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    In early playoff picture, Patriots are in good shape

    Tom Brady and the Patriots have the Panthers up next.
    Tom Brady and the Patriots have the Panthers up next.

    With 10 weeks gone on the NFL’s regular-season calendar and seven weeks yet to unfold, it might be a little early to start looking at playoff scenarios.

    It definitely is too early for Bill Belichick, who shot down a question about potential playoff scenarios during a Monday conference call.

    “We’re not looking at anybody but Carolina right now, that’s it,” Belichick said. “We’re on Carolina, that’s it. There’s just a lot of football left to be played this season. Right now we just need to focus on what we’re doing and who we’re playing and try to go out there and play better than we’ve played, try to improve and try to win.”


    As his players enjoyed one final day off to close out their bye-week break, Belichick and the coaching staff were back at Gillette Stadium getting ready for their game in Charlotte against the Panthers next Monday night.

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    Belichick is correct — there is still a lot of football left to be played. Right now there are still far more teams capable of claiming a playoff spot than ones who already should be thinking that maybe next year will be their year.

    But as New England (7-2) was enjoying its week off, it was actually getting a bit of help in the playoff standings from the Rams, whose defeat of the Colts in Indianapolis means the Patriots currently own the second seed in the AFC and the first-round bye that comes with it.

    As things stand, the undefeated Chiefs (9-0) would be the top seed, followed by the Patriots, the AFC South-leading Colts (6-3), and the AFC North-leading Bengals (6-4), with the wild-card teams, the Broncos (8-1) and Jets (5-4), rounding out the field.

    Though the Broncos have a better record than New England, they are in the AFC West with Kansas City; the top four seeds go to the division winners. The best two non-division winners get wild-card berths.


    The embattled Dolphins gained only 2 yards rushing Monday night in losing a road game to the Buccaneers, 22-19, to fall to 4-5.

    There are four other teams with 4-5 records: the Titans, Browns, Ravens, and Chargers.

    The Patriots, obviously, are well on their way to another playoff berth and a fifth straight division title, and getting that week of rest for the divisional round of the playoffs is always nice.

    Each time New England has made it to the Super Bowl during Belichick’s tenure, it has had the benefit of a first-round bye. The team has had a bye seven of the 10 times it has qualified for the postseason under Belichick.

    Whether it can remain as the second seed will be determined in the coming weeks.


    The game against the Panthers looks tougher now than when the schedule came out months ago; conversely, upcoming road games against the Texans and Ravens look easier, given that both have had their share of struggles, particularly Houston.

    In between its games with Carolina and Houston, New England hosts Peyton Manning and the Broncos. After returning from their game in Houston, the Patriots round out the season against Cleveland, at Miami, at Baltimore, and against the Bills.

    The Colts, a game back of New England in the conference, play divisional rival Tennessee twice in the coming three weeks, traveling to Arizona in between.

    In Week 14, they play in Cincinnati, then host the Texans, travel to Kansas City, and finish the season home against the Jaguars.

    While the Chiefs have a two-game lead with the No. 1 spot right now, they have yet to play Denver, and how those two games shake out could lead to the Broncos taking over the AFC West lead — or the Chiefs strengthening their hold on the division.

    Five of the Chiefs’ final seven games will be against divisional opponents.

    Of the four division leaders, the Bengals would seem to have the most tenuous grip on their spot.

    They lost an overtime thriller in Baltimore Sunday, a week after losing in OT in Miami, and are just 1-2 in the AFC North.

    After hosting Cleveland this week, a team it lost to in Week 4, Cincinnati has its bye, then travels to San Diego, hosts the Colts, plays at Pittsburgh, and hosts the Vikings and Ravens.

    With 11 teams at 4-5 or better, the AFC playoff race should be interesting — maybe as interesting as the NFC, where there are 10 teams boasting at least a .500 record.

    Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.