After 15 weeks of regular season action only one team in the NFL — the NFC North champion Green Bay Packers — has already punched its ticket to the playoffs. Over the next few days, however, others could very well join them: five teams are in position to win their respective divisions over the weekend, with two others possibly earning a postseason berth as well.
Among those in contention for a division title and spot in the tournament are the New England Patriots. Owners of a 9-5 record and the current No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff race, the Patriots will host the 8-6 Buffalo Bills with a chance at winning the AFC East and returning to the postseason after a one-year absence.
In order for those things to happen, however, New England will need some assistance. A look at this week’s playoff clinching scenarios illustrates this.
New England clinches AFC East division title with:
- NE win + MIA loss or tie
The Patriots beating the Bills would not automatically bring the AFC East title back to Gillette Stadium just yet. In order for that to happen, New England will also need the Miami Dolphins to lose on Monday night against the New Orleans Saints. The Saints are currently listed as 3-point favorites entering that game.
New England, meanwhile, is seen as a 2.5-point favorite against Buffalo. Needless to say that both games, and thus the decision over the AFC East, will likely be close affairs.
New England clinches playoff berth with:
- NE win + LV loss or tie + LAC loss OR
- NE win + IND loss or tie + CIN loss OR
- NE win + IND loss or tie + BAL loss + PIT loss or tie OR
- NE win + IND loss or tie + LAC loss OR
- NE win + BAL loss + CLE loss or tie + PIT loss or tie
Even if the Dolphins end up beating the Saints to keep the AFC East without a champion just yet, there is a chance the Patriots qualify for the playoffs in Week 16. For that to happen, one of five scenarios needs to go New England’s way. They all have one thing in common, though: the Patriots need to win.
Two of those scenarios are unlikely to materialize. The Los Angeles Chargers will play the lowly Houston Texans, meaning that a defeat would be a major surprise. While scenarios No. 1 and No. 4 can probably be disregarded, the others are certainly possible.
The Indianapolis Colts will visit the Arizona Cardinals; the Cincinnati Bengals will play the Baltimore Ravens; the Pittsburgh Steelers will travel to Kansas City to take on the top-seeded Chiefs; the Cleveland Browns square off against the Packers. Seeing some or even all of those games work out in New England’s favor would not be as big a surprise as the Chargers losing to the Texans.
At the end of the day, though, the Patriots can only focus on one thing: themselves and beating the Bills.