Derek Carr and the Raiders traveled out to Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday night and laid an egg in a 21-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, who now lead the AFC West at 10-3. It was a crusher for the Raiders, who now drop from the #1 seed all the way down to #5, but what does it mean for the Pats?
To make a short story shorter, New England is the #1 seed if they can win out. This is particularly big without Gronk--the Patriots have had to travel in 2013 and 2016 in the AFC Championship Game, and lost both. When they stay home in Foxborough throughout January, history shows the Pats play better. Without their best receiver on the field, home-field advantage will be especially important to guarantee a Super Bowl appearance this year.
But, what happens if the Pats drop a game and finished with the same record as the Chiefs? That's where it gets complicated.
Because the Patriots and Chiefs have not played each other this year and won't in the last couple weeks of the season, the next tiebreaker is conference winning percentage. The Patriots are currently 7-8 in the AFC, for a 0.875 winning percentage, while the Chiefs sit at 5-8, or 0.625. All of the Chiefs' last four games are against AFC teams, as are the Pats' last four contests. That means that Kansas City has an outside shot at beating New England for this tiebreaker--but it's pretty unlikely. The Chiefs would have to win all their last three games and then have the Pats drop three out of four, which is never impossible but pretty close to it. In that case, the Chiefs would win the tiebreaker with a 8-11 conference record (.727), while the Pats would have a 8-12 mark against AFC opponents (.667).
It's not impossible, but if the Patriots can just hold on down the stretch, they should be able to claim the top seed in the playoffs. Either way, they should have a first-round bye, but unquestioned home field advantage would definitely be a big help as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady seek to claim their fifth Super Bowl ring.