The New England Patriots did not do themselves any favors with a horrific loss to the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football where the entire team lacked energy and urgency. As a result, week 15’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers is now a must-win in order to have a chance at homefield advantage.
The Steelers have a one-game lead over the Patriots and if they win next week, then they’ll be up two games with two weeks left and will hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, eliminating the Patriots from possibly earning homefield advantage.
A Patriots loss, combined with a Jacksonville Jaguars victory at home over the Houston Texans would also send New England down to the #3 seed because the Jaguars would hold the conference record tiebreaker.
So while week 15 is technically not a must-win game for the Patriots to win a bye week, it would remove any control of playoff seedings from New England and they would have to hope Jacksonville would falter over the final two weeks.
The Patriots finish out the year at the Pittsburgh Steelers and then at home against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, with a combined 23-16. The Steelers host the Patriots before going on the road to play the Houston Texans and hosting the Cleveland Browns in the finale, with a combined record of 14-25. The Jaguars host the Texans, and then go on the road to play the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans, with a combined record of 15-24.
The Patriots have the most difficult road to close out the year, although the Jets just lost starting QB Josh McCown for the season with a hand injury, but a win against the Steelers would go a long way in securing a first round bye and creating some breathing room in the race for homefield advantage.
- (11-2) Pittsburgh Steelers: have strength of victory tiebreaker over the Patriots.
- (10-3) New England Patriots
- (9-4) Jacksonville Jaguars
- (7-6) Kansas City Chiefs: have head-to-head tiebreaker over the Chargers.
- (8-5) Tennessee Titans
- (7-6) Buffalo Bills: have strength of victory tiebreaker over the Ravens; have conference record tiebreaker over the Chargers.
- (11-2) Philadelphia Eagles
- (10-3) Minnesota Vikings
- (9-4) Los Angeles Rams: have head-to-head tiebreaker over the Saints.
- (9-4) New Orleans Saints: have head-to-head tiebreaker over the Panthers.
- (9-4) Carolina Panthers
- (8-5) Atlanta Falcons: have head-to-head tiebreaker over the Seahawks