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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Are Bucs 'automatic' Super Bowl contenders with Tom Brady? Shaq Barrett thinks so

Are Bucs 'automatic' Super Bowl contenders with Tom Brady? Shaq Barrett thinks so

The addition of Tom Brady has Shaquil Barrett feeling like Joe Namath.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker was asked Tuesday on ESPN's "Get Up!" about his expectations for the 2020 season after the greatest quarterback of all time left the New England Patriots to join his team in free agency.

The short answer: They're very high.

"I think (former Bucs quarterback) Jameis (Winston) would have made a big jump, but I think with Brady, it just makes us an automatic contender for a Super Bowl," Barrett said.

"With Jameis, I think we would have been a playoff contender. It would have been still a battle, for sure, and it's still going to be a battle now, but having Tom, I think we're going to be over the edge, and everything on paper looks perfect. We've just got to put the work in."

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There you have it: Pencil the Bucs in for Super Bowl LV, which conveniently will be held at Tampa Bay's Raymond James Stadium. At least Barrett won't have to cancel any travel plans if his bold prediction doesn't come true.

Barrett has reason to be confident: The Bucs have the NFL's fifth-best Super Bowl odds at DraftKings Sportsbook after trading for tight end Rob Gronkowski, who joins an already-loaded offense featuring Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. Tampa Bay also has a sneaky strong defense that allowed the fewest rushing yards per game in 2019.

The Pro Bowl linebacker may not want to count his chickens before they hatch, though. According to ESPN's Football Power Index, Tampa Bay has just a 4% chance to win Super Bowl LV, while Brady's former team, the Patriots, is right behind at 3%.

Some also believe Brady's Bucs may be overhyped, with one sportsbook executive comparing them to the 2019 Cleveland Browns, who went 6-10 after landing Odell Beckham Jr. and several other stars in the offseason.

Brady has never finished under .500 during a full season as starter, so Tampa Bay should be considered a serious threat. But if it fails to meet expectations, Barrett will be forced to eat crow.

Ever Wonder Series: Why does Bill Belichick cut his sleeves?

Ever Wonder Series: Why does Bill Belichick cut his sleeves?

Bill Belichick isn't one to make fashion statements. But he's also a man of reason.

If you've watched any Patriots game in the last 15 years, you've probably wondered why the surly head coach occasionally stalks New England's sideline in a gray hoodie with cut-off sleeves.

When did Belichick start this bizarre tradition? Does he cut the sleeves off himself? And most importantly, what's his reason for doing so?

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Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran has the answers in the first installment of our "Ever Wonder" series.

As Curran tells it, Belichick was seen uncomfortably fiddling with the sleeves on his gray hoodie during the Patriots' Super Bowl XXXIX win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

The following fall, he walked into the Patriots' equipment room, grabbed a pair of scissors and started cutting.

When asked why he was ruining a perfectly good sweatshirt, Belichick replied:

"My arms are too short."

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A staffer offered to make the sweatshirt differently, but Belichick insisted it was fine. He'd cut the sleeves off himself, creating his own game-day outfit that was "designed to allow one to work as efficiently as possible toward the singular goal of winning."

The chopped-off sleeves also show zero concern toward fashion, which is probably just the way Belichick likes it. As Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel reported in 2012, Belichick demonstrated his displeasure toward an NFL mandate that required coaches to wear approved Reebok apparel by choosing "the most unstylish outfit" -- a gray hooded sweatshirt -- and chopping the sleeves off.

"It's comfortable," Belichick said at the time. "I carry my stuff in my pouch."

So, Belichick's decision to cut off his sleeves is part pragmatic and part rebellious. But has it worked?

Patriots.com's Mike Dussault and Pats Propaganda's Bob Yoon have charted Belichick's record in every Patriots game by his clothing choice. And the "Hooded One" actually has a better winning percentage (regular and postseason) when he doesn't use scissors.

Record in games coached in cut-off sleeves: 65-24 (73.0 percent)
Record in games coached short- or long-sleeves: 202-68 (74.8 percent)

Most notably, Belichick has lost three Super Bowls while wearing a hoodie with cutoff sleeves (2007, 2011 and 2018), while every Patriots playoff loss from 2005 to 2012 came when he wore a hoodie with cut-off sleeves.

Belichick wore a short-sleeved jacket during the Patriots' Super Bowl LIII win over the Los Angeles Rams, so it sounds like he got the message.