The New England Patriots need to win to get into the playoffs, or they could use some help from from other teams. Whether Bill Belichick and company should be focused on winning the division, or setting up for the bye week, there are some games that have to fall the Patriots way.
The Patriots clinch a playoff spot with a win, or a Jets or Steelers loss. But wouldn't the Patriots rather see Pittsburgh upend the Bengals? There's also a scenario that could lead to the Patriots clinching the division prior to their Sunday Night Football match with the Texans. I've highlighted the "Major Strength of Schedule" games in bold; the Patriots need two of these picks to happen in order to win the tiebreaker with the Jets.
Here's the best possible week for New England.
Thursday Night Football
Best: The AFC West and the AFC North faced the NFC North and the NFC West, respectively, so either outcome would have bolstered the strength of schedule for the Broncos or the Bengals. Since the Patriots lost the tiebreaker to the Broncos, it's in the best interest to weaken the tiebreakers with the Bengals by having the NFC West lose. This, unfortunately, didn't happen.
Sunday 1:00 PM Games
Best: The Patriots would love to see the Jets lose to help lock up the AFC East.
Bills (-1) at Eagles: Can Philadelphia win after beating the Patriots? We'll find out, but they're underdogs at home. I think the Eagles hold on to win a close game in LeSean McCoy's return to Philadelphia.
Best: **This is a major strength of schedule game** The Patriots beat the Bills twice, but lost to the Eagles. A Bills victory would greatly help the Patriots strength of victory. Go Rex Ryan! Go Buffalo!
Colts at Jaguars (Ev.): The Jaguars are looking like they're set up for a pretty good future if they can acquire a defense, while the Colts are treading water. I'm picking Jacksonville to win and disrupt the AFC South.
Best: Go Jaguars.
Best: This is purely for selfish reasons, but I don't think the Patriots match-up well against the Chiefs. Go Chargers, knock Kansas City out of the playoffs.
Steelers at Bengals (-3.0): The Bengals are looking to put a chokehold on the AFC North, but the Steelers are looking like a dangerous team. Steelers to win a big one on the road.
Best: **This is a major strength of schedule game** Go Steelers, go Steelers, go Steelers.
Best: Since the Bengals play the Ravens twice, knocking down Baltimore's record will affect the Cincinnati strength of schedule more than if the Seahawks lost. New England shouldn't even be thinking about possible NFC Champions, so Patriots will be hoping the Seahawks win.
Best: **This is a major strength of schedule game** A 49ers victory helps the Patriots seal the strength of schedule tiebreaker with the Jets, so go San Francisco.
Best: This game doesn't affect the Patriots season, but it would be nice to see Carolina's undefeated season go up in smoke to Boston College's Matt Ryan.
Washington at Bears (-3.5): This is a surprising battle between two possible playoff teams, but Washington has yet to win a game on the road this year. Chicago to win and to cover.
Best: The Patriots would like Washington to win to bolster the New England strength of schedule, while simultaneously weakening the Broncos'. Also, please unseat the Giants in the NFC East.
Best: The Patriots would like to see the Lions win to help the Patriots strength of schedule against the Bengals
Best: This outcome doesn't affect the Patriots, but a Saints loss could lead to an implosion of their roster and the Patriots could take advantage. The Buccaneers are probably not resetting the team anytime soon. Go Buccaneers.
Sunday Afternoon Games
Raiders at Broncos (-7.0): Kick-off at 4:05 PM EST, the Broncos are banged up, while the Raiders are vying for a playoff spot. I'll pick the Broncos to win, but not to cover.
Best: The Raiders need to upset the Broncos to help the Patriots inch closer to a bye week.
Best: The Patriots would like the Cowboys to upset Green Bay to help with the strength of schedule.
Sunday Night Football
Patriots (-4.0) at Texans: Patriots, duh.
Best: Patriots, duh.
Monday Night Football
Giants (-1.5) at Dolphins: The Dolphins are a really bad football team, but the Giants have a penchant for collapsing in a big way. Dolphins to win and to cover on a last second field goal.
Best: **This is a major strength of schedule game** A Giants win would help the Patriots clinch a strength of schedule tiebreaker over the Jets, prior to the week 16 showdown. On the other hand, a Dolphins win would help the Patriots strength of schedule tiebreaker against the other division leaders. Go Dolphins.