The New England Patriots fell at home 35-28 to the Philadelphia Eagles, ruining the holiday spirit. This is the Patriots first two-game losing streak since 2012 and one that won't get easier as New England heads to Houston to face the potential AFC South co-leading Texans in prime time.
The Patriots have failed to clinch their division for yet another week, but really New England just needs one more win, alongside one more Jets loss in order to win another divisional crown. The Jets host the Titans, travel to the Cowboys, host the Patriots, and then travel to the Bills to close out their season. The Patriots travel to the Texans, host the Titans, travel to the Jets, and then finish the year on the road against the Dolphins.
The division isn't in real jeopardy, but the Patriots can't afford to rest easy because...
Bye Week implications
The loss to the Eagles sinks the Patriots from 1st seed down to the 3rd seed, pitting them against (drumroll, please), the New York Jets! The Bengals have the #1 seed due to conference record (8-1), while the Broncos edge out the Patriots due to their head-to-head victory.
Luckily for the Patriots, the Broncos and the Bengals face each other in week 16, which means that one of two teams currently ahead of New England has a built in loss. In order to take advantage of this scheduling, the Patriots can't afford to lose another game.
If the Bengals win the head-to-head, then the Broncos will have three losses and Denver will win any tiebreaker with the Patriots. If the Broncos win the head-to-head, then the Bengals will fall to two-losses in the conference, compared to the Patriots one-loss, giving New England the tiebreaker- but with four games against AFC opponents on the schedule, that tiebreaker evaporates with a loss.
They need to go 4-0 over the final stretch, unless the other two teams have wild collapses.
Homefield Advantage implications
It's crazy to be thinking about this after two straight losses, but here we are. The Patriots are no longer in control of their own destiny and need the Broncos to lose a game, and New England can cross their fingers and hope that the Bengals are able to do it. Why?
1) A Broncos loss sends them to three losses, behind the Patriots and Bengals.
2) Since the Patriots and Bengals don't have a head-to-head game, the next tiebreaker is conference record, and both teams have one conference loss.
3) The next tiebreaker is common games, which include: Bills, Steelers, Broncos, Texans. The Patriots lost to the Broncos. If the Bengals lost to the Texans. If both teams win out, they move to the next tiebreakers.
So if the Bengals beat the Broncos, and the Patriots win out, New England should get homefield advantage thanks to the deep tiebreakers.
But the key point is that homefield advantage is no longer in the Patriots full control.