After running past the Jets on Thursday night, the Patriots get to enjoy a mini bye weekend, during which they'll have the opportunity to watch some games with both division and conference implications. As it currently stands, the Patriots are 8-3, atop the AFC East, and would own the third seed in the AFC if the season ended today.
A quick look at the AFC playoff picture:
1. Houston (10-1)
2. Baltimore (8-2)
3. New England (8-3)
4. Denver (7-3)
5. Indianapolis (6-4)
6. Pittsburgh (6-4)
On the outside looking in
7. Cincinnati (5-5)
8. San Diego (4-6)
9. Buffalo (4-6)
10. Miami (4-6)
Here's how this Sunday's slate of games could impact the Patriots, both from a division and conference outlook.
The Patriots will have their eyes on both the Bills (at Indianapolis) and Dolphins (vs. Seahawks) games, as losses by both would set up a scenario in which a win next Sunday by the Patriots would give them a division crown and place them in the playoffs once again. If Miami or Buffalo wins, the Patriots won't be able to clinch the division in Week 13, but still will remain three games up in the race.
The Texans narrowly escaped with an overtime win on Thanksgiving; a loss would have naturally helped the Patriots' cause. If Houston had fallen to 9-2, the Patriots would have controlled their own destiny for a shot at a top-two seed in the AFC because of a Week 14 matchup between the two teams. Though that is likely far from the team's primary focus right now, jockeying for playoff spots has begun.
Baltimore will travel to San Diego on Sunday, and because of a Week 3 win over the Patriots, it holds the head-to-head tiebreaker in the standings. The Patriots would have to finish a game ahead of the Ravens in the standings in order to earn a higher playoff seed.
The Broncos are a team in the hunt for a top playoff seed, and they travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the struggling Chiefs. The Broncos are in the same situation with the Patriots as the Patriots are with the Ravens, as a head-to-head tiebreaker in New England's favor means Denver would have to win one more game than the Patriots in order to earn a higher seed. With a favorable schedule down the stretch, the Broncos look poised to keep up their winning ways. A Week 15 matchup with the Ravens looms large for them.
Given the Patriots' commanding lead in the division, a wild-card berth won't likely be needed. Though Pittsburgh and Indianapolis currently hold the inside track, the Steelers are down to their third-string quarterback, while the Colts still have two games with the Texans on the schedule left.