Playoff formats in every sport are kind of a Popsicle headache, but let us try to help you understand just where the Patriots sit and where they could be heading based on a few things:
Firstly, the Patriots can clinch the AFC East with a win in either of their final two games either this week against Baltimore or next week against the Buffalo Bills.
Leading each of the conferences currently, in order of seeding, is Denver (who has clinched a playoff spot at 11-3), then the Patriots (10-4) sitting as the second seed, the Cincinnati Bengals (9-5) as the third seed and finally the Indianapolis Colts (9-5) as the fourth seed.
For the Patriots to get the first seed:
This is the most unlikely because Denver and Kansas City would both have to lose once while the Patriots would have to win out. Based on the head-to-head win over Denver and based on the Patriots having a better conference record than the Chiefs, if either of those two has an equal record to the Patriots, the Patriots would take the top seed.
For the Patriots to get second seed:
The Patriots could guarantee this by winning out in their last two games. However, if the Patriots go 1-1 in their last two, then they would need both Indy and Cincinnati to lose one game each. Cincinnati won the head-to-head against the Patriots this season and since the Colts have gone 5-0 in their division and the Patriots have gone 3-2, the Colts and Bengals would move ahead of New England if their record are identical.
For the Patriots to get third seed:
So basically, it’s the same as the number two seed. If the Patriots go 1-1 in their final two games, either the Bengals or Colts, but not both, would have to lose while the other of the Bengals and Colts won. This would put the winning team ahead of the Patriots for the reasons listed above and the Patriots would still top the team with the worse record.
For Patriots to get fourth seed:
If the Patriots go 1-1 in their final two games and the Colts and Bengals win out, then the Patriots fall to fourth.
The Patriots could make any playoff spot except for number five and that includes the fact that they haven’t even locked up a playoff spot yet.
Patriots as sixth seed or out of the playoffs:
Scenario: (If the Patriots lose both of their games) while Miami wins both of theirs, the record would be identical and due to Miami’s division record, the Patriots would be the sixth seed. However, if Cincinnati wins against the Vikings on Sunday and then loses to Baltimore on the final game of the season, then that would mean Baltimore would take the AFC North crown and leave Cincinnati and the Patriots with an identical record at 10-6, which means bye-bye Patriots from the playoffs altogether.
If this confuses the hell out of you, then I didn’t do my job in explaining this effectively. The Patriots are a much better home team this season so that would mean, as a fan, you would need them to win both games for them to get as far in the playoffs as possible as they could benefit from a bye in round one of the playoffs and be at home for their first game.