AFC playoff picture: Where Pats stand in wild card race after loss to Texans


The New England Patriots did well to get themselves back in the AFC playoff picture with a win over the Baltimore Ravens last week, but much of that work was undone by a disappointing loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon.

The Patriots had very little margin for error entering Week 11 and needed to beat a Texans team struggling with a 2-7 record. But instead of dominating the NFL's worst run defense, the Patriots ran the ball just 24 times for 86 yards and couldn't capitalize during a late fourth quarter drive that ended on a failed fourth down conversion with 1:18 remaining.

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The 27-20 loss at NRG Stadium drops New England's record to 4-6. Where do the Patriots stand in the AFC playoff picture entering Week 12?

Here's a look at the updated standings through Sunday's games.

Playoff Spots

1. Pittsburgh Steelers, 10-0 (AFC North leader)

2. Kansas City Chiefs, 9-1 (AFC West leader)

3. Buffalo Bills, 7-3 (AFC East leader)

4. Indianapolis Colts, 7-3 (AFC South leader) 

5. Tennessee Titans, 7-3 (First wild card)

6. Cleveland Browns, 7-3 (Second wild card)

7. Las Vegas Raiders, 6-4 (Third wild card)

On the Outside

8. Baltimore Ravens, 6-4

9. Miami Dolphins, 6-4

10. Denver Broncos, 4-6

11. New England Patriots, 4-6

The Patriots are two games out of a wild card spot and trail the Bills by 2.5 games for first place in the AFC East with one more head-to-head meeting. New England has to leapfrog three teams to get into a playoff spot. One positive note for the Pats is they own the head-to-head tiebreaker with both the Ravens and Raiders.

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New England maybe could suffer one more loss and still make the playoffs, but that would require help from several teams in front of them. Getting that help could be difficult because three of those teams in the wild card chase -- the Browns, Raiders and Ravens -- rank in the bottom eight of remaining strength of schedule, as measured by ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI).

The Patriots' own remaining schedule isn't very favorable.

They have two more tough matchups against NFC West opponents, including a game against the Arizona Cardinals at Gillette Stadium next Sunday. The other is a "Thursday Night Football" contest on the road versus the Los Angeles Rams in Week 14.

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Two of the Patriots' final three games are against teams in front of them in the division standings. The first is a Week 15 matchup against the Dolphins in Miami, and the second is the following week at home versus the Bills. Miami is 3-1 after making rookie Tua Tagovailoa the starting quarterback and Buffalo already has beaten New England once back in Week 8.

The two easiest games left on the schedule are a Week 13 meeting at the Los Angeles Chargers, and a Week 17 finale versus the New York Jets in Foxboro.

Even though both of these opponents are inferior to the Patriots, it's still hard to call these games easy wins after watching New England struggle in a loss to the 2-7 Texans on Sunday. Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert should pose plenty of challenges for a Patriots pass defense that has struggled throughout the season, and the Jets nearly beat New England in Week 9.

ESPN's FPI gave the Patriots just a 15.4 percent chance of reaching the playoffs and a four percent chance to win the division entering Week 11. After losing one of the most winnable games left on the schedule, the Patriots will need to play as close to perfect as possible to extend their postseason appearance streak to 12 seasons.