The Patriots haven’t clinched a playoff berth just yet, but they may do it as soon as Sunday. And they may clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs soon after that.
At 10-0, the Patriots have a whopping five-game lead in the AFC East, and a two-game lead over the rest of the conference. New England can clinch the AFC East with a win and a Jets loss on Sunday, and New England can also open up a three-game lead in the conference with only five games to play, if the Patriots beat the Broncos and the Bengals get upset by the Rams.
So barring something unforeseen, the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC will go through New England. Here’s how the whole conference shapes up:
1. Patriots (10-0): They may not go 16-0, but they’ll be heavy favorites in all of their remaining games.
2. Bengals (8-2): Cincinnati owns the conference record tiebreaker with the Broncos for now, but the real tiebreaker between the two will be settled when they meet on December 28.
3. Broncos (8-2): The Broncos’ schedule isn’t easy, with remaining games against the Patriots, Bengals and Steelers.
4. Colts (5-5): Indianapolis has the head-to-head tiebreaker edge over Houston in the AFC South.
5. Steelers (6-4): Pittsburgh probably can’t catch Cincinnati in the AFC North, but the Steelers have the inside track on the wild card race.
6. Chiefs (5-5): Kansas City wins the tiebreaker over Houston and Buffalo based on winning percentage in conference games.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
7. Texans (5-5): Houston has looked like a mess for much of this season, but the Texans still have a real shot at winning the AFC South.
8. Bills (5-5): Buffalo owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Jets.
9. Jets (5-5): After winning four of their first five, the Jets have now lost four of their last five.
10. Raiders (4-6): A three-game losing streak has Oakland looking like a long shot.
11. Jaguars (4-6): Jacksonville is only a game out in the AFC South and has an easy schedule the rest of the way. It wouldn’t be a shock to see a playoff game in Jacksonville.
12. Dolphins (4-6): Their brief turnaround under interim head coach Dan Campbell now feels like a long time ago.
13. Ravens (3-7): The Joe Flacco injury ends any glimmer of hope they had of a late-season playoff push.
14. Browns (2-8): Just playing out the string, and now they won’t even get a long look at Johnny Manziel.
15. Chargers (2-8): At this point San Diego is just trying to get enough healthy players to finish the season.
16. Titans (2-8): Tennessee is only three games out in the AFC South, but there’s no realistic chance of the Titans making the playoffs.