PITTSBURGH — The Patriots can forget about Kansas City and the No. 1 seed.
Instead, they’re in unfamiliar territory following Sunday’s crushing loss to the Steelers — on the outside looking in at a first-round bye.
The Patriots haven’t played on Wild-Card weekend since 2009, a streak of nine straight years of getting the No. 1 or 2 seed in the AFC. But the Patriots are staring the wild-card round right in the face following Sunday’s loss.
The Patriots are now 9-5 and sit in the No. 3 seed, falling behind the Texans, who improved to 10-4 and the No. 2 seed with Saturday’s win over the Jets.
The Patriots own the tiebreaker over the Texans thanks to their Week 1 win at Gillette Stadium, so they need to finish with the same record to leapfrog Houston in the standings.
The Patriots’ final two games are at home against the Bills and Jets, giving them a good chance of getting to 11-5.
The Texans’ schedule looks a bit trickier, with a road game at Philadelphia next week followed by a home game against Jacksonville.
If the Patriots get the No. 3 seed, they would likely play one among Baltimore, Indianapolis or Tennessee at home, three teams that are currently 8-6.
The Ravens own the tiebreaker over the Titans and Colts, and currently sit in the No. 6 seed.
And assuming the Patriots win at home in the wild-card round, they would be looking at a trip to Houston in the Divisional Round.
The Patriots haven’t played a road playoff game since their 2016 AFC Championship game loss to the Broncos, and not in the Divisional Round since a January 2007 win at the Chargers.
The Patriots aren’t even guaranteed to finish in the No. 3 seed. The Steelers currently sit at No. 4 after their win improved their record to 8-5-1, and they are just a half-game behind the Patriots.
But the Steelers have a tough game next week at New Orleans, followed by a home game against Cincinnati.
The Patriots are technically still alive for the No. 1 seed, but their chances are minuscule.
If the 11-3 Chiefs and 11-3 Chargers both lose out, the Patriots could potentially still come out ahead in a three-team tiebreaker. The Chiefs play a tough game at Seattle next week, but then finish with Oakland. The Chargers play the Ravens at home next week, then end the regular season at Denver.
The Chiefs currently hold the tiebreaker over the Chargers for the No. 1 seed because of their better record in division games.
The Chargers, arguably the best team in the AFC, sit in the first wild-card spot at No. 5.
The silver lining is that if the Patriots finish in the No. 3 spot, they wouldn’t have to play either the Chiefs or Chargers until the AFC Championship game, no matter where each team finishes in the playoff race.