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NFL Playoff Picture: Patriots Part Of Mix After Week 9 Thanks To Stellar Record Against AFC

BOSTON (CBS) -- What a wild week in the NFL. Just when you think you've got things figured out, Week 9 comes along and throws it all in a blender.

That is especially the case in the AFC. The Cleveland Browns are apparently alive and well. The Steelers are hanging on thanks to a topsy-turvy Monday Night win over the Bears full of some wackado officiating. And now a murky playoff picture is even murkier, which happens when a Super Bowl favorite loses to a one-win team from Jacksonville.

The Bills failing to find the end zone -- and failing to do a lot of things -- against the worst team in the NFL has dropped them to the four-seed in the East. And now that the Patriots have made it three straight victories, New England is right back in the mix for the AFC East. The Patriots sit just half-a-game back of the Bills, with a pair of head-to-head matchups still looming.

Here's a quick look at how the AFC playoff picture looks after Week 9:

1. Tennessee Titans, 7-2 (AFC South leader)
2. Baltimore Ravens, 6-2 (AFC North leader)
3. Los Angeles Chargers, 5-3 (AFC West leader)
4. Buffalo Bills, 5-3 (AFC East leader)

Wild-Card Race

5. Las Vegas Raiders, 5-3
6. Pittsburgh Steelers, 4-3
7. New England Patriots, 5-4

On The Bubble

8. Kansas City Chiefs, 5-4
9. Cleveland Browns, 5-4
10. Cincinnati Bengals, 5-4
11. Denver Broncos, 5-4
12. Indianapolis Colts, 4-5

The Patriots have been excellent against the AFC, and their 4-1 against conference opponents has them sitting above both the Chiefs and the Browns in the standings. They need to keep that going this weekend, with a huge matchup with Cleveland at Gillette Stadium. After a Thursday Night Football matchup with the Atlanta Falcons next week, the top-seeded (for now, at least) Titans will come to town on Nov. 28.

That's when the Patriots will hit their biggest stretch of the season: Monday Night Football in Buffalo, a road game in Indianapolis, and a home tilt against the Bills.

For now, though, the Patriots will keep their focus on the Browns and extending their win streak to four games. It's this streak that has them above .500 for the first time this season and, at the moment, set to make a return to the playoffs. There is a lot of football left to be played, but the Patriots are certainly trending in the right direction as we hit the second half of the 2021 season.

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