Sitting at 9-3, the New England Patriots are right where they need to be in their quest for favorable playoff positioning. The club currently is the second seed in the AFC behind only the 10-3 Kansas City Chiefs and also owns one major advantage compared to Kansas City: thanks to a victory in week six, the Patriots hold the tiebreaker over the Chiefs and would overtake them in the standings if both finished the regular season with identical records.
Winning the 43-40 shootout against the Chiefs obviously looms large in the standings, but it is not the only time an opponent currently in the playoff picture lost to the Patriots. In fact, New England defeated four of the eleven teams that would join them in the postseason if it started today — two of which in the AFC: the team not only beat the Chiefs, it also won 27-20 against the AFC’s third seed, the Houston Texans, in week one.
On the NFC side of the standings, the Patriots beat the third-seeded Chicago Bears 38-31 on the road and just two days ago defeated the visiting Minnesota Vikings — seed number six in the NFC — 24-13. As a result of those high-quality wins, New England has the best strength of victory of all the teams currently in the postseason race. And considering that it works as the fifth tiebreaker, this could become relevant later on:
1. Kansas City Chiefs (10-2): .408 SoV
2. New England Patriots (9-3): .528 SoV
3. Houston Texans (9-3): .458 SoV
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1): .419 SoV
5. Los Angeles Chargers (9-3): .352 SoV
6. Baltimore Ravens (7-5): .411 SoV
While the Patriots’ wins over high-quality opposition have an immediate impact on the standings when it comes to tiebreaking procedures, they also show that New England plays its best when facing the best competition. Take the aforementioned game against Kansas City: for stretches, the team played some of its most impressive offensive and defensive football of the season against the NFL’s highest-scoring team.
The victories over the Texans, Bears and Vikings, meanwhile, saw New England effectively move the football against three of the league’s best defenses — all three of which ranking in the top-10 in points allowed. Last Sunday’s win against Minnesota was the latest in a string of encouraging performances versus high-quality defensive opposition, especially when looking at how the Patriots faired against the strengths of the Vikings’ unit.
Minnesota entered the game with the league’s best third down defense, allowing conversions on only 27.6% of attempts. New England, however, was able to earn a new set of downs in 7 of 14 situations. The team was similarly successful when it comes to scoring in the red zone: before coming into Foxboro, the Vikings defense surrendered touchdowns on a league-best 43.2% of red area trips. The Patriots, however, found the end zone on two of their three journeys inside the Minnesota 20-yard line.
The team’s performance against the Vikings — not just offensively, but also when it comes to slowing down one of the NFL’s best wide receiver duos — is just the latest example of New England finding ways to be successful against quality opposition. The strength of victory percentage reflects this, and it also offers an encouraging outlook when it comes to postseason play: the Patriots will play the best teams in the playoffs.
So far this season, they have shown the ability to defeat those teams whenever they had to play them. So maybe the games Patriots fans most need to worry about over the last four weeks of regular season play are the ones against the struggling AFC East opponents and not the current number four seed in Pittsburgh.