The New England Patriots knew they were in good shape to earn a bye in the first round of the playoffs before any of the action kicked off in Week 14.
The Patriots were the No. 3 seed as action got underway, behind the the Cincinnati Bengals and the Denver Broncos. But if the Pats could close out their season with four straight wins, they would pass at least one of those teams.
That's because the Bengals and Broncos are scheduled to meet in Denver in Week 16; no matter how that game ended, the Pats could pass the loser by going 4-0.
But Bill Belichick's team did not need the patience to wait until Week 16—the Bengals and Broncos both suffered Week 14 losses.
Since the Patriots were able to come up with a hard-fought 27-6 win over the Houston Texans, they moved ahead of both teams and into the No. 1 spot in the AFC playoff ladder. They also clinched a playoff spot, and if the New York Giants beat Miami Monday night, they will clinch the AFC East title.
TIEBREAKERS: With NE win, Pats clinched a playoff spot and can clinch div title w/ MIA loss on MNF (clinches SOV tie w NYJ then SOS win)— Joe Ferreira (@JoeNFL) December 14, 2015
|AFC Super Bowl Standings and Playoff Odds|
|1||New England||11-2||Clinched playoff spot||Ship gets righted with strong effort vs. Houston|
|2||Cincinnati||10-3||3-10||Hoping Dalton will be back soon|
|3||Denver||10-3||3-5||Chiefs creeping up on them|
|4||Indianapolis||6-7||5-2||Must overcome defensive issues|
|5||Kansas City||8-5||4-5||On a roll with seven straight wins|
|6||N.Y. Jets||8-5||9-5||Tough games vs. Pats, Bills looming|
|7||Pittsburgh||8-5||7-5||Offense is rolling|
|8||Oakland||6-7||10-1||Improving team, but still a long way to go|
|9||Buffalo||6-7||11-1||Lost key game at Philadelphia|
|10||Houston||6-7||7-2||Must beat Colts in Week 15|
|11||Miami||5-7||50-1||No consistency this season|
|12||Jacksonville||5-8||5-1||Colts, Texans must continue to lose|
|CBS Sports; Predictive odds created by Steve Silverman|
On the NFC side, the Carolina Panthers continue to roll. They won their 13th straight game as they blanked the troubled Atlanta Falcons 38-0. The Panthers have already clinched a first-round bye, and the Arizona Cardinals are likely to join them after beating the Minnesota Vikings 23-20 in their Thursday night matchup in Arizona.
The NFC side of the playoff appears fairly clear-cut at this point. The top six teams have separated themselves from the rest of the competition.
|NFC Super Bowl Standings and Playoff odds|
|1||Carolina||13-0||Clinched first-round bye||Will they get to 16-0?|
|2||Arizona||11-2||Clinched playoff berth||Explosive, well-rounded threat|
|3||Green Bay||9-4||3-5||Offense still needs to get sharper|
|4||Washington||6-7||6-2||Overachievers must finish|
|5||Seattle||8-5||4-5||Surging at the right time|
|6||Minnesota||8-5||4-5||Season finale vs. Packers could decide division|
|7||Tampa Bay||6-7||15-1||Improving, but not ready|
|8||Atlanta||6-7||20-1||Down the rabbit hole they go|
|9||Philadelphia||6-7||3-1||Somehow still hanging in|
|10||N.Y. Giants||5-7||7-2||Clock management issues have hurt them badly|
|11||St. Louis||5-8||40-1||Very little chance of making a move|
|12||New Orleans||5-8||40-1||Just a mathematical chance|
|13||Chicago||5-8||50-1||Not this year|
|16||Dallas||4-9||99-1||Still not elimintated because of pitiful NFC East|
|CBS; Predictive odds created by Steve Silverman|
The NFC North appears to be a battle between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings. Green Bay (9-4) has a one-game lead over Minnesota (8-5), and the Packers also have the tiebreaker edge at this point since they defeated the Vikings in their first meeting in Minnesota.
If the Vikings don't catch the Packers, they appear to be in good shape for a wild-card spot since they are two games ahead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, their closest pursuers. The Seattle Seahawks (8-5) have won four games in a row and are holding down the No. 5 spot in the NFC playoffs.
The NFC East will go to the Washington Redskins (6-7), Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) or the New York Giants (5-7). The teams that don't win the division title do not appear to have a chance to gain a playoff spot.
After losing to the Patriots Sunday night, the Texans are currently out of the playoff structure. While they have the same 6-7 record as the Colts, Indianapolis has the tiebreaker edge since they defeated the Texans earlier.
Indianapolis has allowed 96 points the last two weeks in losing back-to-back games against Pittsburgh and Jacksonville. The Colts and Texans will meet in Indianapolis in Week 15. The Jaguars are still technically in the AFC South divisional race.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are 1-game out of the division lead in the AFC South. pic.twitter.com/NjRZo7OMRF— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 14, 2015
The Kansas City Chiefs (8-5) and New York Jets (8-5) are currently holding the AFC's wild-card spots, but the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) are surging with their explosive offense. If the Steelers make the AFC playoffs, they could be very difficult to beat.