The race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC will be hotly contested over the final month of the 2021 NFL season with several teams firmly in the mix to earn the lone first-round playoff bye.
The New England Patriots currently hold the top seed with a 9-4 record, but two teams are close behind them.
The Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs are the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, respectively, with identical 9-4 records. The Patriots have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Titans and the conference record tiebreaker over the Chiefs.
Since the Patriots' edge is merely tiebreakers, they obviously don't have much margin for error in maintaining their place atop the AFC standings.
The Patriots just had a Week 14 bye, and their Week 15 game is one of the toughest matchups remaining on the team's regular season schedule. New England will travel to Indianapolis to play the red-hot Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night. The Colts have won four of their last five games and are trying to hold on to a wild card playoff berth.
Here's how the outcome of this weekend's Patriots-Colts matchup will impact New England's chances of reaching the playoffs, winning the AFC East division and securing the No. 1 seed.
The Patriots would be a near-lock to make the playoffs and a very strong bet to win the division regardless of the outcome Saturday night. The real difference is in the No. 1 seed odds.
A win gives the Patriots a nearly 7-in-10 chance of ultimately claiming the top seed. A loss would give them only about a 1-in-4 chance, with the Chiefs (25 percent) and Titans (33 percent) having better odds, per FiveThirtyEight's model.
The Patriots should be plenty confident against the Colts. They've won eight consecutive games in this rivalry, with their last loss coming in 2009. It was the infamous "4th-and-2" game. New England also is 6-0 on the road this season.
It won't be an easy game against the Colts, but it's a very winnable matchup for the Patriots and an important one in the race for the No. 1 seed.