The Patriots’ win in San Diego on Sunday night puts them in prime position: If the Patriots win their last three games, then the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC goes through New England.
But it’s not like the Patriots are a lock: If they slip up once and the Broncos win out, the Patriots would drop down to the No. 2 seed. What seems clear is that the Patriots and Broncos will be the two teams getting first-round byes in the AFC. The only way that won’t happen is if both the Patriots and the Broncos drop two of their last three.
Here’s how the playoff race looks through Week 14:
1. New England Patriots (10-3) Would have home-field advantage if the playoffs started today.
2. Denver Broncos (10-3) Denver loses the head-to-head tiebreaker with New England.
3. Indianapolis Colts (9-4) Indianapolis clinches the AFC South if it beats Houston on Sunday.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (8-4-1) The Bengals’ lead in the AFC North is now just half a game.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) The Steelers will win the division if they win out, and Cincinnati visits Pittsburgh in Week 17. The Steelers currently have the tiebreaker over the Ravens (division record) and Chargers (conference record).
6. San Diego Chargers (8-5) The Chargers beat the Ravens and own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Outside looking in:
7. Baltimore Ravens (8-5) If the Ravens win out they’re guaranteed to leapfrog the Week 17 Bengals-Steelers loser, and make the playoffs.
8. Houston Texans (7-6) The Texans are first among the AFC’s five 7-6 teams thanks to the Texans’ 6-3 conference record.
9. Miami Dolphins (7-6) The Dolphins are 6-4 in the conference.
10. Kansas City Chiefs (7-6) The Chiefs are 5-4 in the conference.
11. Buffalo Bills (7-6) The Bills’ 4-6 conference record could sink them.
12. Cleveland Browns (7-6) The Browns are also 4-6 in the AFC and lost head-to-head to the Bills.