Patriots

Stacking up the Patriots’ remaining schedule against other AFC playoff contenders

The Patriots have the ninth-toughest schedule remaining.

Matthew J Lee/Globe staff
Bill Belichick and the Patriots are 7-4.

The Patriots have been on a roll as of late, winning their last five games to not only get above .500 at 7-4, but also enter the AFC playoff picture. New England entered Week 11 as the sixth seed in the AFC, though they now hold the fifth spot after Thursday’s win.

As the NFL season approaches Thanksgiving, the Patriots’ schedule gets tougher. However, the good news for them is that some of their toughest competition for playoff sport have the hardest remaining schedules in the league.

The Patriots have home games against the Titans (Week 12), Bills (Week 16), and Jaguars (Week 17) and have road games against the Bills (Week 13), Colts (Week 15), and Dolphins (Week 18) remaining. With a game against the 8-2 Titans and two games against the 6-3 Bills left on their schedule, the Patriots have the ninth-toughest remaining schedule in terms of opposing winning percentage (.526).

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While the Patriots have some tough matchups coming up, they do get a bit of extra rest time. By playing on Thursday night, they get three extra days of rest ahead of their matchup against the AFC-best Titans. New England also has its bye week in Week 14, giving it extra rest between their first matchup against the Bills and the Week 15 road game against the Colts.

The teams around the Patriots in the standings will start to cannibalize themselves though in the upcoming weeks. For instance, the Steelers – whom the Patriots passed in the standings on Thursday – have games against the Titans, Ravens (twice), Chiefs, Chargers, Bengals, and Browns. All of those teams either currently hold the division lead, one of the wild card spots, or are less than a game out of a wild card spot in the standing, giving Pittsburgh the toughest remaining schedule in the league.

Right behind Pittsburgh for the toughest remaining schedules in the league are the Ravens (second), Chiefs (third), and Browns (fourth). The Ravens – who lead the Steelers by half a game for the AFC North lead – still have five divisional games left (Steelers twice, Browns twice, Bengals once) as all four teams in the division are at least .500.

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The Chiefs, who currently hold a half-game lead over the Chargers for the lead in the AFC West, have a big matchup against the 7-2 Cowboys on Sunday. All of Kansas City’s remaining opponents are currently .500 or better as they still have to play the Steelers, Chargers, Raiders, Bengals, and Broncos (twice). The 5-5 Browns get to play the winless Lions, but their other six games are also against teams that are .500 or better (Packers, Ravens, Steelers, Raiders, and Bengals).

The Bengals and Raiders, who are both tied with the Patriots in the loss column with four losses, have the fifth and sixth hardest remaining schedules. Cincinnati has one game against each of its divisional rivals remaining plus games against the Chiefs, Chargers, and Raiders. The Bengals’ easiest remaining opponent is the 49ers, who just walloped the Rams in Week 10. The Raiders have games against the Cowboys, Chiefs, Chargers, Bengals, Browns, and Colts still to come.

Indianapolis, who has snuck up in the standings in recent weeks as its 4-1 in its last five games, has the eighth toughest schedule remaining. The Colts have a pair of games against two of the NFC’s best teams in the Cardinals and Buccaneers. They also face the Patriots, Bills, and Raiders, but have two relatively easy matchups against the Texans and Jaguars.

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The only two teams in the hunt for an AFC wild card spot that have relatively easy schedules are the Broncos and Chargers. The Broncos have the 15th-toughest remaining schedule as they still have five games against their AFC West rivals but also get to play the Lions. The Chargers have the 22nd toughest schedule in the league as they still have to play the Broncos twice as well as the Steelers, Chiefs, Raiders, and Bengals. Their schedule eases up a bit as they still have games against the Texans and Giants.

With the Patriots just a half-game back of the Bills for the AFC East lead, it’s reasonable to think they’ve got a solid chance to win the division. The Bills have an easier schedule remaining, but not by much. Buffalo has the 12th-toughest remaining schedule in the league. Obviously, the Bills have two games against the Patriots – which could decide the division – but they also have to play Buccaneers, Saints, Colts, and Panthers, who are all .500 or better. They do have games left against the Jets and Falcons, who the Patriots handled with ease this season.

So, as the season approaches Thanksgiving, the Patriots sit in a relatively good spot. Not only are they currently in the playoffs, but the teams around them still have games against each other to play while the team ahead of them in the standings still has to play them twice.

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