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NFL playoff picture: Tiebreaker over Texans keeps Patriots in the third seed

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New England holds onto the number three seed at the moment.

Houston Texans v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Coming off a blowout loss against the Tennessee Titans, the New England Patriots did not play in week 11 and instead enjoyed their bye. In the meantime, the 7-3 team had to watch two of its rivals for a first-round playoff bye come away victoriously (with the third one — the Kansas City Chiefs — playing a highly anticipated prime time game against the 9-1 Los Angeles Rams tonight).

The AFC’s playoff picture therefore looks as follows:

1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-1)

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2-1)

3. New England Patriots (7-3)

4. Houston Texans (7-3)

5. Los Angeles Chargers (7-3)

6. Baltimore Ravens (5-5)

Despite the Texans beating the Washington Redskins 23-21, the Patriots keep the number three seed in the conference’s playoff race thanks to the tiebreaker rules: New England defeated Houston 27-20 on opening day and therefore has the advantage over the current AFC South leaders. In case it comes into play, the Patriots also own the head-to-head against the Chiefs because of their 43-40 victory in week six.

The tiebreaker does not work in New England’s favor against only one of the current top four teams: Pittsburgh, which sits a 7-2-1 at the moment thanks to a hard-fought 20-16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday. The Steelers still find themselves ahead of the Patriots in the standings because of the win, as the two teams’ week 15 meeting looms large on the horizon and might decide who gets a bye on wildcard weekend.

As can be seen, the Patriots very much control their own destiny when it comes to earning a week off — despite being 7 percentage points behind the Steelers in the projection models by advanced analytics website FiveThirtyEight.com:

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% 91% 83% 18%
Patriots >99% 99% 62% 12%
Texans 84% 66% 19% 2%
Steelers 93% 89% 24% 8%
Chargers 87% 9% 8% 4%
Ravens 44% 10% 1% 1%
fivethirtyeight.com

According to the numbers, the Patriots are primarily fighting against the Steelers when it comes to earning a postseason bye. However, things can change fairly quickly — it is the NFL we are talking about — and a Chiefs loss tonight will alter the percentages again and suddenly give New England improved chances at earning the number one seed after all. All it takes is the tiebreaker to come through again.


The NFC’s playoff picture currently looks as follows:

1. New Orleans Saints (9-1)

2. Los Angeles Rams (9-1)

3. Chicago Bears (7-3)

4. ​Washington Redskins (6-4)

5. Carolina Panthers (6-4)

6. Minnesota Vikings (5-4-1)