The Patriots arrived back in Foxborough in the wee hours Monday morning no longer in possession of the top spot in the AFC. While still in an advantageous position at 10-2 atop the division, New England's loss at Houston dropped the team into a tie with Baltimore (20-17 winners over San Francisco) and the Ravens own the tiebreaker by virtue of their victory over the Patriots in Week 9.
While most of the attention is now on the Ravens and what's ahead of the Patriots, perhaps more important is what's behind them, specifically the Buffalo Bills. At 9-3 the Bills sit just a game back in the AFC East and the teams will play in Week 16 at Gillette Stadium. The Bills also host Baltimore this week, so one of the teams New England would like to see lose should drop a game.
If Buffalo pulls off the upset, it could set up a rarity in these parts in that the Week 16 affair could decide the division. There is still a month of football to be played, but as it currently stands if New England and Buffalo tie for the division lead the Patriots would grab the tiebreaker based on common opponents.
There are a lot of scenarios to unfold, but division deadlocks are broken first by head-to-head matchups (presuming a split), the by division record (both would be 5-1 in AFC East games under that scenario) and then record versus common opponents. The Bills lost to Philadelphia and Cleveland, two teams the Patriots beat. Even if the Bills defeat Baltimore, the Patriots would still grab an edge.
Of course things could change if the Patriots were upset by Cincinnati (another common opponent) or Miami (which would be a division loss). But we're getting well ahead of ourselves with a full month of football still remaining.
Here's a look at the current playoff structure in the AFC with the remaining schedule for each team.
|Baltimore||10-2||3-1||6-2||at Buf., NYJ, at Cle., Pit.|
|Patriots||10-2||4-0||6-2||KC, at Cin., Buf., Mia.|
|Houston||8-4||3-1||7-2||Den., at Ten., at TB, Ten.|
|Kansas City||8-4||4-0||6-3||at NE, Den., at Chi., LAC|
|Buffalo||9-3||3-1||6-2||Bal., at Pit., at NE, NYJ|
|Pittsburgh||7-5||3-2||5-3||at Ari., Buf., at NYJ, at Bal.|
|Tennessee||7-5||2-2||5-4||at Oak., Hou., NO, at Hou.|
|Indianapolis||6-6||3-2||5-6||at TB, at NO, Car., at Jax|
|Oakland||6-6||2-2||4-4||Ten., Jax, at LAC, at Den.|
Similar to the Ravens, Houston owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Kansas City to earn the No. 3 seed. Pittsburgh's edge in conference record gives the Steelers the 6 seed over Tennessee.