FOXBORO, Mass. — It’s hard to feel good about the Patriots after their 33-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, but it’s not all doom and gloom for New England.
With the defeat at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots fell out of first place in the AFC East. They now need the Bills to lose at least one of their two remaining two games — home against the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets — to have a chance at winning the division.
New England also dropped to sixth place in the AFC, one spot behind the Colts, whom the Patriots lost to last week. Both teams are 9-6, but Indianapolis holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. Nothing that happens during the remaining Week 16 games can cause the Patriots to drop lower than sixth.
New England still has a chance at claiming the AFC’s top seed, but it would need the Kansas City Chiefs to lose their final two games. The second seed also remains in play, but the Tennessee Titans would have to lose at least one of their final two games.
In either case, the Patriots would need to take over first place in the AFC East, as only division leaders can hold one of the top four seeds in the conference.
But what about an actual playoff spot?
With the Los Angeles Chargers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens all losing this week, the Patriots are one step closer to a playoff berth despite losing Sunday. If the Dolphins lose to the New Orleans Saints on Monday, New England can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars next weekend. If Miami wins, then the Patriots will need to beat Jacksonville and get a loss from either the Dolphins or the Raiders, who will face the Titans and Colts, respectively.
Additionally, New England would be guaranteed a playoff spot if it wins both of its final two games. (The Patriots will visit the Miami Dolphins in their season finale.)
Of course, there are other ways for the Patriots to punch their playoff ticket over the next two weeks, but those are the most straightforward paths. The Patriots and Jaguars will kick off next Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET.
By the way: If the season ended today, the Patriots would be visiting the Cincinnati Bengals in an AFC wild-card round matchup.