Patriots Playoff Picture: Updated Clinching Scenarios, Latest Analytics

New England can clinch a spot this weekend


Dec 21, 2021

The NFC still has two games to play, but Week 15 is all wrapped up for the AFC.

So, let’s give an updated look at the Patriots’ playoff picture.

New England now is 9-5 after Saturday’s disappointing loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Had the Patriots won, they would’ve moved back into first place in the conference and made Sunday’s matchup with the Buffalo Bills a potential hat-and-t-shirt-game. Instead, the Bills now have an opportunity to take over the top spot in the division with a victory at Gillette Stadium.

On the positive side, the Tennessee Titans lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, allowing New England to hold second place in the AFC.

We’ll get into clinching scenarios/tiebreakers in a moment. First, let’s look at the current AFC East and conference standings.

AFC East
1. New England Patriots (9-5)
Remaining games: vs. Bills; vs. Jacksonville Jaguars; at Miami Dolphins
2. Buffalo Bills (8-6)
Remaining games: at Patriots; vs. Atlanta Falcons; vs. New York Jets
3. Miami Dolphins (7-7)
Remaining games: at New Orleans Saints; at Titans; vs. Patriots
4. New York Jets (3-7)
Remaining games: vs. Jaguars; vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers; at Bills

1. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)
Remaining games: vs. Steelers; at Cincinnati Bengas; at Denver Broncos
2. New England Patriots (9-5)
3. Tennessee Titans (9-5)
Remaining games: vs. San Francisco 49ers; vs. Dolphins; at Houston Texans
4. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)
Remaining games: vs. Baltimore Ravens; vs. Chiefs; at Cleveland Browns
5. Indianapolis Colts (8-6)
Remaining games: at Arizona Cardinals; vs. Las Vegas Raiders; at Jaguars
6. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6)
Remaining games: at Texans; vs. Broncos; at Raiders
7. Buffalo Bills (8-6)

In the hunt: Baltimore Ravens (8-6), Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1), Las Vegas Raiders (7-7) Miami Dolphins (7-7), Cleveland Browns (7-7), Denver Broncos (7-7)

You could scramble your brains by going down the NFL playoff-clinching-scenario rabbit hole. So, let’s just go over a few that pertain to the Patriots.

New England can clinch a playoff spot this weekend, but a win alone wouldn’t do it. However, it would take a variety of other things to happen for a win to not get the Patriots into the playoffs. Basically, nine other AFC contenders also would need to win to prolong the inevitable for New England.

If the Patriots win Sunday afternoon, they would eliminate the Bills from AFC East contention. There is nothing Buffalo could do after a loss Sunday to win the division. From that point, New England only would need to win one game — or get a loss from the Dolphins — to clinch the AFC East.

Yes, if the Patriots beat the Bills but lose their final two games, and the Dolphins win out, Miami would be the AFC East champion.

As for the AFC’s top seed, the Patriots are guaranteed to hold the tiebreaker over the Chiefs if both teams finish with the same record. New England also would own the tiebreaker over Tennessee, Los Angeles and Cleveland. The Patriots would lose the tiebreaker if they finish tied with Indianapolis. The potential tiebreakers with Miami and Buffalo are yet to be determined.

The Patriots currently trail the Chiefs by one game. So, a first-round bye remains a real possibility with three games remaining.

Finally, let’s touch on the analytics.

FiveThirtyEight and Football Outsiders are two advanced analytics websites that provide various playoff odds and scenarios for NFL teams. Both sites’ algorithms rank the Patriots among the top teams in the league.

Here’s where the Patriots’ odds were before they lost to the Colts, and where they stood as of Tuesday afternoon.

Make playoffs: 98%
Win division: 80%
Clinch first-round bye: 47% (first in AFC)
Win Super Bowl: 15% (third in NFL)

Football Outsiders
Make playoffs: 99.7%
Win division: 84.9%
Clinch first-round bye: 64% (first in AFC)
Win Super Bowl: 29.2% (first in NFL)

Make playoffs: 98%
Win division: 66%
Clinch first-round bye: 23% (second in AFC)
Win Super Bowl: 10% (second in NFL)

Football Outsiders
Make playoffs: 99.2%
Win division: 66.7%
Clinch first-round bye: 30.2% (second in AFC)
Win Super Bowl: 15.5% (second in NFL)

Got all that?

At this point, it would take an epic disaster for the Patriots to miss the playoffs, though crazier things have happened. Given how wide open the AFC is, most seedings and first-round matchups likely won’t be determined until the final day of the season.

Thumbnail photo via Marc Lebryk/USA TODAY Sports Images
Boston Celtics center Al Horford
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