This team is most likely Patriots Wild Card playoff opponent, per ESPN FPI


The New England Patriots clinched a playoff berth Sunday, but we still don't know their first postseason opponent.

The Patriots secured a playoff spot by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 50-10 in their Week 17 game at Gillette Stadium, plus the Miami Dolphins losing to the Tennessee Titans. New England also moved up from the No. 6 seed to the No. 5 seed as a result of the Indianapolis Colts losing to the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday.

If the current standings hold through Week 18, the Patriots would travel to Buffalo and play the Bills for the third time this season on Wild Card Weekend.

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But the Bills aren't the most likely wild card opponent for New England. It's actually the Cincinnati Bengals, according to ESPN's Football Power Index model.

The Bengals are the No. 3 seed entering Week 18. They clinched the AFC North title Sunday by beating the Kansas City Chiefs in dramatic fashion. If the Bengals lose to the Cleveland Browns next week, and the Buffalo Bills beat the New York Jets to become AFC East champs, Cincinnati would fall to the No. 4 seed. ESPN's FPI has the No. 5 seed as the most likely spot for the Patriots at the end of the regular season. The No. 4 seed will host the No. 5 seed in the Wild Card Round.

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Cincinnati does have a slim chance at earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but it's a very unlikely scenario. And you also have to wonder if they'll play franchise quarterback Joe Burrow much (if at all) in Week 18. He wasn't able to finish Sunday's game due to injury, and risking his health for the playoffs over a very slim chance at moving up in the standings wouldn't make sense.


The Patriots can beat the Bills. They proved that in Week 13 with a 14-10 victory in Buffalo. But the better Wild Card Round opponent for the Pats is probably the Bengals. Cincinnati is a good team, but it's a very inexperienced squad. Zac Taylor vs. Bill Belichick also is a massive head coaching mismatch that favors New England.

With so many seeds and playoff matchups undecided, Sunday's Week 18 action should provide plenty of drama as the regular comes to a close.