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Do Patriots still have playoff hopes? This simulation charts the path

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The New England Patriots haven't missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since 1999-2000. But that streak feels very much in jeopardy.

Despite a 54-13 rout of the Jets last Sunday, the Patriots are 3-4, with two victories over a hapless New York team and a come-from-behind victory over the one-win Houston Texans.

Their schedule doesn't get any easier, either: Four of their next six matchups are against 2020 playoff teams in the Los Angeles Chargers, Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills.

And yet ... there's still reason for optimism.

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New England took the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the one-loss Dallas Cowboys to the wire and would have beaten the Miami Dolphins in Week 1 if it weren't for a late Damien Harris fumble.

But have the Patriots already dug themselves too big of a hole? When they visit the Bills in Week 13, will Buffalo already have the AFC East wrapped up? Or will that game have actual implications in the division race?

Our partners at Strat-O-Matic Games simulated New England's next five contests to forecast where this team will be entering that Bills matchup. Patriots fans may be encouraged by the results.

Patriots' results, Weeks 8 through 12

Patriots results Sim Station
NBC Sports Boston Illustration

How's that for a turnaround? A 13-10 upset of the Chargers in L.A. sparks a mini-run for New England, which goes 4-1 from Weeks 8 to 12 to improve to 7-5.

 

While the offense falls flat in a 21-0 home loss to the Browns, the Patriots' defense takes a major step forward, holding the Chargers, Panthers, Falcons and Titans to under 20 points apiece.

The most impressive victory comes in Week 11, when the Mac Jones-led offense goes off for 35 points to take down Tennessee.

NFL Standings through Week 12

NFL standings Sim Station
NBC Sports Boston Illustration

The Patriots are officially back in the hunt.

At 7-5, New England enters Week 13 just 1.5 games back of the Bills in the AFC East with a chance to cut that deficit to 0.5 games on Monday Night Football.

The Pats are firmly in the Wild Card picture, as well, with a very favorable outcome on the table: If they overtake Cleveland and Pittsburgh to earn the No. 5 seed, they would likely draw the AFC South champion Titans, who they beat by 16 points in Week 11. 

Patriots player stats, Weeks 8 through 12

Patriots player stats Simulation Station
NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Jones continues his rock-solid play at quarterback, averaging 232.4 passing yards over the five-game span with just two interceptions.

Running back Damien Harris (63.2 yards per game) cools off a bit after back-to-back 100-yard efforts but brings his touchdown total to nine through 12 games.

Speaking of touchdowns: The drought finally ends for Jakobi Meyers, who scores the first TDs of his NFL career while pacing New England in receptions and receiving yards. Nelson Agholor also shines as a legitimate deep threat, averaging 22.8 yards per catch with a pair of scores.

Looking ahead

The path to the postseason is still no cakewalk at 7-5, especially with the Bills on the schedule twice in the final five games. But if the Patriots can steal one win off Buffalo, their other remaining opponents are all beatable: the Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Dolphins.

Needless to say, this is a very important five-game stretch for Bill Belichick's team.