How Patriots Still Can Guarantee Themselves NFL Playoff Spot

LAS VEGAS — Things aren’t looking good for the Patriots, but they still control their own destiny for a spot in the NFL playoffs.

Given the losses from other AFC contenders in Week 15, New England on Sunday had an opportunity to greatly strengthen its postseason chances with a win over the Raiders. But, despite holding a touchdown lead late in the fourth quarter, the Patriots ultimately suffered a truly inexplicable, disastrous 30-24 loss at Allegiant Stadium.

The loss dropped New England to a disappointing 7-7 through 15 weeks. And, because the Los Angeles Chargers beat the Tennessee Titans, the Patriots fell out of the AFC’s final playoff spot.

However, there remains one straightforward way for New England to make the playoffs. If the Patriots win their final three games, including a Week 17 home contest against the Miami Dolphins, they will be guaranteed a spot in the postseason — full stop.

Of course, there are other ways for the Patriots to make the playoffs. The Patriots, Chargers, Dolphins and Jets all are separated by a game or less in the AFC standings, with Los Angeles and Miami currently holding the sixth and seventh seeds, respectively, and 7-7 New York owning the ninth seed. But those scenarios all get very complicated, especially once you start factoring in tiebreakers.

Eighth-seeded New England can avoid a major headache if it just goes 3-0 over its final three weeks, as it would finish no worse than tied with Miami in overall record but would own at least the conference-record tiebreaker over the Dolphins.

Here are the updated AFC standings:

1. Buffalo Bills (11-3)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)
3. Cincinnati Bengals (10-4)
4. Tennessee Titans (7-7)
5. Baltimore Ravens (9-5)
6. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6)
7. Miami Dolphins (8-6)
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8. New England Patriots (7-7)
9. New York Jets (7-7)

And here are the remaining schedules for the Chargers, Dolphins, Patriots and Jets:

CHARGERS
At Indianapolis Colts
Vs. Los Angeles Rams
at Denver Broncos

DOLPHINS
Vs. Green Bay Packers
At New England Patriots
Vs. Jets

PATRIOTS
Vs. Bengals
Vs. Dolphins
At Buffalo Bills

JETS
Vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
At Seattle Seahawks
At Dolphins

So, yeah, a lot can happen between now and the end of the season. And you most certainly can’t pencil the Patriots in for three consecutive wins.

But, despite all that’s gone wrong for New England this season, they still have a clear (albeit difficult) path to the NFL playoffs.

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