Even after back-to-back heartbreaking losses, the New England Patriots now, again, control their own destiny in the AFC playoff race.
With the Miami Dolphins losing to the Green Bay Packers, 26-20, on Christmas Day, the Patriots can clinch a wild-card berth by beating the Dolphins at home next Sunday and winning on the road against the Buffalo Bills in Week 18.
New England also could get in with a win over Miami and a loss in Buffalo, but that would require the Los Angeles Chargers to drop their final three games, beginning Monday night against the Indianapolis Colts.
Winning either of their two remaining games will be a challenge for the Patriots, who are 0-5 this season against teams that held playoff spots entering Sunday and already have lost to the Dolphins and Bills by 13 and 14 points, respectively.
Miami has looked vulnerable of late, however, dropping four straight after an 8-3 start under first-year head coach Mike McDaniel. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw interceptions on each of the Dolphins’ final three possessions Sunday as they squandered a 10-point halftime lead.
The Dolphins’ downslide makes the Patriots’ recent results all the more frustrating.
New England led the Las Vegas Raiders with less than a minute remaining in Week 14 before surrendering a controversial game-tying touchdown and then losing when Jakobi Meyers’ infamous lateral was picked off by Chandler Jones and returned 48 yards for a walk-off score.
On Saturday, the Patriots came within 5 yards of completing a 22-point comeback against the defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals before Rhamondre Stevenson lost a red-zone fumble in the final minute. They were plagued by self-inflicted errors in both of those games, and in their seven-point loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Thanksgiving.
The Patriots have lost four of their last five games, with their lone win coming over the Colt McCoy-led Arizona Cardinals.
Kickoff next Sunday in Foxboro, Mass., is set for 1 p.m. ET. The NFL opted not to flex the game into primetime, choosing to move Pittsburgh Steelers-Baltimore Ravens instead.