Fresh off a huge win against Miami, the Patriots head into Week 18 in unfamiliar territory: battling for their playoff lives. If the season ended today, they’d be the seven seed in the AFC playoff picture, but the road to a second-straight playoff berth isn’t so straightforward. Here’s what the Patriots have to do, and how things could shake up around them.
What Happened Last Week
The Patriots needed to win this week against Miami to stay alive in the playoff picture, and they did just that, snapping a four-game losing streak against them.
The Raiders lost to the 49ers, eliminating them from the playoff picture, which is crucial given their head-to-head win over New England.
The Jets got blown out by Seattle, eliminating them from playoff contention, and ending any chances that the Patriots could finish last in their division.
The Steelers came back from a big deficit against Baltimore to keep their playoff hopes alive, and the Patriots would now benefit tremendously if they lost to the browns.
The Titans lost to the Cowboys, and now their only shot at a playoff berth is a divisional championship game against Jacksonville.
The Jaguars blew out the Texans and are in playoff contention regardless of the result of their game against Tennessee.
Scenario One: Win And In
Pretty simple. This isn’t the only way for the Patriots to get in, but it’s certainly the most straightforward. If they win at Buffalo, they will clinch the seven seed regardless of what happens around them.
Scenario Two: Lose And Pray
There is a complicated scenario that gets the Patriots in if they lose against Buffalo. First, the Jets need to beat Miami, as by virtue of record, a 9-8 Miami gets in over an 8-9 New England, but the Patriots have a divisional record tiebreaker over Miami should they have identical records.
Second of all, the Jaguars need to beat the Titans. The only way Tennessee makes the playoff is by winning the AFC South, but the Jaguars have a conference record tiebreaker over the Patriots should they have the same record.
Finally, the Steelers need to lose to the Browns. The Patriots have the head-to-head advantage over the Steelers, but if the Steelers have a better record, that is meaningless.
In short, from a Patriots’ fan perspective: go Jags, go Jets, go Browns.
Other Interesting Scenarios
If the Bills were to clinch the number one seed before they play New England, and the Raiders would need to beat the Chiefs on Saturday for this to happen, they may not start Josh Allen, which would significantly bolster the Patriots’ chances to win that game.
If that doesn’t happen, given their recent history, the Patriots would want to avoid the Bills if they do make the playoffs, either by the Bills seizing the number one seed or dropping to number three. The Bengals, based on their last meeting, could be a much more favorable matchup, and Kansas City has been a bit cold of late.
It’s worth noting that the only possible seeding for the Patriots is seven, which will rule out any potential opponents not in contention for the two seed. (Charger, Jaguars, Ravens, etc…)
The Bottom Line
In what has felt like an endlessly rough season, the Patriots still find themselves in contention for the playoffs. It should be a fascinating Week 18.
This article was written before the Bills-Bengals game. What happened to Damar Hamlin is nothing short of tragic. It is mine and Stadium Rant’s more profuse hope that he becomes healthy as soon as possible and that him and his family are well. Playoff scenarios pale in importance to events like this, and we are all banded together in support.