We are officially 3/4ths of the way through the 2013 NFL season, which means that we are starting to get a more clear picture of how things are shaking out in the NFL playoff race. The Patriots are well positioned in the AFC, with a full game lead over the Bengals and Colts for the #2 seed. The full break-down:
#1 Seed: Denver Broncos (10-2)
#2 Seed: New England Patriots (9-3)
#3 Seed: Indianapolis Colts (8-4)
#4 Seed: Cincinnati Bengals (8-4)
#5 Seed: Kansas City Chiefs (9-3)
#6 Seed: Baltimore Ravens (6-6)
At this point, the Patriots are virtually assured a playoff spot. They will clinch the division this weekend if they beat the Browns and the Dolphins also lose to the Steelers. They can also clinch a wild card spot with a win and Ravens loss. In terms of the AFC East crown, it’s a matter of when not if (though not a single person in the organization would admit that).
For the Patriots, the rest of the month is going to be all about playoff positioning. Right now, they are in line for the #2 seed and the first round bye. They are a full game behind the Denver Broncos for the 1st seed. However, the Patriots hold the head to head tiebreaker over Denver, so if the Patriots were to win out and the Broncos lose one down the stretch, the Patriots would clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs. That scenario may not be very likely, however, as the Broncos finish with the Titans, Chargers, Texans, and Raiders.
The Patriots don’t have a particularly tough schedule to close the year, but games against Miami and Baltimore, both on the road, could be potential losses. The Patriots would lose the bye if in a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Bengals as they lost to them in week five. In a potential three-way tie with the Bengals and Colts, it would come down to conference record (and then record against common opponents). The Colts are currently 6-2 and the Bengals 6-3.
If it came down to a three way tie, the Patriots would lose to the Colts and Patriots only have AFC teams remaining on their schedules, meaning that the Patriots would have a worse conference record than Indianapolis if the Colts were to tie them in the final standings.
To summarize, the Patriots control their own destiny for the #2 seed. However, if they are tied with either the Colts or the Bengals at season’s, they will be looking at a #3 seed at best as they can’t win a tiebreaker with either of those two teams. They can also get the #1 seed by winning one more game than the Broncos down the stretch.