With a 41-13 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, the New England Patriots clinched their sixth straight AFC East division title, and punched their ticket to the playoffs once again.
Yet for the Patriots, the journey has just begun. As the team learned the hard way in 2013, achieving home field advantage is paramount in the journey to the Super Bowl. Although number one seeds have been vulnerable to upsets and the Patriots won two Super Bowls last decade as a number two seed, the situation in the AFC is unique. When you face the potential of having to travel to Denver in the AFC Championship for the second straight year, it changes the landscape considerably. That’s just the nature of the Manning vs. Brady vs. Belichick rivalry.
That being said, the Patriots do have the opportunity to clinch a first round bye and even homefield advantage this week.
Patriots can clinch a first round bye in any of the following scenarios:
1. New England win
2. New England tie + Indianapolis loss or tie
3. Indianapolis loss + Cincinnati loss + Pittsburgh loss + Baltimore loss
Options two and three are quite unlikely to occur. So let’s just stick with getting the win. As for home-field advantage, there is just a single, simple scenario for week 16:
1. New England win + Denver loss
With Denver having to travel to Cincinnati, this is not an entirely unrealistic scenario. At a minimum, because the Patriots hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with Denver, they can just win their final two games and not need to worry about what they do.