The AFC playoff picture got even fuzzier Thursday night in Kansas City.
The Los Angeles Chargers’ dramatic, last-second win over the Chiefs threw a wrench into the playoff seeding — at least for now.
How does that affect the New England Patriots, you might ask?
Before we dig too deep, let’s look at how the AFC’s current top four seeds — Kansas City, Los Angeles, New England and the Houston Texans — finish their respective seasons.
Los Angeles (11-3)
Kansas City (11-3)
New England (9-4)
vs. New York Jets
vs. New York Jets
So, what do we make of all this? First things first.
If all four teams win out: This one’s relatively simple. If each team wins the rest of their respective games, the Chiefs would still get the No, 1 seed. If KC and LA end up 13-3, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head matchups, which they have split. The next tiebreaker is divisional record, and winning out would give the Chiefs a 5-1 record in the AFC West and the edge. The Chargers actually get porked in this scenario, too. Despite having a 13-3 record, they would fall all the way to the No. 5 seed as a wild-card team and would have to play on the road in the first round — despite tying for the best record in the conference. The Patriots would get the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. The Patriots hold a tiebreaker over the Texans by way of their Week 1 win.
Can the Patriots lose a first-round bye? Technically, yes. But it’s unlikely. Beating the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend would go a long way in ensuring the bye. However, a loss to the Steelers and a wild-card round game is back in play. There’s an obvious scenario in which a five-loss Patriots team finishes behind the AFC West champion (assuming they finish 12-4 or better) and the Texans (assuming they win out). A loss to the Bills or Jets would cause similar issues, but if you lose to the Bills or Jets at home, you probably have bigger problems regardless.
There are also other weird ways in which the head-to-head matchup gets tossed out the window, like if there’s a three-way tie. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen because things get very confusing.
How do the Patriots get the No. 1 seed? New England can still get that top seed, but it will need some help. If the Patriots win out and finish 12-4, they would hold the tiebreaker over any other 12-4 team in the conference. In order for this to happen, of course, the Patriots would need both the Chiefs and Chargers to lose one of their remaining two games. They beat the Chiefs and Texans in head-to-head matchups. By winning out, that would also ensure their conference record — which would be 9-3 — would give them the second tiebreaker over the Chargers, too, assuming LA loses again. It’s complicated, but this might help.
Doomsday scenario: How about this one? The Patriots could still miss the playoffs. If they lose their remaining three games, and the Dolphins win out, the Patriots would be in trouble. They’d be in even more trouble if one of the four 7-6 teams won out, too. That would mean New England had suffered its first four-game losing streak in 16 years. This will take an act of God.
Of course, it’s possible things get really weird. Heck, the Cleveland Browns technically can still win the AFC North. But these are the most likely scenarios, and if you’re a Patriots fan still holding out hope for the No. 1 seed, you might as well just root for three straight wins and hope to get a little bit of help.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images