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Week 9 NFL Playoff Picture: Patriots have favorable path to homefield advantage

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There’s only one team in their way: the Chiefs.

Green Bay Packers v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The 2018 NFL regular season is halfway over and the New England Patriots are one game out of first place in the AFC. Despite holding the head-to-head tiebreaker, the (7-2) Patriots trail the (8-1) Kansas City Chiefs and will need some help if they are to claim much-needed homefield advantage in the playoffs.

The Patriots remaining schedule isn’t too daunting. They have two games against the (3-6) New York Jets, one against the (2-7) Buffalo Bills, and one against the hapless (5-4) Miami Dolphins. They also have games against the (5-2-1) Pittsburgh Steelers and (5-3-1) Minnesota Vikings. In total, the Patriots remaining schedule has a combined record of 23-28-2 (0.451).

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Patriots win out, although a 5-1 or 4-2 record is a more likely outcome.

The Chiefs get a pair of games against the cellar-dwelling (1-7) Oakland Raiders and one against the (2-6) Arizona Cardinals, but the remainder of their games aren’t easy. They’re on the road against the (8-1) Los Angeles Rams in week 11, host the (4-5) Baltimore Ravens and (6-2) Los Angeles Chargers, and go on the road to play the (4-4) Seattle Seahawks.

The combined record of Kansas City’s opponents is 26-31 (0.456), but games against the Rams and Chargers are harder than anything the Patriots have scheduled, and the Seahawks are always tough at home.

Can the Patriots pick up a game on the Chiefs? In my mind, New England can only afford to lose one game over the rest of the year and still expect to get homefield advantage.

And do the Patriots have to worry about any other team in the AFC other than the Chiefs?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have an absurd remaining schedule: Panthers, at Jaguars, at Broncos, Chargers, at Raiders (lol), Patriots, at Saints, and Bengals. Four of those teams should make the playoffs and two other road games- Jaguars and Broncos- won’t be easy. Pittsburgh could easily pick up a loss or four over the coming weeks.

As for the Houston Texans, the Patriots fortunately already hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, creating an effective two-game lead. Houston only has two games remaining against teams at .500 or better: (5-3) Washington and the (4-4) Philadelphia Eagles. Houston could very well win out, but so long as the Patriots go 4-2 or better, New England will stay ahead in the rankings.

The current wild card teams- Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals- have tough roads ahead of them, too. The Chargers will have to leapfrog the Chiefs while playing at Steelers, vs Bengals, and at Chiefs consecutively in weeks 13-15. The Bengals have to play the Saints, Chargers, and Steelers. It’s unlikely either team will emerge ahead of New England.

So the road is bright for the Patriots to get homefield advantage, even if they’re not yet in the driver’s seat. Let’s see if Bill Belichick and company can navigate the rest of the season and clinch the top seed in the playoffs.

AFC

1. (8-1) Kansas City Chiefs

2. (7-2) New England Patriots

3. (5-2-1) Pittsburgh Steelers

4. (6-3) Houston Texans

5. (6-2) Los Angeles Chargers

6. (5-3) Cincinnati Bengals

In the hunt: (5-4) Miami Dolphins; (4-4) Tennessee Titans; (4-5) Baltimore Ravens

NFC

1. (8-1) Los Angeles Rams

2. (7-1) New Orleans Saints

3. (5-3) Chicago Bears

4. (5-3) Washington

5. (6-2) Carolina Panthers

6. (5-3-1) Minnesota Vikings

In the hunt: (4-4) Atlanta Falcons; (4-4) Seattle Seahawks; (4-4) Philadelphia Eagles; (3-4-1) Green Bay Packers