Outside of the masks and COVID-19 tests, life as the New England Patriots knew it in pre-pandemic times is back to normal. After a down 2020 season, Bill Belichick’s team is 9-5 and on the verge of clinching their spot in the 2021 NFL Playoffs.
Depending on how things play out in Week 16, the Patriots can wrap up their 17th AFC East title since 2000 in the coming days. Here’s what rookie quarterback Mac Jones and teammates need to do to ensure they’ll be competing for another Lombardi Trophy come January.
Mac Jones and the Patriots can clinch the AFC East in Week 16
On Sunday, Dec. 26, Jones and the Patriots will host Josh Allen and the rival Buffalo Bills. On Monday, Dec. 27, Jones and the Patriots could learn if they’ve officially won the AFC East.
The Patriots’ Week 16 path to clinching yet another division title is simple, at least logistically. First, New England needs to defeat Buffalo for the second time this month. The Patriots rushed for 241 yards in a 14-10 Monday Night Football victory on Dec. 7.
However, a win won’t be enough. New England also needs the New Orleans Saints to defeat or tie with the streaking Miami Dolphins on Monday night. Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins have won six straight following a disastrous 1-7 start.
Simply put, the Patriots need a win and for the Dolphins not to win. If those two events occur in Week 16, Belichick can add yet another “AFC East Division Champions” hat to his wardrobe.
The Patriots can still clinch a playoff spot even if the Dolphins win
Suppose the Patriots and Dolphins both win. Because Miami holds a head-to-head tiebreaker courtesy of a Week 1 victory, New England won’t be able to secure the AFC East in Week 16.
However, the Patriots can nonetheless lock up their playoff spot in Week 16 so long as they defeat Buffalo. All of the Patriots’ five Week 16 clinching scenarios require a victory over the Bills.
Three possible scenarios involve the Indianapolis Colts, who beat the Patriots in Week 15. The Arizona Cardinals must defeat or tie the Colts in every situation; additionally, the Patriots need the Cincinnati Bengals (home against the Baltimore Ravens) or the Los Angeles Chargers (on the road against the Houston Texans) to lose. Either of those outcomes, coupled with a Colts loss or tie, will give the Patriots what they need.
The Patriots will also clinch in Week 16 if the Chargers lose and the Las Vegas Raiders (home against the Denver Broncos) lose or tie.
Two longer clinching scenarios also exist, both involving the Pittsburgh Steelers. If Kansas City ties or defeats the Steelers, New England will get in with a Ravens loss and either the Colts or Cleveland Browns losing or trying. Cleveland faces Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Christmas Day.
Of course, none of this matters if Allen and the Bills avenge their Week 13 loss.
Which other AFC teams can clinch postseason berths in Week 16?
The Patriots aren’t the only AFC team that can clinch a postseason berth in Week 16. Depending on how the weekend plays out, the Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans can each guarantee either a division crown or a spot among the conference’s final seven teams.
The Titans can win the AFC South with a victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday, Dec. 23, and a Colts loss on Christmas. If the Titans lose Thursday night, they cannot lock up a playoff berth until Week 17. But, if the Colts win, Tennessee needs multiple teams all to lose or tie on Sunday.
As for the Chiefs, their playoff scenarios are far more straightforward. If the Chiefs defeat the Steelers, they’re in. A Chiefs win coupled with the Chargers losing or tying means the AFC West title will reside in Kansas City for a sixth straight year.
Luckily for the Chiefs, they can still seal a postseason berth in Week 16 without a victory. If Kansas City and Pittsburgh tie, the Chiefs need any of the Bengals, Colts, Ravens, or Bills to lose. Any one of those outcomes will give the Chiefs a postseason berth.
Sometimes, things are just that simple this late in the NFL calendar.