BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots need to avoid a letdown in the coming weeks to keep pace in the battle for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, thanks to the red-hot Oakland Raiders and their MVP candidate quarterback.
The Raiders (8-2) seized the conference’s top seed from the Patriots after defeating the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football in Mexico City, earning their seventh win in eight games and putting further pressure on the Patriots to win the rest of the games on their own schedule. Quarterback Derek Carr led a late-game comeback as he threw a screen pass to wideout Amari Cooper, who took the ball 35 yards to the end zone with just 4:43 left in the fourth quarter to secure the 27-20 comeback win.
Oakland’s grasp on the No. 1 seed, however, is tenuous right now, as they own the top spot via the “Strength of Victory” tiebreaker.
Ties between two teams at the top of the conference are determined by Wild Card rules. The Patriots and Raiders bypass the first three tiebreakers, as they have identical records against their divisions (2-1) and the conference (6-1) and are also both 1-0 against the Texans, the teams’ only common opponent. That leaves “Strength of Victory,” which is the combined record of who each team has beaten so far, as the tiebreaker that gives the Raiders the No. 1 seed.
The Patriots and Raiders have the same amount of conference opponents and division opponents remaining in the season and will end up with the same amount of games against common opponents after the Patriots face Baltimore and Denver in back-to-back weeks. Oakland beat Baltimore in Week 4 and are already 1-0 against Denver, and they also have a harder remaining schedule based on their opponents’ records, which only makes the need to keep winning games that much more important for the Patriots.
Of course, the tougher remaining schedule for the Raiders – they still have to play both Kansas City and Denver on the road – means that the pressure is still on them to keep pace with the Patriots, rather than the other way around. But the recent hot streak for the Raiders is at least putting the onus on the Patriots to keep beating teams that they’re supposed to beat – and added incentive to pull off what would be a huge road win in Denver – in order to secure home-field advantage.