Patriots' Playoff Hopes Could Hinge on Ravens-Steelers Decision

A playoff expansion or potential forfeiture could boost New England's chance of sneaking into the postseason
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As it stands, the New England Patriots' playoff chances are slim at best.

The New York Times' Playoff Simulator gives the Patriots a six percent chance of extending its season past the first weekend of January. FiveThirtyEight's quarterback-adjusted Elo forecast gives New England an eight percent chance of making the postseason, but that could drop as low as two percent with a loss to Arizona on Sunday. 

Off the field, however, there is still one last domino to fall that could give the Patriots a shot to squeeze in.

The Ravens-Steelers game initially scheduled for Thanksgiving Day was delayed until Sunday and then again to Tuesday as Baltimore continues to report positive coronavirus tests. The fate of the game still hangs in the balance, and a further delay could cause the NFL to either add a Week 18 or expand the playoffs to eight teams per conference.

Eight AFC playoff teams would mean four wild cards, and the Patriots are currently the No. 11 seed in the conference. If there is an eight-team field, New England would have to leapfrog Baltimore, Miami and Denver in order to make the cut.

The Patriots beat the Ravens and Dolphins already this season, and they also beat the current No. 7 seed Raiders. The Week 15 matchup between New England and Miami will decide who gets the tiebreaker, so the Patriots could very easily have the head-to-head advantage with three of the four teams ahead of them.

There's also a chance the Ravens are forced to forfeit against the Steelers as punishment for not following COVID-19 protocols. While that wouldn't give the Patriots the expanded playoff they need, it would hand a loss to one of the teams currently above them in the standings.

Making the playoffs would likely involve a torrid finish in any scenario, but an expansion obviously gives New England additional wiggle room.

Keep an eye on what happens with the Ravens-Steelers game, because the Patriots' season could very well depend on it.