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NFL playoff picture: Best- and worst-case scenarios for Pats on Sunday originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The New England Patriots' playoff destiny is still in their own hands.
While the Patriots need some help to win the AFC East after back-to-back losses to the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills, they still can ensure a playoff berth by defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday and the Miami Dolphins in Week 18.
At 9-6, New England also still has an outside shot at the No. 1 seed if the Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) lose their final two games and the Tennessee Titans (10-5), Buffalo Bills (9-6) and Indianapolis Colts (9-6) drop at least one game. The Patriots own tiebreakers over the Chiefs and Titans thanks to a superior in-conference record (7-3), but the Bills and Colts own tiebreakers over New England after beating them head-to-head.
Needless to say, there's a lot at stake over the final two weeks for the Patriots, who are tied with three other teams in the AFC standings. Here's a quick rundown of the standings entering Week 17:
Kansas City Chiefs, 11-4 (AFC West leader)
Tennessee Titans, 10-5 (AFC South leader)
Cincinnati Bengals, 9-6 (AFC North leader
Buffalo Bills, 9-6 (AFC East leader)
Indianapolis Colts, 9-6 (First wild card)
New England Patriots, 9-6 (Second wild card)
Miami Dolphins, 8-7 (Third wild card)
Los Angeles Chargers, 8-7
Las Vegas Raiders, 8-7
Baltimore Ravens, 8-7
There are several ways New England can clinch a playoff berth this Sunday, but here are the two simplest paths:
Patriots win; Dolphins lose or tie
Patriots win; Raiders lose or tie
Here's where things get interesting, though: If the Patriots want a higher seed, they may or may not root for a Miami loss on Sunday.
Below is a rundown of every Week 17 game that has an impact on the AFC playoff race, with "best-case" and "worst-case" scenarios for Patriots fans.
Miami Dolphins (8-7) at Tennessee Titans (10-5), 1 p.m. ET
Best-case scenario for Patriots fans: Dolphins win. OK, hear us out. A Miami win would set up the possibility of Brian Flores' club leap-frogging the Patriots in the standings (and potentially knocking them out of the playoffs) with a Week 18 win.
But in terms of maximizing upside, a Titans loss would allow New England to overtake Tennessee in the AFC standings if it can beat Jacksonville and Miami down the stretch. It just depends how confident you are that the Patriots can beat the Dolphins next Sunday in a place where they've historically struggled.
Worst-case scenario: Titans win. See above. The Titans finish with the lowly Houston Texans in Week 18, so if they win out, the Patriots can't jump them in the standings.
Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (9-6), 1 p.m. ET
Best-case scenario: Bengals win. We're applying similar "maximize upside" logic here. A Bengals victory would keep them ahead of the Patriots in the standings for now. But if the Chiefs lose to Cincinnati and fall to the Denver Broncos on the road in Week 18 (certainly a possibility), New England can pass them by winning out.
In this scenario, the Patriots would need the Bengals to lose to the Browns in Cleveland in Week 18 to surpass them in the standings.
Worst-case scenario: Chiefs win. If the Chiefs win, the Patriots officially can't passing them in the standings. The upside here would be that New England would pass Cincy in the standings.
Las Vegas Raiders (8-7) at Indianapolis Colts (9-6), 1 p.m. ET
Best-case scenario: Raiders win. The Colts own the tiebreaker over New England thanks to their Week 15 victory, so New England wants Las Vegas to pull off the upset. Indy finishes with the Jaguars, so this is likely the Patriots' only shot to overtake them in the AFC.
Worst-case scenario: Colts win. If the Colts win their fourth game in a row Sunday and take care of business against Jacksonville in Week 18, they're guaranteed to finish above New England in the AFC.
Atlanta Falcons (7-8) at Buffalo Bills (9-6), 1 p.m. ET
Best-case scenario: Falcons win. This one's a no-brainer. The Patriots need either the Falcons or the New York Jets to upset Buffalo down the stretch to have any shot at winning the AFC East.
Worst-case scenario: Bills win. If the Bills win out, the division is theirs, regardless of how the Patriots perform. If they take down the Falcons, all that's standing between them and a division crown is the 4-11 Jets.
Los Angeles Rams (11-4) at Baltimore Ravens (8-7), 1 p.m. ET
Best-case scenario: Rams win. Another no-brainer. A Ravens loss would give the Patriots a little extra breathing room below them in the AFC playoff picture.
Worst-case scenario: Ravens win. The Patriots own a tiebreaker over Baltimore, so they'd still be ahead of the Ravens if they lose to either Jacksonville or Miami down the stretch. The Ravens finish with the AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 18.