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There’s nothing galling about a 10-1 team going on the road and losing to the Houston Texans. It happens.
But the New England Patriots are in a position that many AFC teams have found themselves in this century: They might not have any margin of error when it comes to getting home-field advantage through the playoffs. That Week 12 loss to the Texans puts the Patriots behind in the race.
There’s not much doubt what the most impactful change in this week’s playoff projection is:
It seems like the one thing in the NFL bracket that has the biggest impact on who we’ll see in Super Bowl LIV is whether New England or Baltimore get the No. 1 seed.
It seems unlikely since there’s four weeks of football to be played, but there’s a chance New England could go 14-2 and have to go on the road for the AFC championship game. The Ravens have the head-to-head tiebreaker due to a victory over the Patriots. Due to the loss last Sunday night to the Texans, the Patriots don’t have ultimate control over home-field advantage throughout the playoffs anymore. They’re going to need some help from the Bills, Jets, Browns or Steelers, the Ravens’ final four opponents.
It’s not like the Patriots couldn’t win at Baltimore. They won at Kansas City in the AFC title game last season. It’s not like Baltimore couldn’t win in New England either. But clearly it matters who gets the No. 1 seed, and the Ravens got a break they needed last Sunday.
Here are some other notes from this week’s playoff projection:
49ers-Saints is going to be big in playoff picture
There might not be one single game that impacts more playoff spots than Sunday’s San Francisco 49ers-New Orleans Saints matchup.
If the 10-2 Saints win, they would have a tight grip on the No. 1 seed in the NFC. They’d have the tiebreaker over the 49ers and Seahawks, who are both 10-2 (New Orleans won at Seattle earlier this season). That would also put the 49ers in serious danger of losing the NFC West to the Seahawks, who beat them in San Francisco already. And the 9-3 Packers are glad one of those teams has to lose, because that helps their chances at the No. 2 seed and a bye.
If the 49ers win Sunday — and clearly we’re predicting that, based on their slot this week as the NFC’s No. 1 seed — they’d lead the Saints by a game and have the tiebreaker with three to go. Then they’d have to hold off only the Seahawks, which won’t be easy.
The NFC is really fun this season.
Titans positioning themselves to be sleeper team
If the playoffs started today, the Steelers would be the sixth seed. Mike Tomlin has done a great job this season.
Yet, the Tennessee Titans are playing very well with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. And don’t count them out of the AFC South race yet. They have two remaining games against the Texans. It’s not impossible to believe they could sweep and steal the division.
Vikings could slip from postseason picture
The Vikings are in a precarious position. Their only realistic path to the NFC North title is to beat the Packers in Week 16, and they’d still likely need the Packers to lose another divisional game game. Green Bay will win the tiebreaker if they win their other two divisional games (vs. Bears, at Lions).
And the 8-4 Vikings suddenly aren’t a lock to hold onto a wild-card spot. The Los Angeles Rams are in the conversation at 7-5. If the Rams win out and the Vikings lose to the Packers, Lions or Bears, the Rams would win the tiebreaker. They’d have three conference losses and Minnesota would have four. The Rams don’t seem like the kind of team that can run the table in December, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
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