The Patriots‘ playoff picture is still clear.
But the players know their performance over the last two weeks cost them breathing room — consecutive losses to the Colts and Bills in Weeks 15 and 16 respectively left them with significantly less margin for error than they enjoyed after beating the Bills earlier this month.
“We’ve been in seasons where we’ve talked about how each game left is like a playoff game,” Devin McCourty said after Sunday’s 33-21 loss. “We have to play like that. That’s where our season is. I don’t know where we stand now, where it all stands and everything, but if we don’t finish the way we want to finish, we’ll be at home.”
A few hours after the Bills put the finishing touches on a statement win at Gillette, the Patriots’ situation clarified significantly. Here’s a closer look.
The Patriots Picture
Sunday’s game put the Bills in the driver’s seat: Presumably, all they need to do is beat the Falcons to secure the division, given that their final game is against the Jets (who made the fatal mistake of beating the Jaguars on Sunday).
Still, the Patriots should make the postseason — a win over the Jaguars in Week 17 could clinch. If the Jaguars play spoiler, the Patriots could need a win over the Dolphins in Week 18.
Per FiveThirtyEight, the Patriots have a 96 percent chance of making the postseason and an 11 percent chance of winning the division.
- Chiefs (11-4): The Chiefs cruised to a 36-10 victory over the Steelers and clinched their playoff spot. In theory, the Patriots could win their last two games and catch the Chiefs’ record if they lose to both the Bengals and Broncos.
- Titans (10-5): The Patriots have a win over the Titans head-to-head, but they would need a serious collapse to challenge. The Titans face the Dolphins and Texans to wrap up their season.
- Bengals (9-6): A highly meaningful win (with 525 yards from Joe Burrow!) over the Ravens put the Bengals in the driver’s seat in the AFC North. Their road forward isn’t easy with games against the Chiefs and Browns to wrap up their season, but assuming they claim the AFC North, they would maintain tiebreaker scenarios over whichever team finishes second in the AFC East.
- Bills (9-6): The Bills take on the Falcons — who aren’t very good, but need a win to maintain any playoff hopes — followed by the Jets to close the season.
- Colts (9-6): The Colts pulled out an impressive win over the Cardinals on Sunday — their second victory over a team with a winning record in as many weeks after beating the Patriots in Week 15. Like the Patriots, the Colts — who trail the Titans by a game in the AFC South — are essentially guaranteed a playoff spot given that they have a game against the Jaguars remaining. They take on the Raiders in Week 17.
- Patriots (9-6): We might not learn much from the next two games, but the Patriots could rebuild some good habits in their final two games if they take care of business.
- Ravens (8-7): Games against the Rams and Steelers to end the season won’t be an easy way to close the season. The Ravens are one of three AFC teams vying for a wildcard slot with an 8-7 record.
- Chargers (8-7): The Chargers can still get in if they get themselves back together against either the Broncos and Raiders, but dropping a game to the Texans on Sunday was a costly misstep.
- Raiders (8-7): The Raiders are technically still alive, but they would need to beat both the Colts and Raiders to put themselves in a good position.
The Patriots are still a relatively safe bet to make the postseason. What will they do once they get there? The last two weeks haven’t inspired a ton of confidence.
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