Patriots

AFC Playoff Picture: How Pats' position worsened entering Week 14 despite win

Patriots

The New England Patriots earned an impressive 45-0 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday afternoon, but their position in the AFC playoff race actually worsened despite the shutout victory.

Just about every team the Patriots needed to lose Sunday ended up winning.

The Las Vegas Raiders entered Week 13 a game ahead of the Patriots in the wild card race, and they were poised to suffer a horrendous loss to the winless Jets before New York suffered an epic meltdown and blew the game in the final minute. The Raiders escaped with a miracle win to stay above the Pats in the standings. New England still holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Las Vegas, though.

Another team ahead of the Patriots is the Miami Dolphins, and they picked up a 19-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals to maintain the second wild card spot and second place in the AFC East. 

The Indianapolis Colts were fortunate to earn a 26-20 win over the Houston Texans thanks to a fumble late in the fourth quarter by Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson in the red zone. Indianapolis' lead over New England for the last wild card berth is still two games.

The only team in front of the Patriots that lost Sunday was the Tennessee Titans, who lead the AFC South with an 8-4 record despite a 41-35 defeat to the Cleveland Browns.

 
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Here's an updated look at the AFC standings and playoff berths through Sunday's late afternoon games (this post will be updated after each of the remaining Week 13 matchups).

In a Playoff Spot

1. Pittsburgh Steelers, 11-0 (AFC North leader)

2. Kansas City Chiefs, 10-1 (AFC West leader)

3. Buffalo Bills, 8-3 (AFC East leader)

4. Tennessee Titans, 8-4 (AFC South leader)

5. Cleveland Browns, 9-3 (First wild card)

6. Miami Dolphins, 8-4 (Second wild card)

7. Indianapolis Colts, 8-4 (Third wild card)

On the Bubble

8. Las Vegas Raiders, 7-5

9. Baltimore Ravens, 6-5

10. New England Patriots, 6-6

The Patriots could still gain some ground in Week 13 if the Baltimore Ravens lose to the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday night. The Pats hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Ravens and would move ahead of them in the standings if they lost to Dallas.

It's also possible the Patriots could inch closer to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East race. The Bills will play on the road versus the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night. The Patriots would be two games behind the Bills for first place in the division if Buffalo lost.

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The Patriots will need a couple teams in front of them to lose at least two more games over the final quarter of the regular season, while also finishing with a perfect (or near-perfect) record themselves. It's not an impossible path to the postseason, but the Patriots still have three more tough games left against the Rams, Dolphins and Bills -- all likely playoff teams -- over the next three weeks.

We know the Patriots are capable of playing at a high level -- and Sunday's blowout was evident of that -- the challenge is doing it on a consistent basis. New England has now won four of its last five games, so it looks like the team is finally starting to find that consistency at a critical juncture of the season.

The Patriots return to game action Thursday night with a Week 14 matchup against the Rams at SoFi Stadium. The Rams are 8-4 and present arguably the most challenging matchup remaining on New England's schedule.