NFL playoff picture: Here's what's at stake for Patriots in Miami


After officially clinching a playoff spot by steamrolling the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, the New England Patriots quickly turned their focus to next weekend's regular-season finale against the Miami Dolphins -- and with good reason.

While New England no longer has to sweat missing the postseason, there's still plenty at stake next Sunday in Miami.

Curran: Win over hapless Jags is open to interpretation for Pats

The Patriots can earn as high as the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a victory over the Dolphins, or tumble to as low as No. 6 with a loss. They can steal the AFC East crown from the Buffalo Bills and host their playoff opener, or hit the road for Wild Card weekend.

These scenarios are all possible thanks to an incredibly crowded AFC. Here's a look at the teams currently in a playoff spot entering Week 18:

(Editor's Note: Click here for the latest Patriots playoff scenarios through Sunday's 1 p.m. ET games.)

AFC Standings

  1. Tennessee Titans*, 11-5 (AFC South champs)
  2. Kansas City Chiefs*, 11-5 (AFC West champs)
  3. Cincinnati Bengals*, 10-6 (AFC North champs)
  4. Buffalo Bills*, 10-6 (AFC East leader)
  5. New England Patriots*, 10-6 (First wild card)
  6. Indianapolis Colts, 9-7 (Second wild card)
  7. Los Angeles Chargers, 9-7 (Third wild card)

*Clinched playoff spot

And here's a quick run-through of the potential outcomes for the Patriots next weekend:

The Patriots will earn the No. 1 seed if...

... They win and the Titans, Chiefs and Bills all lose. New England would be the No. 1 seed by virtue of tiebreakers over Tennessee, Kansas City and Cincinnati.

We hate to break it to you, but this ain't happening. The Titans (at the 4-12 Houston Texans), Chiefs (at the 7-9 Denver Broncos) and Bills (vs. the 4-12 New York Jets) are all heavy favorites for their Week 18 matchups.

The Patriots will win the AFC East if...

... They win and the Bills lose.

The NFL moved both Patriots-Dolphins and Bills-Jets to the 4:25 p.m. ET window next Sunday, so we won't know the AFC East winner until after 7 p.m. It seems unlikely Buffalo would lose to New York with the division on the line, but the Jets did almost beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday...

The Patriots will host a Wild Card Round game if...

... They win and the Bills lose.

Division winners automatically host a playoff game, so the Patriots need the Bills to fall to the Jets if they want to have a home Wild Card game.

New England can jump to any one of the top four spots if Buffalo loses and some combination of the Titans, Chiefs and Bengals also lose.

The Patriots will be on the road in the Wild Card Round if...

... They lose, and/or the Bills win.

Even if the Patriots beat the Dolphins, they'll finish as the No. 5 seed if the Bills take care of business and win the division.

If the Patriots lose, they'll drop to the No. 6 seed assuming the Colts can handle the lowly Jaguars. Fortunately, New England owns tiebreakers over the Los Angeles Chargers and 9-7 Las Vegas Raiders, so they can't fall lower than the No. 6 seed.

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