakland finishes 11-5, they would get the No. 2 spot over the Patriots based on a better won-lost-tied percentage against common opponents (5-2 for Oakland vs. 4-2 for New England). The Patriots win a tiebreaker over Miami if both finish 11-5 based on a better division record (6-2 vs. 5-3) while the Jets have the edge on the Patriots based on a better conference mark (9-3 vs. 8-4).
Confused yet? We're just getting started.
The Patriots have the edge over Baltimore in any tie – be it at 11-5 or 10-6 – based on a slightly better record against common opponents (3-2 vs. 3-3). If those teams meet in a first-round game, the Patriots would host the contest at Foxboro Stadium.
As far as forecasting the Patriots most likely opponent, the scenarios as far too numerous to address. But here's an educated look at how things "should" unfold in the final two weeks. Assuming the Patriots take care of business and defeat Carolina and Oakland wins one of its two remaining games, the Patriots would be either No. 3 or 4. If the Jets lose once, it would be No. 3.
Miami has a favorable schedule remaining with home dates with Atlanta and Buffalo left. Assuming they win both the Dolphins would finish 11-5. Baltimore is at Tampa Bay and home against Minnesota. A split would leave the Ravens at 10-6, but even if they won both they'd finish behind Miami based on conference record (9-3 for Miami vs. 8-4 for the Ravens).
There is a reasonable chance the Patriots, Jets, Dolphins and Ravens all could wind up 11-5. If that's the case, the Jets would be seeded third as AFC East champs and the Patriots would be fourth, followed by Miami and Baltimore. In that scenario, New England would host Miami on the weekend of Jan. 12-13 at Foxboro Stadium.