Tom Brady led the Patriots to a gut-wrenching 23-16 win in Jacksonville on Sunday afternoon, maintaining their place as the No. 3 team in the AFC. While taking care of their own business against the Jaguars, the Patriots also received some help from an unexpected source in respect to their playoff seeding.
The Minnesota Vikings, who are fighting for their own playoff lives, defeated the AFC-leading Houston Texans 23-6 on Sunday afternoon. The Texans’ loss had no effect on their playoff hopes, as they’ve already clinched the AFC South, but it did impact their potential seeding, keeping hope alive for New England to claim one of the top two playoff spots and a first-round bye.
A loss to the division-rival Colts in Indianapolis next week would drop the Texans to 12-4 on the season, meaning all the Patriots would need is a win to lock down one of the two byes. The Texans’ scenario isn’t the only possibility for the Patriots, though. It’s just the most likely.
If the Broncos lose to the visiting Kansas City Chiefs next weekend, then the Patriots would also be able to secure a bye. The Patriots hold the tiebreaker against the Broncos and Texans because of head-to-head wins against both teams earlier this season — Week 5 and 14, respectively. If all three teams finish at 12-4, the Patriots hold the three-team tiebreaker because of record against conference opponents.
The AFC playoff teams are all settled, with the Bengals, Colts and Ravens being the three other teams set to play in January, but the conference playoff picture is still very much up in the air. There are plenty of scenarios still left to be worked out, and the Patriots have a number of possibilities still on the table.