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    Patriots notebook

    Playoff possibilities are (almost) endless in AFC

    If Bill Belichick and the Patriots beat Buffalo, they’re the top AFC seed.
    Winslow Townson/Associated Press
    If Bill Belichick and the Patriots beat Buffalo, they’re the top AFC seed.

    The only thing set in stone right now for the AFC playoffs is that the Texans, winners of the AFC South, will be the No. 3 seed. Everything else - who gets the No. 1 seed, who wins the AFC North and earns no worse than a No. 2, who wins the AFC West, who gets the second wild card - will be decided today.

    According to the NFL, there are 128 potential playoff outcomes. Some teams control their fate: If the Patriots beat Buffalo, they’re the top AFC seed; if the Broncos beat the Chiefs, they win the AFC West; if the Bengals beat the Ravens, they become the No. 6 seed.

    For others, such as the Jets, Raiders, and Titans, it’s win and get help.


    Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty has a vested interest in two games: his own, and Tennessee’s visit to Houston, since the Titans have an outside shot at getting the No. 6 seed. McCourty’s twin brother, Jason, plays cornerback for the Titans.

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    “When it comes on the screen each week, I always look up and see if they’re up or they’re down,’’ McCourty said. “That’s natural. He’s my twin brother, so no matter what, I always look up to see how they’re doing.’’

    There are three scenarios that would put the Titans into the playoffs, but they need to win in Houston first. Do that, and get the required help, and they’d be going back to Houston a week later for a wild-card game. Win again, and the Titans might be Foxborough-bound, setting up McCourty vs. McCourty. The brothers never have faced each other in an NFL game.

    Returns Dept.

    They won’t be found on the list of league leaders because they haven’t had the minimum number of returns to qualify, but the Patriots are well aware of Buffalo’s Justin Rogers and Leodis McKelvin. Rogers has averaged 30.1 yards per kickoff return, while McKelvin is averaging 21.6 yards per punt return. McKelvin had an 80-yard punt return for a score last week against Denver, part of a three-return, 135-yard day, setting a franchise record. “Those guys have been productive,’’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “It doesn’t matter who is back there. They do a good job of blocking, a good job of running, their execution is good. They obviously take a lot of pride in it and they get a lot of production out of it. They’ve done as well returning kickoffs over the last decade as anybody. We see it twice a year, and it seems like whoever they put back there, the guy is running back to midfield or further.’’ Buffalo’s 13.0-yard average on punt returns leads the AFC.

    Is this the day?

    Despite guesses, hunches, and even reports the past few weeks saying they’d be in uniform, safety Patrick Chung and linebacker Brandon Spikes still have not played since Nov. 6. Chung has been dealing with a foot injury, Spikes a knee injury. Both practiced this week, but in a limited capacity. Both are listed as questionable. “I think they’re close, obviously,’’ said Belichick. “They’ve been practicing. If a player is healthy, you’d like for him to play. If he’s not ready to play, then there’s no decision to make, he’s not ready to play.’’ With the Patriots assured of a playoff bye, the earliest Chung and Spikes could return if they’re not in the lineup today is Jan. 14 . . . Defensive back Malcolm Williams has been promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster, and defensive end Alex Silvestro has been signed to the practice squad. Williams has appeared in one game this season, playing on special teams at Washington. Silvestro also appeared in one game, last week against Miami, before being released Thursday.

    Michael Whitmer can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.