NFL playoff photo: The Pats’ best and worst case scenarios on Sunday originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The fate of the New England Patriots in the playoffs is still in their hands.
While the Patriots need help winning the AFC East after back-to-back losses to the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills, they can still secure a playoff berth by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday and Miami Dolphins in Week 18.
At 9-6, New England also still has an outside shot on the No.1 seed if the Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) lose their last two games and the Tennessee Titans (10-5). give up at least one game. The Patriots have a tiebreaker on both teams thanks to a higher conference record (7-3).
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Needless to say, there’s a lot at stake over the past two weeks for the Patriots, who are tied with three other teams in the AFC standings. Here’s a quick rundown of the leaderboard ahead of week 17:
- Kansas City Chiefs, 11-4 (AFC West chief)
- Tennessee Titans, 10-5 (AFC South leader)
- Cincinnati Bengals, 9-6 (leader of AFC North
- Buffalo Bills, 9-6 (AFC East chief)
- Indianapolis Colts, 9-6 (first wild card)
- New England Patriots, 9-6 (second wildcard)
- Miami Dolphins, 8-7 (third wild card)
- Los Angeles Chargers, 8-7
- Las Vegas Raiders, 8-7
- Baltimore Ravens, 8-7
There are a number of ways New England could clinch a playoff berth this Sunday, but here are the two easiest paths:
- The patriots win; Dolphins lose or draw
- The patriots win; Raiders lose or draw
Here’s where things get interesting, though: If the Patriots want a higher seed, they may or may not be rooting for a loss in Miami on Sunday.
Below is a look at every game in Week 17 that impacts the AFC playoff race, with “best case” and “worst case” scenarios for Patriots fans.
Miami Dolphins (8-7) vs. Tennessee Titans (10-5), 1 p.m. ET
Best Screenplay for Patriots Fans: Dolphins Win. OK, listen to us. A win in Miami would see Brian Flores’ squad overtake the Patriots in the standings (and potentially knock them out of the playoffs) with a Week 18 win.
But in terms of maximizing the upside, a loss to the Titans would see New England overtake Tennessee in the AFC standings if they can beat Jacksonville and Miami in stride. It just depends on how confident you are that the Patriots can beat the Dolphins next Sunday in a place where they have historically struggled.
Worst case scenario: the Titans win. See above. The Titans finish with the lowly Houston Texans in Week 18, so if they win, the Patriots can’t overtake them in the standings.
Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (9-6), 1 p.m. ET
Best Screenplay: The Bengals win. Here we apply a similar logic of “maximize on the upside”. A win for the Bengals would keep them ahead of the Patriots in the standings for now. But if the Chiefs lose to Cincinnati and fall to the Denver Broncos on the road in Week 18 (certainly a possibility), New England can overtake them by winning.
In that scenario, the Patriots would need the Bengals to lose to the Browns in Cleveland in Week 18 to overtake them in the standings.
In the worst case: the leaders win. If the Chiefs win, the Patriots officially can’t get the No.1 seed. The advantage here would be that New England would overtake Cincy in the standings.
Las Vegas Raiders (8-7) vs. Indianapolis Colts (9-6), 1 p.m. ET
Best case scenario: The Raiders win. The Colts own the tiebreaker against New England thanks to their Week 15 win, so New England want Las Vegas to pull off the upset. Indy finishes with the Jaguars, so this is probably the Patriots’ only move to overtake them in the AFC.
Worst scenario: The Colts win. If the Colts win their fourth straight game on Sunday and handle business against Jacksonville in Week 18, they are sure to finish ahead of New England in the AFC.
Atlanta Falcons (7-8) vs. Buffalo Bills (9-6), 1 p.m. ET
Best case scenario: The Falcons win. This one is obvious. The Patriots need the Falcons or New York Jets to upset Buffalo down the stretch for a shot at winning the AFC East.
Worst scenario: The bills win. If the Bills win, the division is theirs, regardless of how well the Patriots perform. If they take out the Falcons, all that separates them from a division crown is Jets 4-11.
Los Angeles Rams (11-4) vs. Baltimore Ravens (8-7), 1 p.m. ET
Best case scenario: The Rams win. Another evidence. A loss for the Ravens would give the Patriots some breathing space below them in the AFC playoff photo.
Worst scenario: The Ravens win. The Patriots have a tiebreaker against Baltimore, so they would still be ahead of the Ravens if they lost to Jacksonville or Miami down the stretch. The Ravens finish with AFC rival North Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 18.