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NFL playoff picture: How the Patriots can still make the postseason

Related: Patriots vs Rams recap: New England’s season all but over after 24-3 loss

Los Angeles Rams defeat the New England Patriots 24-3 during a NFL football game. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

The New England Patriots’ Thursday night game against the Los Angeles Rams was a sign of things to come in Week 14. The team’s already slim playoff hopes suffered another major hit in the 24-3 loss, and put it in a pretty bad spot before the other games of the weekend were even played. Now that they are in the books, a simple conclusion: Week 14 was — cue Larry David voice — pretty, pretty, pretty bad for the Patriots.

How bad? After entering Thursday with a 13 percent chance of making the tournament, according to FiveThirtyEight, the Patriots’ number dropped to just 2 percent over the next few days. Sitting at 6-7 with just three games remaining, New England’s streak of 11 straight playoff appearances is nearing its end.

With that said, let’s take a look at the current playoff picture in the AFC:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-1)*
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2)*
  3. Buffalo Bills (10-3)
  4. Tennessee Titans (9-4)
  5. Cleveland Browns (9-4)
  6. Indianapolis Colts (9-4)
  7. Miami Dolphins (8-5)

In the hunt: Baltimore Ravens (8-5), Las Vegas Raiders (7-6), New England Patriots (6-7)

As can be seen, the Patriots are looking up at not just the three wild card spots in their conference but also the other teams ahead of them in the standings that are not in the current playoff picture. Needless to say that a lot has to go right for the team to eventually end up in the tournament after all.

So, what would that look like? As NESN’s Zack Cox pointed following the Monday night game between the Ravens and Browns, three of the following five scenarios will have to happen over the next three weeks for New England to make it — all while Bill Belichick’s team finishes the season 3-0 with wins over the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets:

  • Browns lose each of their final three games
  • Colts or Titans lose each of their final three games
  • Dolphins lose at least two of their final three games
  • Ravens lose at least two of their final three games
  • Raiders lose at least one of their final three games

As a peak at the each team’s remaining schedule shows, however, three of those scenarios taking place appears to be rather unlikely:

AFC schedule Weeks 15-17

Team Titans Browns Colts Dolphins Ravens Raiders Patriots
Team Titans Browns Colts Dolphins Ravens Raiders Patriots
Week 15 vs Lions at Giants vs Texans vs Patriots vs Jaguars vs Chargers at Dolphins
Week 16 at Packers at Jets at Steelers at Raiders vs Giants vs Dolphins vs Bills
Week 17 at Texans vs Steelers vs Jaguars at Bills at Bengals at Broncos vs Jets

There is a path to the postseason for the Patriots, but as can be seen it is an incredibly narrow one even if the team wins out. Is it possible New England defies the odds? Yes. Is it likely? Certainly not.


The NFC’s playoff picture, meanwhile, looks like this:

  1. Green Bay Packers (10-3)*
  2. New Orleans Saints (10-3)*
  3. Los Angeles Rams (9-4)
  4. Washington Football Team (6-7)
  5. Seattle Seahawks (9-4)
  6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5)
  7. Arizona Cardinals (7-6)

In the hunt: Minnesota Vikings (6-7), Chicago Bears (6-7), Detroit Lions (5-8), San Francisco 49ers (5-8), New York Giants (5-8)

While the Packers and Saints have already clinched their spots in the tournament, the rest of the conference is far from settled: the NFC West remains highly competitive, while the final wild card spot is still up for grabs even with the Cardinals benefitting from a Vikings loss. And then, there’s the NFC East which saw the Football Team improve to 6-7 and position itself well for the division crown and fourth seed.