FOXBORO -- With just Jacksonville and Miami remaining on the Patriots' regular-season schedule, has their attention turned to the playoffs yet?
The Pats, as expected, say no but not just because they're the Patriots. It's also because there's still a chance they can get a first-round bye. They'll need help, of course. But if Houston (currently at No. 1) and Denver (No. 2) stumble, the Pats definitely won't have a shot at a first-round bye if they lose one of their last two games.
But it's not out of the realm of possibility, which is why these Patriots aren't going to take the 2-12 Jaguars lightly . . . even if you don't believe New England's usual praise of their next opponent.
"With this team, a lot of people might look at their record, but, you can just tell, they just line up and they play football," said Vince Wilfork after Thursday's practice. "They're old school. They line up, they try to do things right, and you can just tell that when they do things right they move the ball, they make plays. They have guys in skill positions that can make some good plays. They have a bunch of backs that carry the ball this year.
"So, like I said, it's going to be challenging for us. We're not going into this thinking about any record. We're going out and just trying to put together a good game plan and execute well. Hopefully that's good enough for us."
The offensive players feel the same way.
"We can't worry about Jacksonville's record," said wide receiver Deion Branch on Thursday. "Overall, we've got a lot of stuff that we need to straighten out, in all three phases of the game. So we can't worry about who we're playing."
"I think we've taken the whole season one game at a time, and we're going to continue to do that and get ready for Jacksonville," said wide receiver Wes Welker. "They present some real problems, and we've just got to go out there and play well."
The Patriots say they aren't just trying to win these next two games. They also believe they can use it as an opportunity to improve before the playoffs begin.
But improve on what, against a team with just two wins?
"Playing a little bit more consistent, working on our third down. Trust me, we can improve, scoring in the red area," said Branch. "I think most of the stuff just goes back to being a little bit more consistent."
Patriots players are at least being consistent with praising their opponent, even if they are a 15-point favorite on the road.