The situation was pretty straight-forward for the New England Patriots heading into their Week 16 matchup with the Buffalo Bills. A win over their AFC East rivals would have put them at 10-5 and straight on the path to reclaiming the division title, essentially securing a top-four seed in the AFC playoff picture along the way.
The Patriots, however, did not beat the Bills. Three weeks after their 14-10 victory on the road, they were defeated at home with a final score of 33-21. Buffalo dominated the contest from start to finish, and has now overtaken New England in the standings.
With that said, let’s take a deeper dive into what the loss means for the Patriots and their postseason outlook.
What it means for their spot in the AFC East
Had they Patriots beaten the Bills on Sunday, their odds at winning the division would have jumped from 66 to 99 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight. The loss, however, essentially sealed their fate: they will not take back the AFC East this season, with their chances of doing that now calculated at only 11 percent.
The Patriots, after all, have two things working against them. Not only do they have the worse division record — Buffalo is 4-1 and New England 3-2 — they also have a more challenging road ahead.
While the Patriots will host the 2-13 Jacksonville Jaguars next Sunday before a trip to the 7-7 Miami Dolphins (as of Sunday afternoon), the Bills will play the 7-8 Atlanta Falcons and 4-11 New York Jets at home. Buffalo winning both those games to finish at 11-6 is the expected outcome. That record would be enough for the team to stay ahead of New England if the Patriots also win out to end the regular season 11-6.
That being said, second place in the division is not locked up either. The aforementioned Dolphins, after all, have won six straight. They will close out the season against some challenging opponents, however: Miami will visit the 7-7 New Orleans Saints and 10-5 Tennessee Titans in back-to-back weeks before hosting New England.
Theoretically, though, that Week 18 matchup might decide who ends the season as runner-ups in the AFC East.
What it means for their spot in the AFC playoff picture
Coming into Week 16 as the No. 2 seed in the AFC, the Patriots were one game down to the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs. Now, however, they are all but out of the race for the top seed and first-round playoff bye — and not just that.
Their loss to the Bills has dropped the Patriots all the way down to the sixth position in the conference. There are four teams with identical 9-6 records, but New England is the lowest ranked among them: the Cincinnati Bengals and the Bills come in at No. 3 and No. 4 because they lead their respective divisions; the Indianapolis Colts own the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Patriots after beating them last Saturday.
New England therefore has settled at No. 6 for now, but three teams are in striking distance: the Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders are all 8-7. They could overtake the Patriots and push them out of the playoffs altogether in the next two weeks.
Nonetheless, New England’s postseason odds are calculated at a strong 96 percent even after losing to the Bills. How come? The Patriots’ 7-3 conference record is still tied for the best in the AFC and thus a big advantage to have.
The Ravens are 5-6 in AFC matchups; the Chargers are 5-5 and have lost the head-to-head battle against the Patriots; the Raiders are 6-4. Even though the latter have the best conference record, they are ranked lower than the Chargers and Ravens due to head-to-head battles: Baltimore beat Los Angeles, which beat Las Vegas.
Overtaking the Patriots will therefore be tough for all three of them, meaning that New England still appears to be headed for the wild card round. Obviously, though, winning at least one of the last two games is key to make that happen.