With a 6-6 week 14 record against the Rams in Los Angeles on Thursday night, the Patriots live in the NFL playoff picture. However, New England still has a chance of making the NFL playoffs for the 18th consecutive year.
The Patriots are currently number 10 in the conference with their 500 record. Before considering catching either the No. 6 Dolphins (8-4) or the No. 7 Colts (8-4) for either of the final two AFC wildcard spots, they must also both No. 8 Raiders (7 ) jump -5) and No. 9 Ravens (7-5).
The bad news is that two games in just four weeks have a lot of catching up to do. The good news is that the Patriots already have the right wins that can help them extend their postseason with Bill Belichick and without Tom Brady.
Here’s a look at New England’s schedule and résumé, and what help it takes to get into the playoffs:
MORE: Complete Betting Guide for Patriots vs. Rams
Can the Patriots make the playoffs?
The NFC West-leading Rams (8-4) on the road are a tough start. Then it’s all division game rematches, with the Dolphins (8-4) in week 15, against the Bills (9-3) in week 16 and against the Jets in week 17.
While it is unreasonable for the Patriots to lead the table 4-0 and finish 10-6, there is a fair shot at 3-1 and 9-7. Going 2-2 or worse is just not enough to hit .500 at 8: 8 at best as that would take a lot of help to jump three teams.
In front of the Patriots, which team is in the most trouble?
The Raiders will host the Colts in Week 14 and the Dolphins in Week 16 as their toughest games. The Colts are due to join the Steelers in week 16 two weeks after their trip to Las Vegas.
While this seems pretty daunting, there is no doubt that the dolphins are having the worst. You need to line up the Chiefs in week 14, go to Las Vegas in week 16, and close on the bills in week 17. The missing game in between is the home game against the Patriots.
On the flip side, the Ravens have it easiest by far, having climbed back above .500 in week 13. They play for the Browns in week 14 but that is made up for by jaguars, giants and bengals in the final three weeks.
With all of this in mind, the Raiders, Colts, and Dolphins can harm each other while having a tough time in their other games as well.
The Patriots should aim for the Raiders to lose both the Colts and Dolphins games to end 2-2 and 9-7 or worse. In that case, the Colts would likely finish 3-1 and get in at 11-5. The Dolphins are also a good bet with the Raiders victory to lose the Chiefs and Bills games. The Ravens then have to finish 2-2 against a favorable schedule.
It may not sound good to the Patriots when the Colts climb to big double-digit wins, but it makes more sense to beat the Raiders, Dolphins and Ravens 9-7 for 7th place.
How the Patriots can make the playoffs
Three quarters of the answers are simple. The Patriots beat the dolphins at home in week 1, the raiders at home in week 3, and the ravens at home in week 10. They keep all the tiebreakers there and can keep them going by sweeping the dolphins in week 15.
So if the Raiders, Dolphins, Ravens, and Patriots all land 9-7, the Patriots would be the last team behind the Browns and Colts.
Now let’s face the Patriots against the Colts. The Rams game does not affect the Patriots’ conference recording. If the Patriots go 3-1 and that is their only loss, they have an 8-4 mark in the AFC game. The Colts would have to go 1-3 to finish 9-7. That would set their conference record to 5-7, so the Patriots would win that tiebreaker too.
Unlike the Packers in Week 16, the Titans have a very favorable schedule. Whichever way you look at the Colts at AFC South, both the division winner and the wild card should have double-digit wins, which doesn’t do the Patriots any good.
If the titans, bay horses, and stallions are removed from the equation due to future odds of winning, there’s a good chance the Patriots will get the proper help beyond their direct second shot at the dolphins. At 9-7, the Patriots would have a real chance to step in if there weren’t more than six AFC playoff teams with 10 or more wins. If the Patriots can also somehow take care of the Rams and end the season with a six-game winning streak to get to 10-6, they would be near locks to get in.
It takes several events for the Patriots to break their path, starting with their own improved performance, but based on who they beat, who they play, and who their playoff competition is playing, it can all add up well for the calculated belichick.