The New England Patriots have clinched a spot in the postseason, but there’s still plenty that concerns them around the NFL in Week 16.
Even though the New England Patriots clinched their 11th consecutive playoff appearance this season thanks to their 34-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15, there’s still much left to be decided for the defending champions over the final two weeks of the regular season.
As a matter of fact, most of the Patriots’ playoff positioning can be decided right now in Week 16.
The most important order of business for New England is beating the Buffalo Bills at home on Saturday. This match-up pits the 10-4 Bills against the 11-3 Patriots with the AFC East division on the line.
If the Patriots beat the Bills, not only will they sweep the season series against their rival – they’ll also clinch their 11th straight division championship. If the Bills upset the Patriots (they’re currently 6.5-point underdogs), the two teams will split their season series and enter Week 17 with identical 11-4 records.
In that scenario, the Bills would need to beat the Jets and hope the Patriots lose at home to the Dolphins on December 29 to flip seeds in the AFC. It’s an unlikely outcome, but it could happen – which would result in Buffalo either hosting a playoff game or earning a first-round bye while New England would be forced to go on the road during wild card weekend.
To avoid any of this doomsday scenario, the Patriots can do themselves a favor and take care of business at home against the Bills this Saturday. Winning the AFC East outright in Week 16 is the easiest path for the Patriots to guarantee themselves at least one home playoff game – not to mention potentially earning themselves a first-round bye as well. New England is even technically still in the running for home-field advantage throughout the postseason as the AFC’s No. 1 overall seed.
So much depends on not only the New England/Buffalo game, but also several other contests around the league in Week 16. Let’s take a look at all of them and identify what Patriots fans should be watching and rooting for this week:
9-5 Houston Texans at 7-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Saturday at 1:00 pm EST on NFL Network
Patriots fans not wanting to take any chances should be cheering for Bruce Arians, Jameis Winston, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to upset the visiting Houston Texans on Saturday in the first game of the NFL Network’s triple-header. The Texans are just a three-point favorite, thanks in large part to the Bucs’ explosive offense. Granted, Winston will most likely be missing his top two receivers (Mike Evans and Chris Godwin) in this game. If the Texans lose, the best they could possibly finish this season is 10-6, which would guarantee New England a higher playoff seed than Houston.
8-6 Los Angeles Rams at 11-3 San Francisco 49ers; Saturday at 8:15 pm EST on NFL Network
Even though this game features two NFC squads the Patriots couldn’t possibly see until the Super Bowl, it’s still an exciting matchup and a fitting conclusion to the NFL’s triple-header on Saturday. The 49ers need to win to keep pace with the Seahawks, Packers, and Saints atop the NFC, especially after they were upset at home last week by the Falcons. The Rams also need to win this game – because they’ll be eliminated from playoff contention if they lose. Could the Patriots’ foes from Super Bowl 53 actually miss out on this year’s postseason altogether? Tune in to find out.
12-2 Baltimore Ravens at 6-8 Cleveland Browns; Sunday at 1:00 pm EST on CBS
From a Patriots fan perspective, this is easily the most important contest from the Sunday early afternoon slate of games in Week 16. Absurdly, the Browns actually beat the Ravens in Baltimore way back in Week 4 by a score of 40-25. Since that loss however, the Ravens have been running the table… all while proving themselves to be the best team in the NFL. If they should fall to the Browns though and the Patriots beat the Bills, these two AFC teams would have the same record. New England would still need Baltimore to lose one more time – in Week 17 at home to the Steelers – to switch seeds though because the Ravens own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Cleveland is still technically alive for a playoff berth, so the Browns have everything to play for against the Ravens… which bodes well for Patriots fans watching from afar.
11-3 New Orleans Saints at 8-6 Tennessee Titans; Sunday at 1:00 pm EST on FOX
This should be an exciting game between two of the more powerful offenses in the NFL this season. The Saints’ Drew Brees is fresh off making history after he broke Peyton Manning’s record for the most career passing touchdowns on Monday Night Football in Week 15. The Titans’ Ryan Tannehill has been one of the biggest surprises – and biggest successes – of the 2019 season. New Orleans is playing for playoff positioning, while the Titans are playing for the AFC South still, and would be eliminated from division contention with a loss (which would give the Texans the division title).
8-6 Pittsburgh Steelers at 5-9 New York Jets; Sunday at 1:00 pm EST on CBS
Another sneaky AFC matchup that could mean a lot to the playoff seeding – and tournament entrants in general. While the Jets are technically eliminated already, they’re still likely to compete in this game – mainly to give second-year quarterback Sam Darnold valuable reps against one of the NFL’s top defenses, but also to preserve head coach Adam Gase’s reputation (and potentially his job in the long term). This game should also be interesting since it will mark New York running back Le’Veon Bell’s first contest against his former team in the Steelers – who are still very much in the mix for the No. 6 seed in the AFC.
5-9 Carolina Panthers at 6-8 Indianapolis Colts; Sunday at 1:00 pm EST on CBS
These two teams have both been eliminated from the postseason, but each still has something to play for and prove before 2020. The Panthers are trying to figure out exactly what they have at quarterback in Kyle Allen, and whether he, Cam Newton, or rookie Will Grier should be the starter next season. The Colts are trying to determine if Jacoby Brissett (a former New England Patriot) is their longtime answer at QB, considering Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement right before this season began still looms large over this franchise.
5-9 Jacksonville Jaguars at 5-9 Atlanta Falcons; Sunday at 1:00 pm EST on FOX
Here’s a battle between two 5-9 teams fighting for their head coaches. The Jaguars’ Doug Marrone and the Falcons’ Dan Quinn are each considered to be on the hot seat this offseason after disappointing records in 2019. Whichever team does the most over the next two weeks to improve their standing might end up saving their head coach’s job… or maybe both will be fired come the end of the year.
1-13 Cincinnati Bengals at 3-11 Miami Dolphins; Sunday at 1:00 pm EST on CBS
As much as it seems to go against reason, the Bengals are better off losing this game than they are winning it. If Cincinnati falls on the road to Miami, the Bengals will drop to 1-14 on the year… and more importantly, they’ll clinch the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Many fans and analysts have speculated that the Bengals will take LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with that selection – which would take the Heisman Trophy winner from playing for the Tigers in college to the Bengals in the NFL. Cool story if that’s what ends up happening!
3-11 New York Giants at 3-11 Washington Redskins; Sunday at 1:00 pm EST on FOX
Will the Eli Manning farewell tour continue, or is Daniel Jones set to return from an ankle injury that’s caused him to miss the last two starts for the G-Men? Manning received a special ovation last Sunday in what was likely his final home game for the team that drafted him No. 1 overall back in 2004. Manning will either retire or sign with another team at the end of this season, as the future in the Big Apple belongs to Jones.
6-8 Oakland Raiders at 5-9 Los Angeles Chargers; Sunday at 4:05 pm EST on CBS
Believe it or not, the Oakland Raiders – soon to be the Las Vegas Raiders – are somehow still alive in the AFC playoff race. Never mind that the team and their quarterback Derek Carr got booed off the field in their final home game in Oakland last week. Jon Gruden’s squad can make the playoffs as the No. 6 seed in the AFC if they win out, the Colts win out, and the Steelers and Titans both lose.
3-10-1 Detroit Lions at 5-9 Denver Broncos; Sunday at 4:05 pm EST on CBS
Two teams that both have their eye on 2020 already will meet in the Mile High City on Sunday in a game that won’t matter very much to anyone, save for fans of both teams. Maybe even some of those fans won’t care either – after all, Detroit QB Matthew Stafford is done for the year, as are many of the Lions’ top offensive players. For the Broncos, it’s a question of whether rookie QB Drew Lock has shown enough to be the starter next season… as of now, the answer is probably no.
7-7 Dallas Cowboys at 7-7 Philadelphia Eagles; Sunday at 4:25 pm EST on FOX
This is the most important game on Sunday, simply because it could determine the winner of the NFC East. If the Cowboys beat the Eagles on the road, they’ll clinch the division while simultaneously eliminating Philadelphia from postseason contention. Dallas could theoretically lose to Philly and remain in the division hunt, but they’d need to beat the Redskins in Week 17 and hope the Eagles lose at the Giants in order to do so.
4-9-1 Arizona Cardinals at 11-3 Seattle Seahawks; Sunday at 4:25 pm EST on FOX
This game is important for both of these NFC West teams, but for vastly different reasons. The Cardinals are seeking to improve upon an impressive showing in Week 15 while furthering the cause of rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury and his rookie QB Kyler Murray. The Seahawks are hoping to maintain their grip on the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC and the home-field advantage that would come with it. If Seattle beats Arizona this week and then San Francisco next week (both games at home), the Seahawks will clinch their conference’s top record and seed.
10-4 Kansas City Chiefs at 7-7 Chicago Bears; Sunday at 8:20 pm EST on NBC
In a week that features plenty of divisional showdowns, the Sunday Night Football contest pits an AFC West team in the Chiefs against and NFC North team in the Bears. Even though Chicago has been eliminated from postseason contention, the Bears have a lot to play for – particularly quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who could be playing for his job over these final two weeks of the season. The Chiefs have clinched their division and a postseason berth, but they’re playing for AFC seeding at this point. New England fans obviously want to cheer heavy for the Bears here – a Kansas City loss would drop the Chiefs to 10-5 on the season. If the Patriots beat the Bills and the Chiefs lose to the Bears, it becomes mathematically impossible for K.C. to catch New England in the race for AFC seeding – and the Patriots would clinch a first-round bye as a result. Go Bears!
11-3 Green Bay Packers at 10-4 Minnesota Vikings; Monday at 8:15 pm EST on ESPN
ESPN certainly must be pleased with the game they’ll be airing on Monday Night Football in Week 16, because it has major implications on the playoff race. If the Packers win on the road, they’ll clinch the NFC North… and they’ll also maintain their current hold on the No. 2 seed in the conference and the first-round bye that accompanies it. If the Vikings win at home, they’ll clinch a playoff spot and find themselves tied with the Packers at 11-4 on the season. Minnesota would then need to beat Chicago and hope that Green Bay loses to Detroit in Week 17 to take the NFC North. The Vikings can also clinch at least a playoff berth with a Rams loss to the 49ers on Saturday night.