How Patriots Could Face Each Potential AFC Playoff Team In First Round

Few things are settled entering Week 18

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The Patriots soon will play their first playoff game in over two years, but which team will New England face?

Ahead of Week 18, there are no teams locked into specific playoff seeds in the AFC — including the Patriots. And while it still is possible for New England to claim the top spot and the coveted first-round bye, it’s far more likely than not that the Patriots will be playing in the AFC Wild Card round. They’ll have to go on the road unless they beat Miami this weekend and Buffalo falls to the New York Jets.

Four other AFC teams already have clinched postseason spots, with five others vying to fill the remaining two openings this weekend. And the Patriots theoretically could face any one of them in the first round.

So, let’s break down how New England could wind up with each of the nine hypothetical matchups after the dust settles in Week 18. There are multiple ways for New England to see each opponent in the wild card round, but, with a couple of exceptions, let’s keep it to one scenario apiece for the sake of avoiding headaches.

We’ll break this into segments, starting with an AFC East rival.

Buffalo Bills
The numbers say this is the Patriots’ most likely first-round matchup. So, New Englanders might want to prepare themselves for another rematch with the Bills. New England will be at Buffalo in Round 1 if the following happens this weekend:
— Patriots beat Dolphins
— Bills beat Jets

(Note: This matchup also could happen, with New England hosting, if the Patriots win the Bills lose and the Indianapolis Colts lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars.)

Now, let’s get into teams that already have clinched their respective divisions. It’s impossible for New England to host any of these teams in the wild card round.

Kansas City Chiefs
Obviously, this would be a tough first-round matchup for the Patriots and rookie quarterback Mac Jones. Yes, New England knows how to play against Kansas City, but a road matchup with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs is a worst-case scenario.
— Patriots lose to Dolphins
— Chiefs beat Denver Broncos
— Tennessee Titans beat Houston Texans
— Las Vegas Raiders beat Los Angeles Chargers
— Indianapolis Colts beat Jacksonville Jaguars

(Note: This also could happen if New England, Buffalo and Cincinnati all win with Kansas City losing.)

Tennessee Titans
Another difficult matchup for the Patriots. New England won the regular season meeting between the two teams, but the Titans were severely undermanned and it now looks as if they’ll have Derrick Henry back for the postseason.
— Chiefs beat Broncos
— Titans beat Texans
— Patriots lose to Dolphins
— Colts beat Jaguars
— Chargers beat Raiders

Cincinnati Bengals
You could make the case this is the most desirable of all the likely first-round matchups for the Patriots. Of course, that depends on how you feel about the Bengals, who aren’t used to this playoff thing. It’s worth noting that star quarterback Joe Burrow won’t suit up this weekend and running back Joe Mixon reportedly won’t play, either.
— Patriots beat Dolphins
— Bills beat Jets
— Bengals lose to Cleveland Browns

Finally, let’s look at teams that still are hoping to earn wild card spots. The Patriots only could host these teams in the wild card round.

Las Vegas Raiders
Yes, the Raiders still have a shot at making the playoffs. No, we don’t believe they could go into Foxboro, Mass., and win a playoff game. Also, as you’ll see, there’s almost no way this game is happening.
— Patriots beat Dolphins
— Bills lose to Jets
— Either Titans or Chiefs lose (not both)
— Colts lose to Jaguars
— Raiders and Chargers tie

Los Angeles Chargers
Given New England’s recent success against the Chargers, Patriots fans likely would have no issue with this matchup. The Los Angeles offense is dangerous, but quarterback Justin Herbert has yet to solve a Bill Belichick defense.
— Patriots beat Dolphins
— Bills lose to Jets
— Titans beat Texans
— Chiefs beat Broncos
— Colts beat Jaguars
— Chargers beat Raiders

Indianapolis Colts
The Patriots got whooped in the regular season matchup with the Colts, but you still could argue that New England is better than Indianapolis. We just can’t see Carson Wentz winning a playoff game at Gillette Stadium.
— Patriots beat Dolphins
— Bills lose to Jets
— Titans beat Texans
— Chiefs beat Broncos
— Colts beat Jaguars
— Raiders beat Chargers

Baltimore Ravens
We’re not sure what to make of the Ravens. They’re dangerous when healthy… but they’re not healthy. Plus, the Patriots have shown the ability to slow down Lamar Jackson.
— Patriots beat Dolphins
— Bills lose to Jets
— Either Titans or Chiefs lose (not both)
— Ravens beat Steelers
— Raiders beat Chargers
— Colts lose to Jaguars

Pittsburgh Steelers
Despite only having eight wins (fewest among any of the previously mentioned teams), the Steelers still can get into the playoffs. Why? Because Pittsburgh has a tie on its record, and ties are considered better than losses. So, the Steelers would win any tiebreaker with other nine-win teams because they’d have fewer losses — unless the Raiders and Chargers tie. Got all that?
— Patriots beat Dolphins
— Bills lose to Jets
— Steelers beat Ravens
— Either Titans or Chiefs lose (not both)
— Colts lose to Jaguars
— Raiders and Chargers don’t tie

(By the way, if you want to check our math, which is air-tight, you can head over to the ESPN Playoff Machine.)

We know, we just threw a lot at you. But the variety of possible outcomes this weekend underscores both the remarkable parity in the AFC this season and just how little has been determined after 17 weeks.

Ultimately, the Patriots only can control what they can control. They’ll look to end their regular season on a high note when they kick off at a rescheduled time with the Dolphins on Sunday.

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