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.
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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.
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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.
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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).