How the Patriots can clinch a playoff spot in Week 17 and other scenarios

There are several ways for the Patriots to clinch a playoff spot on Sunday.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff
Bill Belichick and the Patriots can secure a playoff spot in Week 17.

After missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 years last season, the Patriots can officially make their way back into the tournament on Sunday.

New England has two simple ways it can clinch a playoff spot in Week 17. A Patriots win against the Jaguars and either a Dolphins loss to the Titans or a Raiders loss to the Colts would be enough to secure a spot.

But the Patriots don’t need to win on Sunday either in order to clinch a spot. But that’s where it becomes a bit more complicated. If the Patriots tie the Jaguars on Sunday, there are four other ways they can clinch a playoff spot in Week 17.


In one scenario, they would need the Dolphins, Raiders, and Chargers (who are facing the Broncos) all to lose. In another scenario, the Patriots would need a Dolphins loss and the Ravens to lose or tie to the Rams. A third scenario in which the Patriots could clinch a playoff spot if they tied is if the Raiders, Chargers, and Ravens all lose and the Steelers lose or tie to the Browns. The fourth scenario would be a Raiders loss, a Chargers loss or tie, a Ravens loss or tie, a Dolphins win, and a Bills win over the Falcons.

The NFL notes that there are other scenarios for the Patriots to clinch a playoff spot in Week 17, but they all multiple tie games.

The good news for the Patriots is that both the Dolphins and Raiders are underdogs in their matchups this weekend while they’re heavy favorites against the Jaguars. So, if things go as expected, the Patriots will likely have a playoff spot secured going into the final week of the regular season.

The bad news though in that scenario is that they wouldn’t be able to move past the Colts in the standings. Indianapolis, like New England, is 9-6 entering Week 17 but holds the tiebreaker over New England because of its Week 15 win. So, a Raiders win could help the Patriots seeding-wise, which may be more beneficial in the long run even if it means not clinching a playoff spot earlier.


While the Patriots control their own destiny in clinching a playoff spot, they don’t control their own destiny to win the AFC East. They must either win out and the Bills lose one of their final two games or they win one of their final two games and the Bills lose both of their remaining games. Because both teams are 9-6, Buffalo can’t clinch the AFC East in Week 17. The Bills host the Falcons and Jets to close out the season.

The Patriots can still somehow get the top seed in the AFC, but that door might shut this weekend. If the Chiefs beat the Bengals and the Titans lose to the Dolphins, Kansas City would take the conference’s top spot. In the scenario that Kansas City doesn’t clinch the AFC’s No. 1 seed in Week 17, New England would need a lot to happen in the final two weeks in order to get it. It would need to win both of its final games, plus Kansas City to lose its last two games, plus Buffalo and Tennesse to each lose at least one of its last two games.

So, while the Patriots still control their own playoff destiny, Sunday’s game against the Jaguars feels like a must-win for a pair of reasons. Obviously the first is that Jacksonville holds the league’s worst record and New England needs any sign of hope it can get after losing two straight.


The other reason is that there are four teams (Dolphins, Ravens, Chargers, and Raiders) with 8-7 records right behind the Patriots in the conference standings plus a fifth team (Steelers) who could also pass them in the last two weeks.


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