The New England Patriots could wrap up the AFC East as early as week 12, but they'll need some help to make it happen.
The Patriots can't clinch any earlier because the best record in week 11 will be 10-0, while the worst case for the second place New York Jets would leave them at 5-5. If the apocalypse happens, theoretically the Patriots could finish 10-6 while the Jets finish 11-5.
New England will have to do their job by defeating the Giants in New York, taking care of the Bills at home, and then heading to Denver to beat the Broncos. This will leave the Patriots at 11-0 through 12 weeks, with an 8-0 conference record and a 4-0 divisional record.
If the Jets lose to the Bills, in New York, it'll be a shocker. But this is a key loss because it would mean the Jets could post no better than a 4-2 divisional record. If the Patriot beat the Bills at home in week 11, then the worst the Patriots could earn is a 4-2 divisional record.
The Jets would have to lose at the Texans and at home against the Dolphins in week 12 for the Patriots to clinch. This would put the Jets at 5-6, while the Patriots would be 11-0. This scenario requires the Bills to lose to the Chiefs in week 12 at Arrowhead, and for the Dolphins to lose one of their games against the Eagles in Philadelphia or at home against Cowboys. Miami will be out of the divisional race if they lose both.
FiveThirtyEight puts the odds of this happening at at a mere 0.12%, but hey it's a chance. While it's likely that the Dolphins will be eliminated by week 12, there's a low chance that the Patriots will get through the next three weeks unscathed and that the Jets will also lose every match-up. It's more likely that the Patriots will clinch in the two weeks following.
1. (8-0) New England Patriots
2. (8-0) Cincinnati Bengals - The Patriots get the edge because the top three tiebreakers are head-to-head (nope), winning percentage in conference games (both undefeated), and winning percentage in minimum of four common games (not applicable), and then strength of victory (Patriots 0.424, Bengals 0.388). The Patriots edge out the Bengals.
3. (7-1) Denver Broncos
4. (4-5) Indianapolis Colts - They got their first non-divisional win on the year!
5. (5-3) New York Jets
6. (5-4) Pittsburgh Steelers
Mentions: (4-4) Buffalo Bills, (4-4) Oakland Raiders
1. (8-0) Carolina Panthers
2. (6-2) Green Bay Packers - Packers edge out the Cardinals because of strength of victory (0.380 to 0.294). The Packers also lead the division because they beat the 49ers, while the Vikings lost to San Francisco back in week 1.
3. (6-2) Arizona Cardinals - The Cardinals have wins over opponents that combine for a 0.294 winning percentage? That's awful.
4. (5-4) New York Giants
5. (6-2) Minnesota Vikings - 0.286 strength of victory is the weakest of all the playoff teams.
6. (6-3) Atlanta Falcons