After a tough loss to the Texans, the Patriots sit at their worst record through 10 games this century. But what are their playoff chances?
It’s been a long, long time since Patriots nation has been stringing together unlikely scenarios in their heads in an attempt to justify postseason hopes. With a 4-6 record in a fairly strong AFC East, though, a New England playoff berth seems like a pipe dream.
However, that’s not what the act of hypothesizing playoff scenarios is all about. Let’s imagine that the Patriots have the capability to go on an amazing run and win five of their last six, upsetting stellar teams like the Cardinals and Bills. What else has to happen to avoid elimination?
First, we’ll look at the AFC East and gauge whether an 11th straight division title is obtainable. The Bills are three games ahead, and the Dolphins are two. The Pats play both teams one more time, so let’s be optimistic and pen them both in as wins, even if these are two of the best division rivals they’ve faced in the last decade.
If the Bills and Pats finish the season with the same record, and they’ve each won one game against each other, then we’d have to wait and see who breaks the tie with the better interdivisional record. At minimum, the Bills would have to drop two more games than the Pats along with a loss against them in Week 14. The Bills face tough opponents in the Steelers, 49ers, and Dolphins before the season ends, so a couple losses aren’t out of the question.
That said, if the only thing standing between the Steelers and a 16-0 season are the Bills, I’ll be rooting for the Bills.
If the Dolphins lose to the Pats, they’d only need to drop one more game to fall below a streaking New England team. They face the Chiefs and Raiders back to back, so we can probably count on it.
An AFC East victory isn’t the only path to the playoffs, and in the first year of a 14-team playoff, it’s even easier to obtain a wild card spot. But that’s not exactly the case for the Pats.
The wild card spots go to the three best AFC teams that haven’t won their divisions. Assuming the Bills win the AFC East and the Chiefs and Steelers hold on to their respective divisions, the 4-6 Pats’ competition for these spots would be the 6-4 Dolphins, 6-4 Raiders, 7-3 Browns, 6-4 Ravens, and either the 7-3 Titans or Colts in the AFC South, depending on who ends up on top.
The 7-3 teams may be too hard to overcome, but ending with a better record than the Dolphins, Raiders and Ravens is still a possibility. The good news is, unexpectedly, three of New England’s four wins have come against those exact teams, so they hold tiebreakers. What it really comes down to, in essence, is New England running the table for the rest of the season. And that’s not very likely.
Much fun has been made over the Los Angeles Chargers repeatedly blowing close games, but the 2020 Patriots have found themselves in a similar hole. New England has lost on its final offensive drives against the Seahawks, Broncos, Bills and Texans. It’s unrealistic to expect a game-winning drive in each of those, but if Newton and the Pats were blessed with a little more luck, this team could have the division lead with seven or eight wins.
Between all the players that opted out in the offseason, Newton coming down with COVID, and the rest of the AFC East building great squads (sorry, Jets, not you!), the Pats might have to accept the fact that if there’s ever been a year to underachieve, it’s this one.
In 2020, we join the strained voices of about a dozen other NFL fanbases saying, “We can still make the playoffs if we just win the rest of our games.” Technically true, but a long shot. Here’s to the Buffalo Bills falling apart down the stretch.