BOSTON (CBS) — A loss on Sunday night would have essentially put an end to the 2020 Patriots season having any meaning. That reality shows how little room for error the Patriots have.
But the team didn’t lose, instead pulling off a thoroughly impressive upset against the Ravens. As a result, the Patriots are now 4-5 on the season. That record may not look particularly impressive, but it does keep them alive in the race for a wild-card spot in the AFC.
Remember, the NFL voted to expand the postseason field from six teams to seven teams per conference. (There’s a possibility that an eighth spot will be added if COVID-19 issues force important games to be canceled, but for now we will operate under the assumption of seven teams.)
As it stands now, the Patriots sit alone in 10th place in the AFC. The wild-card spots are currently occupied by the Raiders (6-3), Dolphins (6-3), and Ravens (6-3). The two teams between the Patriots and the playoffs currently are the Browns (6-3) and Titans (6-3).
On the positive side for the Patriots, they’re close. On the flip side, they already have five losses, and they’re likely going to need three of those teams who are ahead of them in the standings to lose at least three games in the remaining seven weeks.
If there is reason for hope, it can be found in the Patriots’ schedule. The Jets (0-9), Chargers (2-7) and Texans (2-7) are still on the schedule, which should get the Patriots to seven wins. From there, they can determine their own fate based on how they play against the playoff teams who are still left on their schedule: the Cardinals, Rams, Dolphins and Bills.
Given that there are six teams vying for three spots, it’s impossible to declare an exact number of wins that would get the Patriots into the playoffs. And based on the fact that they’ve already lost two more games than the teams ahead of them, it feels as though the Patriots can only afford one more loss the rest of the way. A 9-7 mark might not be enough to get it done.
That run may be unlikely, but Sunday night’s win could be the boost this team needed to embark on a run to at least make things interesting come late December.