Patriots

NFL playoff picture: Three likely scenarios for Patriots on Super Bowl LIV path

NFL playoff picture: Three likely scenarios for Patriots on Super Bowl LIV path

The New England Patriots' chances of earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs took a massive hit with Sunday's Week 14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, but the defending Super Bowl champions still control their own destiny when it comes to securing a first-round bye.

All the Patriots have to do is win their final three games and they'll lock up the No. 2 seed, assuming the No. 1 seed Baltimore Ravens don't have a complete meltdown over the next 21 days. ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) gives the Ravens a 96 percent chance of securing homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

So, assuming the Patriots win their final three games of the season and earn the No. 2 seed as AFC East champs, here are three of the most likely playoff scenarios confronting them.

Scenario #1
Divisional Round
: vs. Kansas City Chiefs
AFC Championship Game: at Baltimore Ravens

The Chiefs are the No. 3 seed and should stay in that spot through the end of the regular season. ESPN's FPI projects the Chiefs to finish 11-5, or one game ahead of the Houston Texans for the No. 3 seed. Kansas City, as the No. 3 seed, likely would play the Pittsburgh Steelers or Tennessee Titans at home on Wild Card Weekend. The Chiefs would be favored over both of those teams, and even though they lost 35-32 to the Titans in Week 10, it's hard to imagine Tennessee beating KC again (and at Arrowhead Stadium).

If the No. 3 seed wins on the first playoff weekend, that team automatically would go to Foxboro for the Divisional Round. The Patriots would need to earn their third playoff win versus the Chiefs since 2015 to set up another rematch in the AFC Championship Game versus the Ravens.

Scenario #2
Divisional Round
: vs. Houston Texans
AFC Championship Game: at Baltimore Ravens

The Chiefs are no lock for the No. 3 seed. Kansas City should win its final three games (home to Denver Broncos, at Chicago Bears, home to Los Angeles Chargers), but if the Chiefs slip up at all and the Texans or Titans finish with the same record as them, the AFC South winner would take the No. 3 seed. How so? Well, the Titans and Texans both beat the Chiefs earlier this season, so they own the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Texans did beat the Patriots 28-22 at NRG Stadium in Week 13, but Houston is an easier opponent for New England than Kansas City. The Texans, compared to the Chiefs, have less playoff experience and are by most accounts not as elite at both quarterback and head coach. The Texans have also never won at GIllette Stadium. Houston is 0-7 versus New England on the road since the two franchises first played in the 2003 season. The Texans also play in a stadium with a roof and would be more susceptible to being negatively impacted by any frigid/snowy January weather conditions in Foxboro.

Scenario #3
Divisional Round
: vs. Houston Texans
AFC Championship Game: vs. Kansas City Chiefs

The most likely best-case scenario for the Patriots would be the Texans coming to Gillette Stadium for the Divisional Round, combined with the Chiefs beating the Ravens in their Divisional Round matchup. The Chiefs actually are the only team to beat both the Patriots and Ravens in 2019.

This scenario would set up, assuming the Patriots beat the Texans, another New England-Kansas City showdown in the AFC title game. The Patriots beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in last season's conference title game, but this matchup would be in Foxboro, and New England is 7-1 all-time (6-1 in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era) in AFC title games played at home.

Updated NFL playoff picture, standings entering Week 15>>>

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Sources: Tom Brady and family preparing to leave New England

Sources: Tom Brady and family preparing to leave New England

Tom Brady doesn't officially become a free agent until the new league year begins on March 18, but the rumors are already flying about the New England Patriot quarterback's future.

A report surfaced earlier in the week that Brady and his family purchased a home in Greenwich, Connecticut. As NBC Sports Boston's own Tom E. Curran pointed out, that is false.

But that doesn't mean Brady isn't planning on making a move.

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Thursday night on "Arbella Early Edition," Gary Tanguay revealed that a source told him Brady and wife Gisele Bundchen are looking to leave New England.

"I was told today by a source the family is planning to leave the area," Tanguay said. "The priority this time is to let the kids finish school this year, then they're gone."

Tanguay's report doesn't mean Brady is definitely leaving New England, but talks of him and his family looking to live somewhere else continue to gain steam.

If Brady indeed is moving on from New England and looking to start a new chapter, some of that could do with his desire to finally make the money he's worth in free agency.

According to Tanguay, Brady is "embarrassed" by the number of quarterbacks in the league that make more than him and has been fed up about it dating back to the summer, before he signed his contract extension.

Thirteen quarterbacks, including Brady's former backups Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, make more on average annually than the six-time Super Bowl champion according to overthecap.com.

The truth is, we won't know for certain what's going through Brady's mind until the ink is on paper for the 42-year-old's new contract. Until then, it's going to be a stressful offseason for Patriots fans.

Curran: Is this newfound time a silver lining for Patriots?

Patriots Talk Podcast: What exactly are the Patriots up to right now?

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Patriots Talk Podcast: What exactly are the Patriots up to right now?

Needless to say, it's unusual for the New England Patriots to have so much down time in January. Typically, they're playing in the AFC Divisional Round. And the AFC Championship Game. And often, the Super Bowl.

But this year, they were eliminated in the Wild Card Round for the first time since 2009. And now, they have a lot of time on their hands.

And while their early playoff exit was surely discouraging, the Patriots could stand to benefit from this extra time.

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On the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast, Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry discussed how the Patriots could utilize the extra time and the positive impact it could have on the organization.

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Curran pointed out that because the team has so often been playing into February, their already thin staff has been stretched thin come draft season, which explains why the team has had some draft misses in recent seasons.

Really, it comes down to 312 days of prepreparation were sacrifice. And so for a bare bones organization in terms of both front office and coaching staff -- these guys have had shorter offseasons by a month on average than any other team in the NFL.

So on one hand, it's remarkable and it's a high-class problem. On the other hand, isn't it somewhat inevitable that you might have some draft swings and misses?

Perry agreed with Curran and brought up that the fact that the extra time off will give Belichick a real chance to thoroughly evaluate his roster.

I think for a team that is looking at a reboot, one of the sort of ironic things about that is that now you have time to really think that through in more detail and not to say that Bill Belichick isn't planning or looking at his roster, how it's constructed, how the contracts set up and trying to plan ahead. I'm sure he is doing that to a certain extent.

But you can only spend so much time on those things when you're getting ready for the divisional round, the AFC Championship Game every year, the Super Bowl every other year.

This surely makes sense and is definitely a positive for the Patriots. Perhaps with that extra time, Belichick can find a way to retain Tom Brady while significantly upgrading his supporting cast.

For more on the Patriots offseason plans, potential changes in their front office, and predictions for the AFC and NFC Championship Games, check out the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast, which drops every Tuesday and Thursday as a part of the NBC Sports Boston podcast network.