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New England Patriots playoff chances, scenarios and paths to AFC Wild Card berth

New England Patriots playoff chances are a fleeting notion. Let's look at the most likely paths the six-time champions have to the postseason.

Dec 6, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) gestures in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Despite an impressive 45-0 shutout victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, the New England Patriots’ playoff chances are remote. Nevertheless, coach Bill Belichick’s team is still alive after improving its record to 6-6 following an abysmal 2-5 start to the 2020 NFL season.

Going into Week 14, the Patriots have a lot of work to do if they don’t want to miss the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2008 when Tom Brady tore his ACL in Week 1. For starters, the man who replaced Brady this year, Cam Newton, has thrown for 153 yards over the past two games combined.

There is a path to New England winning the division. Well, more like a pipe dream, considering the Buffalo Bills are up three games on the Pats with four to play. A spot in the AFC’s Wild Card Weekend is a more realistic postseason scenario.

Let’s take a look at the most likely paths the six-time champions will have.

Patriots playoff chances: Ideally, New England wins last four games

Patriots playoff chances: Can Bill Belichick take New England to the postseason?
Nov 22, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on the sideline during the second quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The first thing the New England Patriots need to take care of is winning their final four games of the season. This may seem difficult at first glance, as they play the NFC West division-leading Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night.

After this week, they go on the road to Miami and face the 8-4 Dolphins. Then, the Patriots play a Monday Night Football game at home against the Buffalo Bills. Two of those opponents have 8-4 records, while Buffalo sits atop the AFC East at 9-3. Provided the Patriots’ playoff chances haven’t evaporated after urnning that gauntlet, they close out with the winless Jets at home in Week 17.

If New England can’t win out, they don’t have a place in the NFL playoffs anyway. This is the biggest obstacle they have to knock down, because a loss Thursday night would most likely eliminate them from the playoffs.

If they win out, the Patriots’ playoff chances soar to a 94% probability, according to Five Thirty-Eight’s NFL Playoffs prediction tool. However, if the Patriots lose Thursday night’s game, that drops to a 5% chance.

Under this scenario, the New England Patriots’ final record: 10-6

Dolphins lose at least two of their final four games

The Miami Dolphins have a hard road ahead of them when it comes to their postseason hopes. They currently sit in the 6th spot in the NFL Playoff Picture and have one of the hardest schedules to close out the season.

Miami faces the Kansas City Chiefs next weekend, which will be a difficult game for Brian Flores and crew. They then host the New England Patriots at home, who are in must-win mode. The Dolphins will then travel to Las Vegas and Buffalo to close out the season.

Due to the Patriots’ win over the Dolphins in Week 1, another loss would give New England the tiebreaker. This would create a doomsday scenario if New England wins out. One loss against the Chiefs, Raiders, or Bills would put the Patriots ahead of the Dolphins.

Under this scenario, the Miami Dolphins’ final record: 10-6 (Patriots own tiebreaker)

Ravens and Raiders lose at least one of their remaining games

Patriots playoff chances: Tiebreaker over Ravens looms large
Nov 15, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) at the line of scrimmage as they take on the Baltimore Ravens during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens and Raiders could still qualify for the postseason if the Patriots win out. It would require them to both to run the table as well, though. Because both teams were defeated by New England, the Patriots own those key head-to-head tiebreakers in the event they all finish with an identical record.

Baltimore plays against the Cowboys on Tuesday night, still feeling the effects of COVID-19 on the roster amid a shortened week of preparation. An AFC North showodwn the Browns also looms for the Ravens on Monday Night Football in Week 14. The Giants are another team that could give them a challenge down the stretch.

The Raiders play the Colts this weekend at home, which will be a tough matchup if their barely squeaking out a win over the winless Jets is any indication. Las Vegas also has the Dolphins on tap for Week 16. A loss against either team would put the Raiders behind New England.

Under this scenario: Baltimore Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders final record: 10-6 (Patriots own tiebreakers)

The bottom line

The New England Patriots have a lot of work to do if they want to make the playoffs. Lucky for them, the Dolphins have a hard schedule to close out the season, making it is feasible for the Pats to grab a spot.

Thursday’s matchup against the Rams is the biggest game of the season thus far for New England. While it is not impossible to make the postseason with a loss on Thursday, it becomes very unlikely the Patriots would make it under that scenario.

Bill Belichick has talked about how his team is improving every week in all three phases, and special teams played a huge part with two touchdowns in the win over the Chargers.

A lot of people were quick to count New England out after their 2-5 start. Alas, much to the chagrin of those who’ve hated on the franchise’s two-decade dynasty, the Patriots aren’t dead yet.