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2018 NFL playoff picture: The odds still favor the Patriots to get a first-round bye

New England still has better chances at earning a top-two seed than other teams.

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

Thanks to their 17-10 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New England Patriots dropped from the second down to the third seed in the AFC’s playoff race. Now, with only two games left in the regular season, the reigning conference champions face a realistic chance that they will have to play on wild card weekend for the first time since the 2009 season:

1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)

2. Houston Texans (10-4)

3. New England Patriots (9-5)

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1)

5. Los Angeles Chargers (11-3)

6. Baltimore Ravens (8-6)

In the hunt: Indianapolis Colts (8-6); Tennessee Titans (8-6); Miami Dolphins (7-7)

As we talked about yesterday, however, the Patriots are actually not in that bad of a position. New England has clearly the easiest week 16 opponent and will welcome a 5-9 Buffalo Bills team to Gillette Stadium on Sunday that is already eliminated from postseason contention. Meanwhile, the Patriots’ main rivals for the second seed alongside either the Chiefs or Chargers will have to go to Philadelphia (Texans) and New Orleans (Steelers).

It is therefore little surprising that the Patriots are still considered the favorites to earn a top-two seed in the AFC despite their recent two-game losing streak:

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 75% 75% 17%
Texans >99% 87% 42% 4%
Patriots >99% >99% 56% 10%
Steelers 75% 70% 1% 4%
Chargers Clinched 25% 25% 8%
Ravens 41% 30% <1% 2%

According to the projection models by advanced analytics website, the Patriots have a 56% chance of finishing the regular season as one of the conference’s two best teams. While the number went down since last week — New England had 79% odds before losing in Pittsburgh — it is still higher than that of any competitor: the Texans have a 42% chance, while the Steelers sit at just 1%.

The reason for that is pretty simple: the Patriots have the easiest path ahead of them. And even though the momentum appears to favor Houston to stay atop New England in the standings, all it takes for the likely AFC East champs is winning one more game than the Texans over the last two weeks. Easier said than done, yes, but not impossible.

The NFC’s playoff picture currently looks as follows:

1. New Orleans Saints (12-2)

2. Los Angeles Rams (11-3)

3. Chicago Bears (10-4)

4. Dallas Cowboys (8-6)

5. Seattle Seahawks (8-6)

6. Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1)

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

While it was not pretty, the Saints were able to beat the Carolina Panthers 12-9 on the road yesterday and are now two games up against the Rams — New Orleans won the two team’s meeting in week nine — when it comes to home field advantage throughout the postseason. The team now has a 99% chance of earning a first-round bye compared to Los Angeles’ 87% and Chicago’s 14%.