Article updated to account for the Dolphins week 10 loss to the Packers.
The New England Patriots were demolished by the Tennessee Titans, but Bill Belichick and company are still in the driver’s seat in the AFC East. If the following super-realistic events take place, then the Patriots will be able to clinch the division in week 14.
Take note that this isn’t the only scenario, just a very likely scenario.
How the Patriots can clinch the AFC East
(7-3) New England Patriots: Win @Jets OR vs Vikings; Win @Dolphins
(5-5) Miami Dolphins: Lose @Colts OR vs Bills; Lose vs Patriots
(3-7) Buffalo Bills: Lose vs Jaguars OR vs Dolphins OR vs Jets
(3-7) New York Jets: Lose vs Patriots OR @Titans OR @Bills
So long as the Patriots beat the Dolphins in week 14, they will have the head-to-head tiebreaker sweep against Miami. That means the Patriots would win any tiebreaker scenarios with the Dolphins.
If the Patriots get nine wins with one against the Dolphins and then one against either the Jets or Vikings; and the Dolphins lose to the Patriots and then one of their next two opponents; and the Bills and Jets record their eighth loss of the year, then New England will clinch the AFC East in week 14.
This works because the Patriots will have 9 wins, making it impossible for the eight-loss Bills and Jets to rank ahead of New England. The scenario also has the Dolphins with seven losses, meaning that at best they could record nine wins on the year- and if the Patriots hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, then nine-win at worst New England Patriots would win the division.
That’s pretty realistic and there are other options. If the Patriots win their next three, then the Dolphins, Bills, and Jets will be eliminated from the AFC East regardless of how they perform. This scenario has the Patriots reaching 10-3, while handing the Dolphins their sixth loss of the year and New England would have the head-to-head tiebreaker The Bills and Jets have no path to 10 victories.
A third path that’s less likely involves the Patriots losing to both the Jets and Vikings, but defeating the Dolphins to get to 8-5. If the Dolphins lose their next three to fall to 5-8; the Bills and Jets lose to the Jaguars and the Titans, respectively; and the Bills and Jets tie in week 14 to have matching 4-8-1 records, then the Patriots will also clinch the division.
The two previously listed scenarios are far more likely.
There are multiple paths to winning the AFC East, but all routes are likely to converge in week 14. Winning the division is the first major milestone that Bill Belichick always has his eyes set on each season- and if the Patriots take care of business, there’s a chance that the week 15 showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers could secure a first round bye for New England.