Two down, two to go.
That's how the Patriots looked at the results from the Week 16 games. Needing a host of scenarios to unfold in order to get a first-round bye in the upcoming playoffs, New England watched two of them come to fruition as the Raiders lost to Denver and, more importantly, the Jets lost at home to the lowly Bills.
The latter result means the Patriots can claim their first division title since 1997 simply by defeating the 1-14 Carolina Panthers. Assuming New England takes care of business that would leave just one more scenario to unfold: the Jets must beat the Raiders in Oakland. If all of that takes place, the Patriots earn the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.
Either way, the Patriots are assured of a home game and can finish no lower than fourth in the AFC. The current standings are as follows:
- Pittsburgh (12-3) – Clinched top seed and home field throughout
- Oakland (10-5) – Needs a win and some help for bye
- Patriots (10-5) – Need a win for AFC East title
- Miami (10-5) – Needs a win and Patriots loss for division crown
- New York Jets (9-6) – Need a win or Seattle loss for playoff berth
- Baltimore (9-6) – Need a win or Seattle or New York loss for playoff berth
- Seattle (8-7) – Need a win and Jets or Baltimore loss
Assuming the Patriots win, if Oakland beats the Jets, the Raiders earn the No. 2 seed and the bye. The Patriots would be seeded third, with Miami ticketed for fourth (the Dolphins host Buffalo in the finale). Baltimore needs a win over Minnesota to clinch a berth. The Ravens lose the tiebreaker to Miami, so even if the Dolphins lose, Baltimore cannot finish ahead of Miami.
The fight for the final spot will come down to the Jets, Baltimore and the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle hosts Kansas City and needs a win and a loss by either New York or Baltimore. The Seahawks own the tiebreaker edges over both and could earn the No. 5 seed if both lose with the Ravens taking the sixth spot over New York.
The most likely scenario would have the Raiders, Patriots, Dolphins and Ravens all winning. That would give Oakland the No. 2 spot, New England third, Miami fourth and Baltimore fifth. If Seattle wins, the Seahawks would knock the Jets out of the playoffs. If Seattle loses, the Jets would back in as the No. 6 seed.
Either way, the Patriots would host the No. 6 seed in that scenario while Miami would host Baltimore.
If the Patriots lose, they still would host a first-round game. In fact, with an Oakland win and Miami loss, New England could still claim the division crown. In that case, the Patriots would host the Jets if Baltimore wins or Seattle loses, or the Ravens if Baltimore loses and Seattle wins.
If Oakland loses to the Jets (and the Patriots lose), New England would be the No. 4 seed. Again, numerous potential matchups exist in that case, with the most likely being Baltimore coming to town (if Miami and Baltimore win) for a tough first-round game.
It all adds up to what's sure to be an interesting Week 17 with virtually all of the results likely to impact the Patriots in some way. In an effort to help Patriots fans decide what to root for come Sunday, here's a cheat sheet to get you through – Root for the Patriots (of course) and Jets (trust us) to win.