Patriots Playoff Picture: What’s Still At Stake For New England In Week 18

There still is much to play for


Jan 2, 2022

FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots clinched a playoff spot Sunday afternoon, but they still have something to play for next weekend in Miami.

The Patriots earned a 50-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars and, thanks to the Tennessee Titans’ win over the Dolphins, clinched their first playoff berth since 2019. New England will wrap up its regular season slate next Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.

With the Indianapolis Colts losing to the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday, the Patriots will exit Week 17 holding the fifth spot in the AFC standings. But their seeding could change depending on how things shake out across the conference in Week 18.

Let’s break down the multiple scenarios still in play.

First-round bye
This is pretty simple. The Patriots will earn the AFC’s top seed and the coveted first-round bye if the following happens next weekend:

— Patriots beat Dolphins
— Tennessee Titans lose to Houston Texans
— Buffalo Bills lose to New York Jets
— Kansas City Chiefs lose to Denver Broncos.

Obviously, a lot would have to go its way for New England to claim the bye. Due to the NFL’s seeding rules, the Patriots cannot finish in the top four in the conference without first winning their division. That brings us to…

The AFC East
This also is straightforward. The Patriots will win the division if they beat Miami and the Bills slip up at home against the Jets. New York nearly beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, so the Bills can’t afford to overlook the Jets next weekend.

To that end, New England must enter its game in Miami believing the AFC East is on the line, because it could be.

AFC seeding
There are a few things to go over here.

— If the Patriots win the AFC East, they can’t finish any lower than the third seed in the conference due to owning the tiebreaker over the Cincinnati Bengals, who clinched the AFC North with their Week 17 win over the Chiefs.

— New England would fall to the seventh seed if it loses to the Dolphins and both the Raiders (hosting Los Angeles Chargers) and Colts (at Jaguars) win their respective season finales. If that happens, and the Titans and Chiefs both win their final games, the Patriots would visit Kansas City in the AFC wild-card round. Obviously, that would not be an ideal outcome.

— If the season ended today, the fifth-seeded Patriots would be at the fourth-seeded Bills in the first round. Of course, that also is subject to change. One example: If the Bills win next weekend and the Bengals lose, the Patriots instead would travel to Cincinnati in the first round.

— Should the Patriots wind up winning the division but not finishing with the top seed, there are multiple teams they could wind up facing in the first round, depending on what happens in Week 18. These are the non-division clinching teams who still are in postseason contention:

Buffalo Bills
Indianapolis Colts
Los Angeles Chargers
Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers
Las Vegas Raiders

(Of those teams, only the Bills have clinched a playoff spot.)

If the Patriots don’t win the division, they either will face the Bills, Bengals, Chiefs or Titans in the first round. It’s that simple.

Yes, Sunday’s win over the Jaguars takes some pressure off the Patriots, and their fans can breathe a little easier, but there still will be plenty of scoreboard watching to do next weekend.

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images
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