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Patriots have 4 paths to clinching a playoff spot in week 15

Which is more likely?

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots have moved on and shifted their focus to the Pittsburgh Steelers and for good reason: the Patriots can clinch a playoff spot in week 15 and they need to win or tie to seal the deal.

According to the NFL, there are four different ways in which the Patriots could clinch a playoff spot. Here they are ranked in order of what I believe to be least-likely to most-likely.

4. NE tie + BAL loss + TEN loss + IND loss or tie

This scenario is the least-likely because it requires a four-game parlay, including a Patriots tie. There have been 9 tie games over the past 20 years, which represents a mere 0.178% of games. So right of the gate this scenario is unlikely.

And then you have to factor in the Baltimore Ravens hosting the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers; the Tennessee Titans on the road against the questionable New York Giants; and the red-hot Indianapolis Colts hosting the Dallas Cowboys. FiveThirtyEight projects a 6.2% chance of these three teams losing. This scenario ain’t happening.

3. NE tie + MIA loss

This scenario is slightly more likely because the Miami Dolphins are big underdogs on the road against the Minnesota Vikings (72% chance of a Dolphins loss, per FiveThirtyEight). But the fact that this scenario hinges on a Patriots tie makes it very unlikely.

2. NE win + TEN loss or tie

FiveThirtyEight projects a 49% chance of a Giants victory over the Titans and a 49% chance that the New England Patriots will triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers, for a combined 24.0% chance of this scenario happening.

That said, perhaps the Giants are being undervalued at this point in the year. The Giants have won four of their past five games and lost on a last-second field goal in their only loss. This scenario could happen and the Patriots would clinch at least a wild card spot.

1. NE win + MIA loss or tie

The most likely path to the playoffs involves a Patriots victory over the Steelers and a Vikings victory against the Dolphins. FiveThirtyEight gives this scenario a 35.3% chance of taking place.

This path would give the Patriots their 10th win of the year and the Dolphins their 7th loss, making it impossible for Miami to force a tiebreaker scenario for the AFC East crown.

All of these scenarios combined suggest the Patriots have a 59.4% chance of one of these scenarios happening and that New England is more-likely-than-not projected to clinch a playoff spot this week.