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NFL playoff picture: Patriots’ chances of a first-round bye took a serious hit against the Titans

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New England was blown out on Sunday and has dropped to the number three seed.

NFL: New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

After playing arguably their best game of the season in week nine against the Green Bay Packers, the New England Patriots laid an egg in week 10: the team was dominated in all three phases of the game and as a result was blown out 34-10 on the road against the Tennessee Titans. With the loss, the team now sits at 7-3 — still a good record considering their 1-2 start but one that hurts their chances come the postseason.

Currently, the AFC’s playoff picture looks as follows:

1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-1)

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1)

3. New England Patriots (7-3)

4. Houston Texans (6-3)

5. Los Angeles Chargers (7-2)

6. Cincinnati Bengals (5-4)

After holding on to the number two seed the last two weeks, the Patriots slipped behind the Steelers due to their loss in Tennessee. The two teams’ meeting in week 15 could therefore very well have serious postseason implications once more: the winner of the matchup will likely put itself on the inside track for a first-round bye — while the loser could be headed for the wild card postseason round.

Before Sunday’s debacle against the Titans, the Patriots were in a good position when it comes to earning the second bye alongside the AFC’s frontrunners from Kansas City (a team against which New England holds the tie breaker, should it ever become relevant). According to statistics website FiveThirtyEight.com, the team’s odds at getting a bye were 68% last week — clearly behind the Chiefs’ 84%, but above the Steelers’ 22%.

One week later, however, the picture has changed as a look at the latest statistical model shows:

NFL playoff predictions

Team Make playoffs Win division First-round bye Super Bowl
Team Make playoffs Win division First-round bye Super Bowl
Chiefs >99% 87% 84% 19%
Steelers 92% 86% 42% 11%
Patriots 97% 94% 42% 9%
Texans 70% 43% 8% 1%
Chargers 92% 13% 13% 5%
Bengals 34% 11% 2% <1%
fivethirtyeight.com

As the chart above shows, the Patriots and Steelers are now tied when it comes to the odds of earning the first-round bye behind a still dominant Chiefs team (84%). However, while New England dropped 26 percentage points when compared to last week, the team’s long-time rival from Pittsburgh improved its chances by 20% thanks to a 52-21 thrashing of the visiting Carolina Panthers on Thursday night.

With momentum on the Steelers’ side at the moment, it is safe to say that the Patriots’ game in Pittsburgh will once again have serious playoff implications. If the past is any indication — just think of last year, when the team all but secured the number one seed with a mid-December road victory — New England should be fine. However, past performance means little when it comes to the NFL. Just look at the Titans beating the Patriots on Sunday.