New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 26: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on from the sidelines during the second quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

Believe it or not, the No. 1 seed in the AFC is still in play for the Patriots.

Their recent two-game losing streak against the Colts and Bills certainly made that task a lot harder. But it’s still possible. Just like the Patriots’ brief stay atop the conference, the 11-5 Titans’ grip on the No. 1 seed is flimsy. Every top contender is and has been one misstep away from slipping out of that coveted bye.

Unfortunately, the Patriots need three missteps from the opposition in order to get back to the No. 1 seed. And after some schedule shuffling in the NFL, which included the Pats and Dolphins moving to 4:25 p.m. ET, fans in New England will have to sweat out the whole thing.

The Patriots have a much better chance of winning the AFC East in Week 18 than they do to reclaim the No. 1 seed. Home field is still on the table for the Patriots, mainly because of their head-to-head performance against key contenders and overall record against the conference.

But neither No. 1 nor the division seem like a distinct possibility, because of the immense help the Patriots need. And, of course, it’s a must-win for the Patriots in order to improve their seeding. Let’s go over the scenarios.

  • To Win The AFC East…

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 26: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots calls a play at the line during the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 26: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots calls a play at the line during the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)

    The division is very simple. Buffalo wins, and it’s theirs, but the division goes to the Patriots if they win and the Bills lose.

    Unfortunately for the Pats, the Bills have the Jets on tap for Week 18. New York did almost upset Tampa Bay on Sunday, but they lost in the closing seconds due to some baffling coaching decisions and Tom Brady doing his usual thing.

    Oh, and the Jets are 4-12 and have to play the Bills on the road. So if New York shocks the football world on Sunday, it should be classified more as an all-time choke by Buffalo.

    Jets-Bills is also scheduled for a 4:25 kickoff, so the final battle for the AFC East will play out in that single broadcast window.

  • To Clinch The No. 1 Seed…

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 28: Kendrick Bourne #84 of the New England Patriots runs after the catch for a third quarter touchdown against the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium on November 28, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 28: Kendrick Bourne #84 of the New England Patriots runs after the catch for a third quarter touchdown against the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium on November 28, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

    OK so this is much harder, but hear us out. The Titans and Chiefs lead the way in the AFC at 11-5, so they absolutely have to lose for the Patriots to have a shot at home field throughout the AFC Playoffs.

    Kansas City is on the road at Denver, so there’s a possibility something screwy happens in that building. The game is Saturday night, so the Chiefs could seal the Patriots’ fate before Sunday ever happens. Plus, the Titans are facing the 4-12 Texans and have already lost to them. Does that lightning strike twice? On top of the Bills losing to the Jets?

    Not likely. But still, possible. According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots’ most likely seed is No. 5 (64.8 percent chance). Their chances of getting No. 1 are … 1.1 percent.

    via GIPHY

     

    Here’s the full odds breakdown from Football Outsiders

    No. 1: 1.1%
    No. 2: 5.4%
    No. 3: 5.4%
    No. 4: 0.0%
    No. 5: 64.8%
    No. 6: 14.2%
    No. 7: 9.0%

    Weird seeding quirk: the Patriots still have a chance to win the No. 1 seed, but the best the Bills can do is No. 2, because the Bills lost to the Titans. New England, of course, beat Tennessee 36-13 in Week 12.

  • What about the Bengals?

    CINCINNATI, OHIO - JANUARY 02: Joe Burrow #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals throws a 5-yard pass to Tyler Boyd #83 for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Paul Brown Stadium on January 02, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

    CINCINNATI, OHIO – JANUARY 02: Joe Burrow #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals throws a 5-yard pass to Tyler Boyd #83 for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Paul Brown Stadium on January 02, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

    Cincinnati should be on the minds of football fans across the country on Monday, after it upset Kansas City with a last-second comeback win. Behind another monster game for franchise quarterback Joe Burrow and dynamic rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase, the Bengals are AFC North champions after the win, so they are locked into the top-4.

    The Bengals have better odds of getting the No. 1 seed (4.4 percent) than the Patriots, based on the data from Football Outsiders. But the Patriots would own the tiebreaker over them, should they win the AFC East.

    New England and Cincy don’t play head-to-head, and they’re tied for the best conference record at 8-3. So, the tiebreaker would be common opponents. The Bengals lost to the Chargers, Browns, and Jets, while the Patriots went 4-0 against those teams. So, that’s an easy W for New England.

    These situations speak to how important it was for the Patriots to rattle off seven wins in a row in the middle of their schedule, after starting 2-4. They beat all the right teams. That came to a screeching halt in Indianapolis, and the Bills got the equalizer in the season series a week later. So, here we are.

    Unfortunately, Patriots fans also have to root for the Jets, Texans, and Broncos this weekend. Hold your nose.