FOXBOROUGH — By the end of the regular-season finale against Miami Sunday, the Patriots could be the AFC’s top playoff seed. They could also be the fourth-seeded team.
They understand all of the combinations that will set the seedings. They are determined, however, not to allow any of that to affect their performance against the Dolphins.
“I’m sure we’ll all be aware of that. Yeah, no question,” said Tom Brady. “But I don’t think that changes what our goal is for the weekend. We’re trying to win this game regardless.
“It could be different if some other teams win. But that’s really out of our control. We’re just going to go out and try to win.”
New England (11-4) is currently the No. 3 seed behind Houston (12-3) and Denver (12-3). The Patriots could swipe the top spot if they beat the Dolphins and Houston and Denver lose to Indianapolis and Kansas City.
The Patriots could also tumble to fourth with a loss to Miami, plus wins by Houston, Denver, and Baltimore.
Houston and Baltimore play at 1 p.m. New England and Denver start at 4:25 p.m. The Patriots will have a better understanding of the playoff scenarios by kickoff.
“I’ve been around this league long enough to know that you can’t predict how anything’s going to go on Sundays in the NFL,” said Bill Belichick. “We’ll control what we can control, which is to get ready and play Miami.”
To that end, Brady is eager to develop the consistency that was missing in last Sunday’s 23-16 win over Jacksonville. Brady was critical of his team’s performance following the win.
“Our goals are ahead of us,” he said. “That’s where we’re looking. That’s the direction we’re heading in.”
Defensive end Jermaine Cunningham practiced Wednesday for the first time in a month. On Nov. 26, Cunningham was suspended four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. He is eligible to play against Miami Sunday.
Cunningham will require a break-in period to re-acclimate to NFL pace, as he was not eligible to practice during the suspension.
“Any time a player comes back from an absence for a while — whatever the reasons are, it doesn’t matter — there’s a combination of catching up mentally to what’s going on, but also catching up on a technique standpoint,” said Belichick.
“Also communication and reaction. No matter how much a player runs around a track, does situps, or whatever, it’s not the same as when 21 other guys are out there, hearing plays called, reacting to what happens on the other side of the ball, communicating, and making adjustments with your teammates.
“There’s no way to do that other than to do it. “
In 11 games, Cunningham has 24 tackles and 2.5 sacks. He has started three games.
One more time
The Patriots have a final chance to generate some consistency before the postseason. The close win over Jacksonville did little to ease their concerns about their play. The week before that, they dropped a 41-34 game to San Francisco.
“It’s the last game of the year,” said Brady. “It’s our last opportunity to make improvements before the playoffs. Hopefully we can get some guys back. We’ve been battling through little injuries over the course of the season. This is the time to be at our best.”
On Dec. 2, the Patriots beat the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium, 23-16. Miami beat Buffalo last Sunday, 24-10.
“Big challenge for us this week to get things back on track in terms of our overall performance,” Belichick said. “Try to get off to a better start than we have the last two weeks. That would help. And play well for 60 minutes.”
Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti will reunite Sunday for the final time. Cappelletti, Santos’s former color man, will call the opening drive alongside the team’s play-by-play voice. Cappelletti retired last summer and was replaced by Scott Zolak this season. Sunday will mark Santos’s final regular-season game. He will retire at season’s end. “To the fans, that’s huge, because that’s oftentimes their connection to the team,” said Belichick of a dependable radio presence. “They hear that every week, thousands and thousands of fans. That was the case for me. When I grew up watching the Colts, it was Chuck Thompson. He was the voice of the Colts. As a fan, I felt more of a connection to him than anybody else, because that’s the guy you heard the most from.” . . . Miami coach Joe Philbin on the Patriots: “They don’t panic. They keep their poise. They got down, 10-0 [against Jacksonville]. There’s never a sense of panic there. They have confidence in themselves. They made plays and won the game. That’s the thing that has to impress you the most about these guys — the consistency and the belief they have that they’re going to win every time they step on the field.” . . . Philbin was noncommittal about the availability of wide receiver Davone Bess, who has missed two games because of a back injury. Bess didn’t practice Wednesday. “We’re not sure,” Philbin said. “We’ll see how the week goes and how it unfolds.” . . . New England signed three players to the practice squad: wide receiver Kamar Aiken, running back James Develin, and defensive back Cyhl Quarles. The Patriots had released Aiken and Develin Monday. Quarles was on the practice squad for two weeks in September . . . The Patriots wore neither pads nor helmets for their Wednesday practice.