Looking ahead: opponents, playoffs, and seeding

After this weekend's dominating victory against the Denver Broncos, the Patriots are looking like the best team in the NFL. Other top teams have faltered, and the once unrelenting schedule now seems a bit less imposing. In this article I will look at the rest of the Patriots schedule, as well as the schedule for the other teams in the AFC, and try to give a realistic scenario for what records may look like at the end of the season, and what the playoff seeding may look like.

First I will look at what the rest of the Patriots' schedule looks like. The remaining games go as followed: Away vs Indianapolis (6-3), Home vs Detroit (6-2), Away vs Green Bay (5-3), Away vs San Deigo (5-4), Home vs Miami (5-3), Away vs Jets (1-8), Home vs Bills (5-3). There are several extremely difficult games in that stretch, specifically at Indianapolis and at Green Bay, but fortunately they play difficult divisional opponents at home in the Bills and Dolphins. Could the Patriots go undefeated the rest of the year: yeah they could, but it will not be easy. Each of these games can be a loss, even at New York. Each of these teams will view the Patriots as the best team in the NFL and play accordingly, giving the Patriots their best look. That being said, with new acquisitions acclimating to the Patriots, and the eventual returns of Chandler Jones and Sealver Siliga, as time progresses these things will provide further assistance to the defense.

Each of the teams they will go against have some clear strengths and weaknesses. The Colts have a poor offensive line and a mediocre defense that can be shredded by the pass. The Lions have struggled in the run game on offense and rely far too much on Golden Tate for their offense. Green Bay has a lackluster line and an inconsistent defense that struggles against good offenses. San Diego has one of the worst secondaries in the league and Rivers can have days like Sunday if he gets flustered. Miami has been ravaged by injuries and is as inconsistent a team as they come in the NFL. The Jets are the Jets, with Matt Sims looking like their best option at QB and a secondary that may be worse than the Chargers. The Bills have shown they can struggle against the pass and have a running game with a banged up backfield.

Currently, the playoff picture looks like this:

  • AFC East + 1st Seed: New England Patriots (7-2)
  • AFC West + 2nd Seed: Denver Broncos (6-2)
  • AFC North + 3rd Seed: Cincinnati Bengals (5-2-1)
  • AFC South + 4th Seed: Indianapolis Colts (6-3)
  • Wildcard 1 + 5th Seed: Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3)
  • Wildcard 2 + 6th Seed: Kansas City Chiefs (5-3)
  • In the Hunt: Cleveland Browns (5-3), Buffalo Bills (5-3), Miami Dolphins (5-3), San Diego Chargers (5-4)

Now let's look at those teams and what their schedules consist of:

1) The Denver Broncos have a relatively easy schedule the rest of the year. The most difficult games they have left on their schedule include Home vs Miami, Away vs Kansas City, Home vs Bills, Away vs San Diego, and Away at Cincinnati. While they may not be a cupcake schedule, it is much easier than the Patriots schedule. The Broncos very well may win out and put the Patriots destiny in their own hands. Either way, barring major injury, I don't see Denver being any lower than the second seed. The Patriots own the tiebreaker against the Broncos so if they have the same record at the end of the year, the Patriots would have the higher seed.

2) The Cincinnati Bengals have a fairly difficult schedule going forward. The most difficult games they have left on their schedule are Away vs New Orleans, Home vs Pittsburgh, Away vs Pittsburgh, Away vs Denver, Home vs Cleveland, Away vs Cleveland. If the Steelers continue their winning ways they could easily claim the AFC North, which is personally what I expect to happen. The Patriots stole the heart out of the Bengals and they haven't been the same since. The only thing keeping them ahead of Pittsburgh right now is a tie, and they have to play them twice. Should the Bengals finish the season with the same record as the Patriots, the Patriots would have the tiebreaker after beating them earlier this year, giving them the higher seed.

3) The Indianapolis Colts have arguably an easier schedule than the Broncos. Outside of playing the Patriots, the most difficult games they have left are Away vs Dallas, Home vs Houston, and Away vs Cleveland. They have a very favorable schedule and could very well only lose one game the rest of the season, which would give them a respectable 12-4 record. Their upcoming game will determine the tiebreaker. I would expect the Colts to potentially move up to the 3rd seed by the time the season comes to a close.

4) The Pittsburgh Steelers have been on a tear as of late, and seem to be getting their offense in sync. They also have a fairly competitive schedule going forward with games that include Home vs New Orleans, Home vs Cincinnati, Away vs Cincinnati, and Home vs Kansas City. The Steelers defense still does not scare me, given how many points they have given up, but their offense is beginning to click. The Patriots fortunately do not have to play them until they possibly meet them in the playoffs.

5) The Kansas City Chiefs have come back down to earth after beating the Patriots on Monday night. While still a very good football team, they have a tough schedule ahead that includes Away vs Buffalo, Home vs Seattle, Home vs Denver, Away vs Arizona, Away vs Pittsburgh, and Home vs San Diego. There is a good chance the Chiefs fail to make the playoffs if the Chargers, Bills, or Dolphins get hot, and with a schedule that includes some of the best teams in the NFL right now, there are few games to spare for losses.

Here is how I envision the playoff seeding to be at the end of the season:

  • AFC East + 1st Seed: New England Patriots (14-2)
  • AFC West + 2nd Seed: Denver Broncos (14-2)
  • AFC South + 3rd Seed: Indianapolis Colts (12-4)
  • AFC North + 4th Seed: Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
  • Wildcard 1 + 5th Seed: Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1)
  • Wildcard 2 + 6th Seed: Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)

In this scenario, the Patriots would get a first round bye, followed by a home game against either the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, or Kansas City Chiefs. In Foxborough, in January, I don't see many teams having an advantage over the Patriots. All things indicate that there will likely be a rematch of this Sunday's game coming in late January. That being said, a lot can happen between now and then. A single injury could change these scenarios dramatically. The NFC is the weakest it has been in recent memory, which leads me to believe the winner of the Super Bowl will be out of the AFC, but that's at this point in time. A lot of top teams will play each other these last eight weeks, and a lot of players will suffer injuries, but there is reason for optimism in New England. This could be the year.

Follow me on Twitter - @PatriotsInform

For more of my articles, click here.