The New England Patriots’ hopes of earning the number one playoff seed in the AFC were dashed on Saturday. The Kansas City Chiefs’ 28-24 win over the Denver Broncos ensured that the Patriots would enter the playoffs no better than No. 2 in their conference.
That is still an option, though, as is any other spot postseason picture. Let us now take a look at those, and how the Patriots’ own game versus the Miami Dolphins and other across the league will impact where they ultimately end up.
If the Patriots win
New England winning would ensure that the team ends the regular season no worse than its current fifth spot in the standings. However, other outcomes would be on the table as well depending on the Tennessee Titans’ game against the Houston Texans and the Buffalo Bills’ versus the New York Jets.
No. 2 seed: TEN loss/HOU win + BUF loss or tie/NYJ win or tie
No. 3 seed: TEN win/HOU loss + BUF loss or tie/NYJ win or tie
No. 5 seed: TEN win/HOU loss + BUF win/NYJ loss OR TEN loss/HOU win + BUF win/NYJ loss
The Bills losing would be the best-case outcome from New England’s perspective — if the Patriots can beat the Dolphins. If both of those happen, the division crown would return to Foxborough, and the Patriots would finish as either the second or third seed.
Why not the fourth, though? They have a tiebreaker advantage over the Cincinnati Bengals. There is a way to end up as the fourth seed, but more on that in a second.
If the Dolphins win
The Patriots will not be able to win the AFC East in case they lose in Miami. As a result, they would at best finish as the fifth seed in the conference. For that to happen, however, they will need some help in the other games: Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders.
No. 5 seed: IND loss/JAX win + LAC win/LAR loss
No. 6 seed: IND win/JAX loss + LAC win/LAR loss OR IND loss/JAX win + LAC loss/LAR win
No. 7 seed: IND win/JAX loss + LAC loss/LAR win
The worst-case scenario from the Patriots’ perspective would be a loss to the Dolphins in combination with wins by the Colts and Raiders. In that case they would finish as the lowest-seeded team in the conference, and go up against a No. 2 team that is most likely Kansas City.
If Patriots-Dolphins ends in a tie
There is one scenario worth talking about: the tie. If there is no winner between New England and Miami, there is a chance the Patriots end up as the fourth seed in the conference.
No. 4 seed: NE tie + CIN win/CLE loss + BUF loss/NYJ win
The Patriots would win the division in this case, but end up as the fourth seed because of a worse record than the Bengals (who play the Cleveland Browns).