It would take a grand collapse and a dump truck of bad luck for the Patriots to not make the AFC playoffs at this point. In fact, if the Ravens simply lose this weekend, the Pats are in. If the Pats simply beat the Dolphins this weekend, they win the AFC East.
So for New England right now, the focus is not getting in, it’s obtaining one of the first two seeds and a bye in the wild card round.
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The No. 1 seed is still in play for the 10-3 Patriots, considering that they own the head-to-head tie-breaker over the Broncos by virtue of their 34-31 win in Week 12. But Denver has a cupcake schedule down the stretch as they host the Chargers (6-7) Thursday and are at lowly Houston (2-11) and at Oakland (4-9) in the final two weeks.
Meanwhile the 9-4 Bengals are a threat to swipe the No. 2 seed away from the Patriots, as they own the head-to-head tie-breaker over New England, courtesy of their 13-6 victory in Week 5.
Compared to the Broncos and Bengals upcoming schedules, the Patriots actually have the toughest three-game stretch. The combined records of the Dolphins, Ravens and Bills is 18-21. The Broncos will face a slate with a 12-27 record and the Bengals will tackle teams with a combined 15-23 mark.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS