It's that time of the year- the Patriots can start counting down the days until they clinch a playoff birth and then start focusing on getting home field advantage. Well, let's take a look at the scenarios on how the Patriots can make the playoffs after this upcoming week.
List of Current and Potential Wild Card Teams with Records that Could Equal the Patriots':
New York Jets - Clearly, this 9-3 can still overtake the Patriots.
Baltimore Ravens - At 8-4, the Ravens can still win their division.
Oakland Raiders - At 6-6, the Raiders could win the AFC West. The Patriots currently have Strength of Schedule tiebreaker over the Raiders.
San Diego Chargers - Also 6-6, the Patriots have a head-to-head tiebreaker.
Indianapolis Colts - Also 6-6, the Patriots have a head-to-head tiebreaker.
Miami Dolphins - Also 6-6, the Patriots have a head-to-head tiebreaker.
So out of these teams, only the 6-6 teams post a threat to the Patriots' playoff hopes. The worst the Patriots can finish is 10-6, so any team with 7 losses cannot overtake the Patriots. If the Jets overtake the Patriots, there's still a chance for a Wild Card spot, with the Ravens or one of the 6-6 teams taking the other spot. Still, the Patriots must lose the rest of the season and the 6-6 teams must win out in order to take a wild card spot from the Patriots. Note: These teams can still take a spot from the Jets or Ravens. However, if the Jets were to pass the Patriots in record, then the Patriots would still have a wild card spot, meaning they'd still make the playoffs. The only way the Patriots miss the playoffs is if they lose out and a 6-6 team wins out.
Read what the Patriots must do to make the playoffs after the jump!
We can already look at the 6-6 teams and figure out which teams are eliminated:
Chargers - The Patriots hold the head-to-head so even if they win out, the Patriots will have the tiebreaker. The only way the Chargers make the playoffs is either by taking the other Wild Card spot, or by winning the AFC West. If they don't win the AFC West, and the Chiefs win the division, then that means the Patriots hold the tiebreaker over the Chargers. If the Chargers win the division, then the best the Chiefs can finish is 10-6, and the Patriots would hold the conference record tiebreaker over the Chiefs. The Chargers are not a threat to the Patriots.
Colts - The Patriots also hold the head-to-head with the Colts. If the Colts win out, they finish at 10-6 and if the Jaguars lose to the Colts, but win the rest, they also finish at 10-6. Here, the Colts have the tiebreaker over the Jaguars due to Strength of Victory, meaning the Colts win the division and the Jaguars look to the Wild Card- where the Jaguars have the slimmest of chances of beating the Patriots in Strength of Victory. So the Colts must win the division for the Jaguars to face off against the Patriots on Wild Card Tiebreakers. The Colts are not a direct threat to the Patriots, but they can force the Patriots to go to a tiebreaker with the Jaguars.
Dolphins - The Patriots have beaten the Dolphins already this season. If the Dolphins win out, then they can finish 10-6, and that includes a 4-2 division record (which would be better than the worse-case scenario 3-3 record for the Patriots). This is the only way the Dolphins can overtake the Patriots. Thus, the Dolphins pose a risk to the Patriots. However, if the Patriots win or tie one more game, or the Dolphins lose or tie one more game, then the Dolphins are eliminated from surpassing the Patriots.
Raiders - The Raiders need to win out and have the Chiefs lose at least 2 games if they want to make the playoffs. If the Raiders win out, then they can tie the Patriots at 10-6. They would both have 8-4 records in the conference. The next tiebreaker is common games record. The common games are the Chargers, Steelers, Dolphins and Colts. If the Raiders win out, then their record in those games will be 3-2, since they lost to the Steelers and Dolphins. If the Patriots lose out, their record will be 4-1, since they've already beaten those four teams this season. The Patriots hold the tiebreaker with the Raiders. The Raiders are not a threat to the Patriots.
So after looking at the 6-6 teams, only the Dolphins pose a threat to taking away the Patriots' wild card spot in a worse case scenario, while the Jaguars can be pushed down by the Colts to face the Patriots in a Wild card tiebreaker.
So let's take a look at what the NFL.com Blog says must happen for the Patriots to make the playoffs this week:
1. The Patriots win or tie. At 11 wins, or a maximum of 5 losses, the Patriots will have clinched a minimum of a wild card spot. With all of the teams "in the hunt" (as in teams that aren't in the playoffs if the season ended today) having 6 losses already, the Patriots would be assured of having a better record of every team in the AFC that is not currently in the playoff picture.
2. The Dolphins lose or tie and the Jaguars lose or tie. This scenario doesn't care if the Patriots win or lose. If the Patriots lose, the worst they can finish the season is 10-6. The Dolphins losing gives the 'Phins 7 losses, which means that they cannot possibly overtake the Patriots.
If the Jaguars lose or tie, then no AFC South team can overtake the Patriots. If the Jaguars lose/tie, then they would have to win out in order to get the same 10 wins as the Patriots, and that includes a win over the Colts, which would eliminate the Colts. If the Jaguars lose to the Colts, so that the Colts win out and win the division, then the Jaguars can finish no better than 9-6-1 and cannot match the Patriots' record. So a Jaguars loss or tie would eliminate the AFC South from challenging the Patriots.
3. The Dolphins lose or tie and the Colts lose or tie. Similar to scenario #2. If the Colts lose, then they cannot match the Patriots and cannot force a tiebreaker. The Colts must win out, which involves beating the Jaguars. If both the Jaguars and Colts win, then there is a chance that the Colts and Jaguars both finish the season 10-6 and the Jaguars can fight the Patriots with tiebreakers.
If the Raiders overtake the Chiefs, then the Chiefs have to finish at 10-6, but they would have to lose to the Raiders, bringing their conference record to a maximum 7-5, giving the Patriots the tiebreaker.
If the Chargers win the AFC West, then they also have to beat the Chiefs, bringing the Chiefs' conference record to 7-5.
It's impossible for those teams beat the Patriots on Wild Card tie breakers. They can only make the playoffs by winning their division which, in turn, would involve the Chiefs to finish with worse conference record than the Patriots' worst-case 8-4.
The Jaguars and the Colts are the only teams, other than the Dolphins, who can throw a wrench into the Patriots' playoff hopes and that's only if the Patriots lose the rest of their games.
Base point: The Patriots have four weeks to get a win to clinch a playoff spot. Let's hope it's this week.