New England Patriots

Dec 16, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger meet at mid-field after playing at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 17-10. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger meet at mid-field after playing at Heinz Field. The Steelers beat the Patriots 17-10. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

The Patriots’ two straight losses have made their playoff picture a lot more complicated. And the road to the Super Bowl is likely to be a lot harder than it’s been in years.

Finishing No. 1 in the AFC is just about impossible at this point, because the Patriots (9-5) now need the Chiefs (11-3), Chargers (11-3), and Texans (10-4) all to finish 11-5. That means they will need to be a combined 1-5 in the final two weeks of the regular season. So you can pretty much forget about that.

No. 2 is still in play, but the Patriots still need help. The Texans now need to lose either on the road at the Eagles next Sunday or at home against the Jaguars in Week 17 to reopen that window. And obviously the Patriots need to take care of their own business against the Bills and Jets, and thankfully they get them both at home.

Losing at Philly is certainly plausible for the Texans. But that’s the only avenue the Pats have to leapfrogging Houston again. The only realistic scenario, anyway.

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 16: Joe Haden of the Pittsburgh Steelers intercepts a pass intended for Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots in the fourth quarter during the game at Heinz Field on December 16, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH, PA – DECEMBER 16: Joe Haden of the Pittsburgh Steelers intercepts a pass intended for Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots in the fourth quarter during the game at Heinz Field on December 16, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

This is likely to be the first season since 2009 that the Patriots have to play on Wild Card weekend. They’ve never made the Super Bowl under Bill Belichick without a first-round bye. First time for everything, right?

Nothing can be ruled out with this Patriots team. Maybe they’re the ones that get hot at the right time and pull a 2011 Giants. But considering how they played on the road this season – they have a losing record away from Gillette Stadium (3-5) for the first time since they went 2-6 in ’09 – it’s hard to feel confident that they’ll flip that switch. At this point, they will need to pull a 180 from what we’ve seen from them on the road.

These numbers are getting dangerously close to that 2009 team, which was perhaps the most dysfunctional squad of the Brady-Belichick era. At the end of the day, it’s another opportunity for the Patriots to prove the proverbial doubters wrong. But there’s no denying that Brady and Belichick’s path to another title will likely be as challenging as it’s ever been for them.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.