The New England Patriots have been an almost constant feature of the NFL playoffs during Bill Belichick’s two-decade reign, but their invite to the postseason may never arrive this year.
The Patriots suffered a damaging 24-3 loss against the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday Night Football, slipping to 6-7 and falling further behind the 9-3 Buffalo Bills and the 8-4 Miami Dolphins in the AFC East.
New England is now on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and only the fourth time since Belichick replaced Peter Carroll as head coach in 2000. The Patriots failed to reach the playoffs Belichick’s inaugural season after finishing 5-11 and missed out again two years later after going 9-7.
Up until this year, the latter season was the last time the Patriots lost seven or more games—they finished 11-5 when they missed the playoffs in 2008—as they embarked on an NFL-record streak of 17 consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins. That run is now over as the loss in Los Angeles on Thursday means New England can’t finish with a record better than 9-7 this season.
The six-time Super Bowl champions have the 10th best record in the AFC and trail the Indianapolis Colts, who currently hold the final wildcard berth, by 2.5 games.
The Patriots are still mathematically alive in the race for the playoffs but only just.
ESPN’s Football Power Index gives them a six percent chance of reaching the playoffs, while FiveThirtyEight paints a similarly gloomy pictures and has their chances at four percent.
If there is a glimmer of hope to be found, it resides in the Patriots’ remaining schedule, which ranks as the 12th-easiest in the NFL. Significantly, the Dolphins and the Bills have the hardest and fifth-hardest remaining schedule respectively.
New England travels to Miami in Week 15, before closing the regular season with back-to-back home game against the Bills and the winless New York Jets.
Winning out, however, may not be enough for New England who will likely need help from other teams. At 7-5, the Baltimore Ravens and the Las Vegas Raiders both are ahead of the Patriots in the race for the final wildcard berth.
The Ravens have the second-easiest remaining schedule in the league and, aside from their matchup against the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football, their remaining games are against teams with a losing record.
Like the Patriots, the Raiders still have to play the Dolphins, along with the Colts and divisional matchups against the Los Angeles Chargers and the Denver Broncos.
After missing the playoffs in 2000 and in 2002, New England bounced back spectacularly to win Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII, the first two of Belichick’s six titles with the franchise.
Given their performances this season, it would take a great leap of faith to imagine the Patriots winning Super Bowl LVI.
Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, watches the action during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on December 10 in Inglewood, California. The Patriots lost 24-3. Harry How/Getty