We've told you which teams to root for this week, and now let us tell you what's at stake.
The Patriots can win their division with a victory over the Dolphins. That's the scenario that everyone should be hoping for this week and it's the only outcome that's within the Patriots control. But that doesn't mean that the other games don't impact the macro-veiw of the playoff picture.
Win and the Patriots are in. That's one way to clinch a playoff spot. The others involve cheering against multiple wild card competitors if the Patriots lose. As Alec put it earlier this week:
3) Bills loss or tie + Bengals loss + Steelers loss + Ravens loss + Texans loss or tie
As the Bills play the Packers, that loss is likely. The Bengals play the Browns, the Chiefs play the Raiders, the Chargers play the Broncos, the Texans play the Colts, the Steelers play the Falcons, and the Ravens play the Jaguars. It would take a fistful of upsets for the Patriots to clinch the playoffs with a loss.
Basically, just root against the wild card teams if you want a playoff spot with a Patriots loss.
Win and the Patriots get it. Lose and New England has to wait until the following week to clinch the division since the Dolphins and Bills can win a maximum of 10 games, if they win out. The Patriots already have 10 so they just need one more for another crown.
As Alec also laid out, the Patriots can clinch a bye week if
1) The Texans beat the Colts (in Indianapolis)
2) The Falcons beat or tie the Steelers (in Atlanta)
3) Either the Browns beat or tie the Bengals (in Cleveland) or the Chargers beat the Broncos (in San Diego)
This means the Patriots have a chance to have a first round bye after the 1PM games, and with two of the requirements including a home team beating a visitor, it wouldn't be unheard of. However, Houston is a major underdog, especially in Indy.
For this scenario, root for the wild card teams and against the division leaders. I think this is the best outcome to support. The Patriots currently have a 95.5% chance of getting a first round bye according to 538.
While the Patriots can't clinch homefield advantage, they can definitely get a lot closer if the Broncos lose in San Diego. This is entirely possible. With Denver playing at the Chargers and at the Bengals, there's a chance that they can lose either, if not both of them to give the Patriots some breathing room- so let's hope the Broncos lose and the Patriots win so the Patriots can clinch home field advantage in week 16 against the Jets.
A Patriots victory and a Broncos loss increases the Patriots odds of homefield advantage to roughly 90%.