We’re really doing this again, huh?
Just when they looked all but dead and buried in the AFC playoff race, the New England Patriots upset Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, squeaking out a 20-17 win on a last-second 50-yard field goal by Nick Folk.
The phrase “maddeningly unpredictable” comes to mind when describing this Patriots team.
They’ve been competitive against good teams all season and have beaten a few of them. They also play down to weaker competition, resulting in losses to teams like the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans and a too-close-for-comfort victory over the winless New York Jets.
Since Week 5, the Patriots are just 1-3 as favorites but 2-1 as underdogs. They lost to the Texans last week despite getting one of quarterback Cam Newton’s best statistical performances of the season. They beat the Cardinals in one of Newton’s worst statistical games as a pro. (His 84 passing yards and 23.6 passer rating Sunday both were career lows.)
Yet through all of this inconsistency, the 5-6 Patriots remain alive in the playoff hunt. Here’s an updated look at the AFC wild-card standings after Week 12:
5. Cleveland Browns (8-3)
6. Miami Dolphins (7-4)
7. Indianapolis Colts (7-4)
8. Baltimore Ravens (6-4)
9. Las Vegas Raiders (6-5)
10. New England Patriots (5-6)
The Colts and Raiders were blown out by the Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons, respectively, on Sunday. The Dolphins easily dispatched the Jets but now have questions at quarterback after Tua Tagovailoa sat out with a thumb injury. The Ravens have been crushed by COVID-19 cases and will be severely shorthanded for Tuesday night’s rescheduled matchup with the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers, if that game is even played.
The Patriots currently own head-to-head tiebreakers over the Raiders, Dolphins and Ravens with one more Miami matchup still to come in Week 15. They have a back-to-back in Los Angeles (3-8 Chargers this Sunday, 7-4 Rams next Thursday) before heading to South Florida and then finishing with home dates against the Buffalo Bills (8-3) and Jets (0-11).
In all likelihood, the Patriots would need to win each of those five games to have a shot at a postseason berth, though 9-7 could be enough to get in if three or more teams above them implode or COVID-related cancellations prompt the NFL to expand its playoff field to 16 teams.
Both of those scenarios are unlikely, as are the Patriots’ chances of winning out. As we mentioned after last week’s loss, 203 NFL teams have started 4-6 since 1978, and just five of them have rallied to finish 10-6. Just one (the 2016 Green Bay Packers) went on to win a playoff game.
But for at least one more week, playoffs remain a possibility for this flawed Patriots club.