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The Patriots Can Clinch a Playoff Spot This Week

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New England can punch their playoff ticket with a win and some help this Sunday.

Dallas Cowboys v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

It’s that time of year again.

It seems as though the NFL publishes it’s first “If The Season Ended Today” article absurdly early every year, well before it makes any real sense to do so, in order to build some early hype for the playoffs. I mean seriously... do you really need to shed light on the fact that a 7-1 team is currently the One Seed?

But as Thanksgiving approaches and December looms, it’s time to start having the NFL Playoff Picture discussion in earnest, as teams usually begin clinching postseason berths and winning their divisions beginning on or around Week 13 or so every year. And seeing how it’s Week 13, it would logically follow that playoff talk is heating up.

As of right now, the only team in the NFL that has been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention is the winless Cincinnati Bengals. Everyone else is still alive, technically, but that’s likely to change this weekend, and for the most part we all more or less know which 12 teams will still have full lockers come January. And one of those 12 teams will for sure be the New England Patriots.

While the goalposts have shifted so comically far regarding the expectations of this team that anything less than the #1 seed and a Super Bowl victory is deemed a colossal failure and complete sham of a season, a quick reality check will remind us that even getting the opportunity to see your team play at least one more game of football in any given season is something you shouldn’t take for granted. So while it might not move the needle for a lot of you, you should at least be able to appreciate that the Patriots have the opportunity to secure a playoff spot this weekend.

New England can’t clinch the AFC East yet, as the Bills can still overtake them in regular season wins. They’ll also need some help around the AFC in order to punch their ticket as early as Sunday night against the Houston Texans. However, this week could see the Patriots a lock for a postseason berth regardless of how the rest of the year plays out.

There are, as usual, numerous ways the Patriots can clinch a playoff spot this weekend that involve ties and multiple teams also losing and/or tying their respective games (you can see the full list of scenarios here), but since ties so rarely happen in this league and in order to keep everyone from going cross-eyed, I’m only going to focus on the most direct and probable path to the playoffs.

New England will clinch a playoff spot this week with:

OR

The worst New England could finish in these scenarios is the Number Six Seed, based on strength of schedule and head-to-head victories. Scenario #1 is the most likely, although Houston is no easy out.

The Patriots can also clinch no lower than the Number Five Seed with:

  • Win over the Houston Texans, and
  • Raiders loss or tie to the Chiefs, and
  • Steelers loss or tie to the Browns

This scenario could also very well happen, as when the Steelers and Browns choose to forego the game and just charge at each other with battleaxes Braveheart style in the wake of the Mason Rudolph/Myles Garrett incident, the league is likely to just declare the game a tie and get the hell out of there.

The other 5 Seed scenario involves a Patriots win and a loss by pretty much everyone else:

  • Win over the Houston Texans, and
  • Ravens loss to the 49ers, and
  • Bills loss to the Cowboys, and
  • Raiders loss or tie to the Chiefs, and
  • Colts loss or tie to the Titans

It’s obviously nobody’s goal to play on Wild Card Weekend, at home or otherwise, but getting into the playoffs is step one. There’s a scenario where the Pats can clinch the AFC East next weekend against Kansas City, and clinch a first round bye the weekend after that. But let’s take care of the Texans first.