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How Patriots' Path To Playoffs Can Change Dramatically In Coming Days

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- The Patriots won on Sunday. In their quest to make the postseason, that was essentially necessary.

Unfortunately for New England, the remaining contenders in the wild-card mix also won. The Raiders benefited from the Jets being the Jets, the Colts benefited from the Texans being the Texans, and the Dolphins avoided a slip-up (while engaging in some fisticuffs) against the Bengals. The Browns also manhandled the Titans.

As a result, after Sunday's action, here's how the race for the three AFC wild-card spots stands:

1. Cleveland Browns, 9-3
2. Miami Dolphins, 8-4
3. Indianapolis Colts, 8-4
4. Las Vegas Raiders, 7-5
5. Baltimore Ravens, 6-5
6. New England Patriots, 6-6

The outlook for the Patriots remains, essentially, the same. Last week, Five Thirty Eight's prediction tool gave the Patriots a 13 percent chance of making the playoffs. Sunday's win boosted that number to ... 16 percent. The New York Times' prediction model has them at 15 percent, up from 13 percent a week ago.

That's not the type of progress the Patriots were hoping to make on Sunday, of course. However, there's a chance that the outlook changes dramatically for New England in just a matter of days.

The first key moment will come Tuesday night, when the Ravens host the Cowboys (in a game that was rescheduled from Thursday, due to the Ravens' COVID-19 outbreak). Baltimore should have a number of key players back, including quarterback Lamar Jackson, but the Patriots have to hope that the disruptions to the Ravens' schedule and practices will result in a losing performance on Tuesday.

That's because if the Ravens lose, the Patriots' playoff chances increase to 21 percent.

And if the Patriots can go out and beat the Rams on Thursday night? Those chances skyrocket (relatively speaking) to 40 percent.

That would, obviously, be significant. From there, the Patriots would still need some outside help. But if Bill Belichick's team can win the following weekend in Miami? The chances jump all the way to 67 percent. And if that theoretical Dolphins loss comes after Miami loses to the Chiefs this weekend, the Patriots' chances of making the playoffs will be at 69 percent.

With the Colts and Raiders set to play head-to-head in Week 14, one team will (almost certainly) lose. The Patriots would prefer a Colts win, as it would increase the Patriots' chances to 74 percent (provided the aforementioned scenario with Miami plays out as explained.) Fire up a Colts loss to Houston in Week 15, and the Patriots would be at 75 percent.

Obviously, the ifs and buts can run wild when imagining future scenarios. But in the short term, the easiest way to look at it is quite simple. If the Ravens lose on Tuesday and the Patriots win on Thursday, then New England's chances of reaching the playoffs will jump from 16 percent to 40 percent. Even if the Ravens do win on Tuesday, the Patriots can still increase their playoff chances to 32 percent just by beating the Rams to improve to 7-6, before watching the Sunday slate like the rest of us.

On the flip side, a loss to the Rams would plummet the Patriots to just a 7 percent chance of reaching the postseason.

For Bill Belichick and Co., a massively important week lies ahead.

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

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