The Patriots clinched the AFC East with Sunday’s thrilling 27-24 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they will still have plenty on the line in the last two weeks of the regular season.
The Patriots and Steelers are both 11-3, but the Patriots have the tiebreaker by virtue of Sunday’s win. If the Patriots beat both the Buffalo Bills (next Sunday) and New York Jets (Dec. 31), they will clinch the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
A loss over the next two weeks could potentially cost the Patriots not only the top seed, but also a bye as the Jacksonville Jaguars (10-4) could still move up from the third seed, which would host a game in the wild-card round.
Having the top seed would also mean avoiding the Steelers or Jaguars in the divisional round, as the two teams would likely face each other in that round.
Of course, the next two weeks will not be easy. The Patriots will be favored at home against the Bills, but Buffalo comes to Gillette on Christmas Eve at 8-6 and needs to win to stay in the playoff picture.
Also, there is ill will between the teams following Rob Gronkowski’s late hit on Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White in Week 13. That infraction led to Gronkowski’s one-game suspension, and his absence was felt when the Patriots lost to the Miami Dolphins the following week.
White did not believe the one-game suspension was enough, and called Gronkowski a dirty player. White also sent a text message to former Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark after the incident, which Clark shared on ESPN radio.
“He said the whole ’hood want ’em, you know what I mean? The whole ’hood want Gronk, for sure,” Clark said. “I mean, that’s the exact text: ‘The whole ’hood want ’em.’ ”
The Jets are 5-9 and host the Chargers this weekend before heading to Foxborough for the season finale on New Year’s Eve.
The Steelers face a depleted Houston Texans squad on the road in Week 16, then return home to wrap it up against the winless Cleveland Browns.
The Jaguars, having clinched the AFC South, have a bit of a tough stretch to the end of the season, hitting the road for a pair of games. They face the suddenly hot San Francisco 49ers, who have won three in a row with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm, this weekend. They close out the season against a Tennessee Titans squad that is fighting for a playoff spot at 8-6.
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