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NFL playoff picture: Patriots can clinch AFC homefield advantage in week 16

It’s a long shot, but it could happen!

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The (11-3) New England Patriots clinched the AFC East and a top three seed with their 27-24 victory over the (11-3) Pittsburgh Steelers. With just two weeks left in the regular season, only the Steelers and the (10-4) Jacksonville Jaguars are able to overtake the Patriots atop the AFC.

The Steelers would have to have an outright better record than the Patriots because New England holds the head-to-head tiebreaker, while the Jaguars would hold the conference record tiebreaker in any scenario where they have the same record as the Patriots.

But there is a way for the Patriots to clinch homefield advantage in the AFC next, although it’s an incredible long shot.

  1. Patriots win vs Buffalo Bills
  2. Steelers lose at Houston Texans
  3. Jaguars lose at San Francisco 49ers

If that happens, the Patriots will be 12-3, while the Steelers will be 11-4 and the Jaguars will be 10-5. The Steelers would no longer be able to surpass the Patriots record and the Jaguars would not longer be able to tie it, clinching the #1 seed for New England.

Don’t hold your breath for this to happen, though. FiveThirtyEight gives this scenario a 5.6% chance of happening, or roughly once in 18 tries.

The Patriots can’t look past the (8-6) Buffalo Bills, either, since Buffalo controls their own future. The Bills are in a three-way tie with the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens for fifth place in the AFC and will make the postseason if they win out, regardless of how the Titans or Ravens play.

The Bills are on the road against the Patriots and Dolphins, while the Titans host the Rams and Jaguars and the Ravens host the Colts and Bengals. The Titans have the most difficult schedule, opening the door for the Bills to clinch their first playoff berth since 1999. The Bills just have to avoid going 0-2 over the final two weeks, or else the (7-7) Los Angeles Chargers could play spoiler for the final playoff spot.


  1. (11-3) New England Patriots - head-to-head tiebreaker over the Steelers
  2. (11-3) Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. (10-4) Jacksonville Jaguars
  4. (8-6) Kansas City Chiefs
  5. (8-6) Tennessee Titans
  6. (8-6) Baltimore Ravens

In the hunt: (8-6) Buffalo Bills, (7-7) Los Angeles Chargers


  1. (12-2) Philadelphia Eagles
  2. (11-3) Minnesota Vikings
  3. (10-4) Los Angeles Rams - head-to-head tiebreaker over the Saints
  4. (10-4) New Orleans Saints - head-to-head tiebreaker over the Panthers
  5. (10-4) Carolina Panthers
  6. (8-5) Atlanta Falcons - playing on Monday Night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In the hunt: (8-6) Detroit Lions, (8-6) Seattle Seahawks, (8-6) Dallas Cowboys, (7-7) Green Bay Packers