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2018 NFL playoff picture: The Patriots’ odds of earning a first-round bye actually improved in week 14

Despite the loss, New England is in good position to earn a first-round bye.

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

With the exception of the AFC West representatives in the current playoff picture, week 14 was not kind to the conference’s top teams. Four of the six clubs lost — including the New England Patriots, who were beaten by the Miami Dolphins on a buzzer-beater 69-yard touchdown. As a result of their last-second defeat against their division rivals, the Patriots’ record now dropped to 9-4.

However, they were still able to hold onto the number two seed thanks to their main rivals dropping their games as well:

1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-2)

2. New England Patriots (9-4)

3. Houston Texans (9-4)

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1)

5. Los Angeles Chargers (10-3)

6. Baltimore Ravens (7-6)

In the hunt: Indianapolis Colts (7-6); Miami Dolphins (7-6); Tennessee Titans (7-6); Denver Broncos (6-7)

Like the Patriots, the Texans, Steelers and Ravens were also all beaten in their week 14 matchups. Houston’s defeat — a 24-21 loss at the hands of the Colts — was particularly important for New England as it kept the team in the AFC’s second playoff seed because of a tiebreaker: the Patriots won the two teams’ meeting on opening day and therefore will be ranked above the Texans in case both clubs have the same record.

This, in turn, created an interesting situation: the Patriots’ odds of earning a first-round playoff bye actually improved in week 14 despite their 34-33 loss. A look at the projection models by advanced analytics website shows that the team now has a 79% chance of earning one of the conference’s top-two seeds — up from 75% last week:

NFL playoff predictions

Team Make playoffs Win division First-round bye Super Bowl
Team Make playoffs Win division First-round bye Super Bowl
Chiefs Clinched 90% 90% 21%
Patriots >99% 98% 79% 13%
Texans 96% 80% 18% 2%
Steelers 62% 56% 1% 3%
Chargers >99% 10% 10% 6%
Ravens 55% 43% <1% 2%

As can be seen, the Patriots’ closest competition for one of the first two seeds — realistically the second because the Chiefs are up two games with only three remaining in the regular season — are the Texans. The team coached by former New England offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien has an 18% chance to end the year higher up in the standings than the Patriots. However, O’Brien’s ex-club holds its fate in its own hands.

And when comparing the two teams’ remaining schedules (as well as the schedules of the other four squads currently in the playoff picture) we can see that neither appears to hold that big of an advantage:

NFL schedules week 15-17

Team Chiefs Patriots Texans Steelers Chargers Ravens
Team Chiefs Patriots Texans Steelers Chargers Ravens
Week 15 vs Chargers at Steelers at Jets vs Patriots at Chiefs vs Buccaneers
Week 16 at Seahawks vs Bills at Eagles at Saints vs Ravens at Chargers
Week 17 vs Raiders vs Jets vs Jaguars vs Bengals at Broncos vs Browns

While the Patriots still have to travel to Pittsburgh to take on a Steelers team that lost each of its last three games, the Texans will have to play the struggling Philadelphia Eagles in two weeks — and their playoff life could very much depend on this game. Neither contest will be easy for the two AFC rivals who also need to play a pair of games against teams in their own divisions. Safe to say that the race for playoff seed remains exciting.

The NFC’s playoff picture looks as follows:

1. New Orleans Saints (11-2)

2. Los Angeles Rams (11-2)

3. Chicago Bears (9-4)

4. Dallas Cowboys (8-5)

5. Seattle Seahawks (8-5)

6. Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1)

In the hunt: Carolina Panthers (6-7); Philadelphia Eagles (6-7); Washington Redskins (6-7)