What a difference two weeks makes.
On Nov. 13, the New England Patriots were reeling from a shocking loss to the Tennessee Titans and faced the very real possibility of having to play on Wild Card Weekend.
Order is slowly being restored, however: A Pittsburgh Steelers upset loss in Denver and a Patriots win in New York on Sunday vaulted New England back into the No. 2 seed and within one game of the AFC-leading Kansas City Chiefs.
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If the regular season ended Tuesday, the Patriots would get a first-round playoff bye, a luxury they've enjoyed for the past seven postseasons.
The drama is far from over, however. Let's reset the AFC playoff picture entering Week 13. (An asterisk denotes a division leader.)
AFC Overall Standings
1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)*
2. New England Patriots (8-3)*
3. Houston Texans (8-3)*
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3-1)*
5. Los Angeles Chargers (8-3)
6. Baltimore Ravens (6-5)
In the hunt: Indianapolis Colts (6-5), Miami Dolphins (5-6), Cincinnati Bengals (5-6), Denver Broncos (5-6), Tennessee Titans (5-6)
AFC Wild-Card Round Matchups (as of Nov. 27)
No. 3 Texans vs. No. 6 Ravens
No. 4 Steelers vs. No. 5 Chargers
Key Week 13 Matchups
- Patriots vs. Minnesota Vikings
- Chiefs at Oakland Raiders
- Steelers vs. Chargers
- Texans vs. Cleveland Browns
With Kansas City playing the lowly Raiders, the Patriots need to beat a tough Minnesota Vikings squad this Sunday if they want a realistic shot at the No. 1 seed.
Steelers-Chargers has huge playoff implications, as Los Angeles can knock Pittsburgh even further down the AFC standings.
And don't sleep on those Texans, folks. Houston now has won eight in a row, and while few expect Bill O'Brien's club to win out, consider this: Four of its final five opponents are below .500 (the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars), with the lone exception being the 6-5 Indianapolis Colts.
To state the obvious, New England needs to keep winning to stay in the mix for the No. 1 seed -- and to avoid getting caught from behind.
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