The NFL playoffs are upon us. And while the New England Patriots do not play until next weekend, this weekend’s games will determine which team will visit Gillette Stadium in the divisional round.
We ranked the four possible wild-card-round outcomes in the AFC, from most beneficial to the Patriots to least. First, a look at the matchups:
No. 5 seed Tennessee Titans at No. 4 seed Kansas City Chiefs (Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET)
No. 6 seed Buffalo Bills at No. 3 seed Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET)
1. Bills beat Jaguars; Chiefs beat Titans
A Bills win over the Jags automatically would book them a trip to Foxboro, regardless of how the other game plays out. New England blew out Buffalo twice in the final five weeks of the regular season, winning by an average of 20.5 points. It’s hard to beat a team three times in the same season, but the Patriots have to feel good about their chances against their AFC East rivals, who could be without star running back LeSean McCoy to begin the postseason.
2. Bills beat Jaguars; Titans beat Chiefs
This outcome still would set up a Pats-Bills matchup, but it also would give the No. 2 seed Pittsburgh Steelers a weaker divisional-round opponent. The Steelers are the Patriots’ toughest in-conference competition, and the Chiefs would have a better chance of knocking them off and preventing a rematch of the 2016 AFC Championship Game. Pittsburgh defeated Kansas City 19-13 back in Week 6 but destroyed Tennessee 40-17 in Week 11.
3. Jaguars beat Bills; Titans beat Chiefs
The Titans, who snapped a three-game losing streak in Week 17 to sneak into the postseason, might be the worst team in the entire playoff field, ranking 19th in the NFL in points per game and 17th in points allowed per game (only the Bills rank lower in either). It’s hard to imagine Marcus Mariota, who showed major signs of regression this season, beating the Patriots on the road in January.
4. Jaguars beat Bills; Chiefs beat Titans
The Jaguars’ fearsome defense could give Tom Brady and Co. some problems, but since they’re the No. 3 seed, the earliest the Patriots could play them would be the AFC title game. With Jacksonville taken off the table, Kansas City looks like the biggest threat to New England in the divisional round. The Chiefs, of course, opened the season with a 42-27 rout of the Pats, and though they’ve been highly inconsistent in the months since, they possess enough talent on both sides of the ball to give the defending Super Bowl champs another challenge.
Thumbnail photo via Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports Images