MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The good news for the Patriots on Sunday: Their 34-33 loss to the Dolphins didn’t hurt them in the playoff standings. They remain the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
But the much worse news: They probably can kiss the No. 1 seed goodbye.
While much of the action fell in the Patriots’ favor on Sunday, the Chiefs strengthened their grip on the top seed and home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs with their 27-24 overtime win over the Ravens. The Chiefs improved to 11-2 on the season, two games up on the 9-4 Patriots with three to play.
The Patriots own the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to their Week 6 win over the Chiefs, but now need Kansas City to lose at least two of its last three games to even have a chance at the No. 1 seed, while the Patriots pretty much need to win out.
The Chiefs host the Chargers on Thursday night and play at Seattle the following week, so it’s not impossible for the Patriots to pull it off. But the Patriots’ chances of catching the Chiefs in the standings appear slim, and not having the No. 1 seed is important. Their last five Super Bowl appearances have come as the top seed, with home-field advantage.
In fact, the Patriots don’t even have the second-best chance of getting the No. 1 seed. That would be the Los Angeles Chargers, who improved to 10-3 with their 26-21 win over the Bengals. The Chargers currently sit at No. 5 as the top wild-card team, but still have a chance to win the AFC West and the No. 1 seed, especially if they beat the Chiefs Thursday night. And if the Patriots and Chargers end up tied in the standings, the second playoff tiebreaker is record in conference games, and the Chargers are now 7-2 while the Patriots are 6-3.
The No. 2 Patriots have next week’s showdown at Pittsburgh, followed by home games against the Jets and Bills. The last two seem like gimmes, but so did the 2015 Week 17 game at Miami, which the Patriots lost.
The 9-4 Texans remain in the No. 3 seed after losing at home to the Colts, 24-21, snapping their nine-game win streak. The Texans lose out on the tiebreaker to the Patriots because of New England’s win in Week 1. But the Texans will continue to put pressure on the Patriots for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye, with games at the Jets, at the Eagles, and vs. the Jaguars to end the season.
The No. 4 Steelers continued to disappoint on Sunday, losing to the lowly Raiders, 24-21. The Steelers lost their third game in a row to drop to 7-5-1 on the season, though they still hold a half-game lead over the Ravens for the AFC North lead. A Steelers win on Sunday would have set up a showdown with the Patriots next week in which the winner would take control of the No. 2 seed. Instead, the Patriots have to worry less about the Steelers in the playoff standings, and more about the Texans.
The Ravens’ loss to the Chiefs dropped them to 7-6, but they still hold the No. 6 seed due to their 6-4 conference record. The Ravens definitely have a shot at the AFC North title, with remaining games vs. the Buccaneers, at the Chargers, and vs. the Browns.
Three other teams are tied at 7-6 — the Colts are the No. 7 seed, the Dolphins are still only No. 8 despite their big win, and the Titans are No. 9.