Warning: Math approaching.
The Patriots dropped a game they needed to win against the Steelers this week, and now their playoff chances are looking somewhat dire. The Jets lead them in record, division record, and conference record. But a closer look at the two teams' schedules shows the outcome of the AFC East has the potential to get very very interesting. A reasonable scenario:
Pats win out (@Seattle, @Oakland, Arizona, @Buffalo) They are 11-5, 4-2 in division, 7-5 in conference.
Jets drop last game to Miami. They are 11-5, 4-2 in division, 7-5 in conference.
A tie! It would now go to strength-of-victory tiebreaker. As it stands right now, the teams I projected the Jets to beat have 55.5 total wins*, and the teams the Pats are projected to beat have 54 total wins. Add the wins just projected above for the Patriots and the Jets (who have beaten each other), and we get Jets-59.5, Pats-57.
*Note that it is next to impossible for them to tie on this tiebreaker, since the Jets have beaten Cincinnati, who has a tie. Also note that while the tiebreaker is technically based on win percentage and not total wins, the total wins is the only variable, as total games played will always be the same number at the end of the season.
Now, where can the Patriots make up these 2.5 games? It's more difficult than it would seem at first, since they need teams they have beaten to win, but if the Jets have also beaten those teams there is no net advantage.
It comes down to the unique victories for each team: Broncos and Raiders for the Pats, Titans and Bengals for the Jets. Remaining schedules for each:
Broncos (KC, @Caro, Buf, @SD) W L W W
Raiders (@SD, NE, Hou, @TB) W L W L
Titans (Cle, @Hou, Pit, @Ind) W W L L
Bengals (@Ind, Was, @Cle, KC) L L W W
This is where is gets decidedly less interesting for Pats fans. There's not really a good place for the upper teams to make up those games. If the games play out as above, the Pats pick up one game net. Denver beating Carolina would be huge, and would pick them up another game. But they would still trail 63.5 (.496) to 63 (.492).
Looks like a tie game between two non-playoff teams could decide the winner of a seperate division. Or the possibility that everyone will gather around their televisions to watch the Raiders play a possibly seed-clinched Tampa Bay team to decide the winner of the AFC East. Pretty unlikely in the end, but entertaining to think about nonetheless.