Patriots face finale with playoff seeding at stake

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Young or old, Patriots players have the same view of looking ahead to the playoffs.

They don't.

The Patriots already have won their fifth straight AFC East title and can clinch their eighth first-round bye in 14 seasons on Sunday. But they're not celebrating anything.

They're focused on their next game, against the Buffalo Bills, where a loss could send them to a wild-card game and deprive them of an extra week to study for their next opponent, and let their bruises heal.

"The Patriots always have their ways of getting to the playoffs so, coming in, I knew we were a playoff team," rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson said Tuesday, but "we definitely can't look past Buffalo."

Dobson, a second-round draft choice, was 9 years old when Patriots defensive end Andre Carter was drafted in the first round by San Francisco.

"We're not even thinking about the bye or not having the bye. We can't overlook the present," the 13-year veteran said, "Right now our focus is Buffalo and only Buffalo."

Special teams captain Matthew Slater is in his sixth season and senses some excitement among both the newcomers and the old-timers, but knows they can't get carried away.

"As older guys, we understand how hard it is to get to the playoffs and there's no guarantee that you get there," he said. "As younger guys, it's the first time that some of them are experiencing the playoffs, so they're excited about the opportunity. You work for this. You work for the postseason. You work for Week 17 late in the season.

"This is why you play the game. So if you're not excited about these games coming up here down the stretch, starting with Buffalo, then you're in the wrong business."

The Patriots (11-4) know they're in the playoffs. Just where they get seeded is far from certain.

They can finish in any of the top four spots in the AFC, with only the first two getting byes.

They would get:

  • the No. 1 spot and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs if they win and Denver (12-3) loses.
  • the No. 2 spot if they win or tie and Denver wins, or if they lose and Cincinnati (10-5) and Indianapolis (10-5) lose or tie.
  • the No. 3 spot if they lose, Cincinnati wins and Indianapolis loses.
  • the No. 4 spot if they lose and Cincinnati and Indianapolis win.

"We always say that as the season goes on, the games only get bigger and bigger and bigger, and I think that is this week, too," quarterback Tom Brady said. "We've worked too hard for too long to get to this point.

"We've got a great opportunity ahead of us, and you just don't want to go out there and not give it your best and put out an effort that's less than 100 percent of what you're capable of, because, like I said, it's been 11 months of work to get us back to this point."

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