It hasn’t been the smoothest year for the New England Patriots. Tom Brady has not been his usual unbeatable self. There appear to be cracks with potential to spread and compromise the foundation. And yet here we are, at the same place we usually are at this point of the season: with the Patriots sitting pretty and setting themselves up nicely for a playoff run.

A big part of that is thanks to everything that could have possibly gone right for New England going right over the last seven days, starting with Kansas City losing the game to the Rams to move back within one game of New England a week ago. Then yesterday, they breezed to a two-touchdown victory in New Jersey. The Pittsburgh Steelers dropped a winnable game at Denver thanks to an atrocious Ben Roethlisberger throw. The Kansas City Chiefs were on a bye and couldn’t widen the lead for AFC superiority. And the Los Angeles Chargers lost star running back Melvin Gordon to what could be a serious knee injury.

For no good reason.

With five weeks left to play, the AFC playoff picture is rounding into shape.

  • #1 Kansas City 9-2-
  • #2 New England 8-3
  • #3 Houston 7-3
  • #4 Pittsburgh 7-3-1
  • #5 Los Angeles Chargers 8-3
  • #6 Baltimore 6-5

New England holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Chiefs by virtue of winning the matchup earlier this year. The same is true against Houston. The Pats and Steelers play on Dec. 16 in Pittsburgh. Even if the Steelers win this one, they must play the Chargers at home next week and travel to New Orleans later in the year, meaning 11-4-1 could be in play.

It looks like for all the tumult and turmoil, Bill Belichick’s side will once again get that valuable first-round bye with, at worst, a 12-4 mark. And potentially the No. 1 overall seed. Much ado and hand-wringing all for naught. A tradition that’s become rote these past few years, yet we get sucked in every time. Something comforting about the whole process.