The Patriots are going to win the AFC East and claim homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. They could take the division and a first-round bye as soon as Sunday, and they could wipe off that checklist by the end of Week 16.
Basically, Sunday’s key afternoon clash between the Steelers and Jets will determine what, if anything, the Patriots will be playing for Sunday night against the Packers. So who should they be rooting for?
For starters, let’s revisit some playoff scenarios.
The Patriots will clinch the AFC East title and a first-round bye under the following scenarios:
1. In Week 15, the Patriots beat the Packers, and the Jets lose to the Steelers.
2. In Weeks 15-17, the total number of Patriots wins and Jets losses equals at least two (New England’s magic number).
The Patriots cannot clinch homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs in Week 15, but they can accomplish that eventually under the following scenarios:
1. In Week 15, the Patriots beat the Packers, and the Jets beat the Steelers, and then in Weeks 16 and 17, the total number of Patriots victories and Jets losses equals at least one.
2. In Week 15, the Patriots beat the Packers, and the Steelers beat the Jets, and then in Weeks 16 and 17, the total number of Patriots victories and Steelers losses equals at least one.
No matter what happens between the Jets and Steelers this weekend (even if they tie), the Patriots will lock up homefield advantage if they win their next two games against the Packers and Bills. Really, the timing of this Jets-Steelers matchup is perfect in the Patriots’ eyes because it could help expedite that process.
However, the game between the Jets (9-4) and Steelers (10-3) has deeper implications. The Steelers have a one-game lead on the Ravens (9-4) in the AFC North, and they’re also lined up to take the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs. The Jets, meanwhile, are the sixth seed in the AFC, and they’ve got a two-game lead over the Dolphins, Colts and Chargers.
If the standings hold in the AFC South and AFC West, the Jaguars (8-5) and Chiefs (8-5) will grab the third and fourth seeds in the playoffs, and neither team will be favored to beat the Jets or Ravens. (Now, this could all change if the Colts catch the Jags and/or the Chargers catch the Chiefs. That, in turn, would make the wild-card round much more difficult to predict.)
So if the Jets and Ravens move onto the divisional round, the Patriots would probably rather see the Jets. The Patriots have beaten the Ravens twice by a combined nine points at Gillette Stadium in the last two seasons, and the Ravens also have trounced the Pats in the same venue in the playoffs. However, the Patriots have defeated the Jets twice at Gillette by a combined 59 points in the last two seasons.
For those reasons, the Patriots would prefer to see the Jets keep the sixth seed — assuming they’re able to survive the wild-card round — to set up a matchup in the divisional playoffs. (Then again, if the Jets can’t win a playoff game, the Patriots could still draw the Ravens, and this whole Patriots pipe dream would go down the drain.)
While this weekend’s Jets-Steelers game will help the Patriots almost immediately, it could also have a major effect on which team the Patriots draw in the divisional playoffs. Obviously, plenty of other factors could come into play, but for shortsighted purposes, it might be in the Patriots’ best interest to hope the Steelers win this weekend.
After all, that would keep the Jets as the sixth seed in the AFC, and it would give the Patriots an opportunity to seal up the AFC East with a victory against the Packers on Sunday night.
Will you be rooting for the Jets or Steelers this weekend? Leave your thoughts below.