NFL playoff picture: How Patriots’ loss to Colts impacts AFC East, South and wild-card races

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The Patriots’ seven-game winning streak came to a screeching halt when they lost to the Colts in the second game of a critical NFL Week 15 on Saturday night. New England tried to rally from a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit, but thanks to NFL MVP contender Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis got a much-needed 27-17 victory.

Just like Thursday night’s AFC West division battle in which the Chiefs outlasted the Chargers in overtime, the result of the Patriots-Colts contest has ripple effects on the conference’s playoff picture.

MORE: Highlights from Colts’ big Saturday night win

Starting with the Patriots’ perspective, here’s what it all means:

NFL playoff picture: How Patriots’ loss affects AFC home-field, AFC East races

The Patriots (9-5) fell to the No. 3 seed in conference playoff positioning behind the Chiefs (10-4), who beat the Chargers to begin Week 15, and the Titans (9-4), who play the Steelers on Sunday. The Patriots will move back up to No. 2 for Week 16 if the Titans lose, because the Patriots beat Tennessee in Week 12.

Should Titans win and the current No. 4 seed, the North-leading Ravens (8-5), beat the Packers on Sunday to match the Patriots’ record, the Patriots would still be No. 3 because of their 7-2 conference record.

MORE: Belichick faces question about calling for FG when Pats were down 13 in 4th

While the Patriots won’t fall out of first place in the AFC East in Week 15, they would see their division lead go down to one game should the No. 7 Bills (7-6) beat the Panthers at home as expected Sunday. Although the Patriots hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bills for now after beating them in Week 13, the teams will meet again in New England in Week 16. The Bills have a real chance to take back first place with a win in that rematch via the division tiebreaker.

The Patriots still have a nearly 80 percent chance of winning the division given that the game is at home, and they remain a near-lock for at least a wild-card berth. But getting a top-two AFC playoff seed is more of a challenge now.

NFL playoff picture: How Colts’ win affects AFC wild-card, AFC South races

The Colts (8-6) already have had a profitable Week 15 as they’ve improved their playoff chances. They jumped to No. 5 in the conference and the top wild-card position ahead of the Chargers (8-6) because the Colts hold the conference record tiebreaker (7-3). The Colts also have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the No. 7 Bills, whom they beat in Week 11.

MORE: Pats’ Dugger, Colts’ Pittman ejected after skirmish

Indianapolis now has a strong chance of returning to the playoffs — better than 75 percent — but what about its chances to catch Tennessee in the South? Barring a tie, Colts will finish Week 15 one game behind the Titans or remain two games behind them. Unfortunately for the Colts, they lost the head-to-head tiebreaker to the Titans long ago; they were swept in the season series, falling in Weeks 3 and 8.

The Colts’ chances of winning the division are next to none. The Titans would need to fall apart against a weak schedule. The Colts do have an exceptional chance at finishing No. 5 and improving their 2020 wild-card position by two spots. It would also mark the team’s third playoff appearance in four seasons under coach Frank Reich, each with a different quarterback (Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers and Carson Wentz).





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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.