FOXBORO -- The playoff hopes of the New England Patriots took a hit after the team's uninspiring 24-10 loss to the Bills last Thursday night. "The Path," as it is called, was a dark and winding road with several obstacles in New England's way.
But thanks to Sunday's outcomes, that path got a little bit brighter for the Patriots. The thistle isn't as thick and New England has a shot to sneak back into the playoffs despite dropping two straight games.
This path is not something that the Patriots can take for granted, and will quickly close if they keep losing over the next five weeks. But whereas nothing went New England's way in Week 12, the Patriots got a handful of favorable outcomes in Week 13.
The Chargers lost to the Raiders, sending Los Angeles to 6-6 and down to the 9-hole in the AFC. That pushed the 6-6 Patriots up to the 8-spot, sitting just one game out of the final playoff spot in the conference. There are still three teams ahead of them in the Wild Card race, but the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins lost, which helped the Patriots' cause.
The Bengals and the Ravens each won, with both AFC North teams sitting at 8-4. One will win the division and the other will occupy a Wild Card spot by season's end. So there are essentially two Wild Card spots up for grabs in the AFC.
Here is how the postseason picture looks Monday morning heading into Week 14:
- Buffalo Bills, 9-3 (leading AFC East)
- Kansas City Chiefs, 9-3 (leading AFC West)
- Baltimore Ravens, 8-4 (leading AFC North)
- Tennessee Titans, 7-5 (leading AFC South)
- Cincinnati Bengals, 8-4 (First Wild Card)
- Miami Dolphins, 8-4 (Second Wild Card)
- New York Jets, 7-5 (Third Wild Card)
- New England Patriots, 6-6
- Los Angeles Chargers, 6-6
- Cleveland Browns, 5-7
The Patriots need to win at least four of their final five games and get some other help along the way. After a two-game trip out west against the Arizona Cardinals and the Raiders, the Patriots have home games against the Bengals and Dolphins, before closing the season with a trip to Buffalo in Week 18.
That's not a very easy schedule, and a big part of why New England has just a 25 percent chance at making the postseason on FiveThirtyEight.
The Dolphins visit the Chargers in Week 14, followed by a road game against the Bills. They host the Packers in Week 16 before their visit to New England, and end the season at home against the Jets.
New York visits the Bills in Week 14, followed by home games against the Lions and the Jaguars. The Jets finish things up with road games against the Seahawks and the Dolphins. The Patriots currently own the tie-breaker over the Jets after sweeping the season series for the seventh straight year.
None of this will matter if the Patriots go out and lose in Arizona next Monday. Or in Las Vegas in two weeks. Losing either of those winnable games will could be the end of the team's playoff hopes, and may officially close off "The Path."
But for now, the back door to the playoffs is at least ajar for the New England Patriots. Whether they kick it open and saunter in is completely up to them.
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