Despite having lost back-to-back games, the New England Patriots are still in control of their own playoff destiny. No matter how hard they are trying to fumble a postseason berth away, it seems as if the AFC is trying equally hard to give them more chances.
Week 16 is no exception so far. While the Patriots lost 22-18 to the Cincinnati Bengals, their closest competitors for the wild card spots have also stumbled: the New York Jets lost 19-3 to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday, while the Miami Dolphins dropped their game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
As a result of those losses and how the rest of the AFC is shaping up, the Patriots have a simple path to the playoffs: win and you’re in.
If New England earns a home victory over the Dolphins next Sunday followed by a road win against the Buffalo Bills, they are in the tournament regardless of what happens elsewhere in the conference. In this case, their 9-8 record and a series of tiebreakers would ensure they end up as either the sixth or seventh seed.
Of course, getting to that point will not be easy. Not only have the Patriots struggled throughout the year — hence their 7-8 record — they also lost to both upcoming opponents already: New England was beaten 20-7 by the Dolphins on opening day, and 24-10 by the Bills in Week 13. The Patriots will likely enter both contests as underdogs.
Them winning out is not their only theoretical path into the postseason, but it is by far the most realistic one. It also is dependent on next week’s game versus Miami: if the Patriots don’t win against the Dolphins in Week 17, they are eliminated from playoff contention.
If they do, however, the dream of miraculously making the postseason remains alive for another week.
For the moment, though, and with four games left to be played in Week 16, the playoff picture in the AFC looks as follows:
- Buffalo Bills (12-3)
- Kansas City Chiefs (12-3)
- Cincinnati Bengals (11-4)
- Jacksonville Jaguars (7-8)
- Baltimore Ravens (10-5)
- Los Angeles Chargers (8-6)
- Miami Dolphins (8-7)
Not technically eliminated but let’s be real here: 12. Las Vegas Raiders (6-9)