No slippage for Patriots in AFC playoff picture

No slippage for Patriots in AFC playoff picture
December 16, 2013, 11:15 am
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(USA Today Sports Photos)

The Patriots golden opportunity to snatch the AFC’s top seed died Sunday at about 3:55 p.m.
 
But at least it didn’t get worse later in the evening.
 
The Cincinnati Bengals -- who could have leapfrogged the Pats in the AFC race with a win over Pittsburgh -- laid an egg and lost, 30-20.
 
So the Patriots, at 10-4, remain the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Denver is the top seed at 11-3. Cincinnati is the third seed (9-5) and will have to play the lowest-seeded AFC Wild Card team if things don’t shake out differently over the final two weeks.
 
Do the Patriots still have a realistic shot at the top seed? Not really. Denver is playing the Texans and Raiders and while both games are on the road, those opponents have six wins between them.
 
Denver, of course, would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker to New England if the teams finish with the same record.
 
Should the Patriots be able to hold onto the No. 2 seed? Their biggest challenge to that comes this week as they travel to Baltimore which is 7-6 and fighting to avoid missing the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl in New Orleans.  
 
The Ravens are in a must-win situation tonight at Detroit in order to keep pace with the 8-6 Dolphins who are the No. 6 seed currently.
 
The Bengals would win the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Patriots if the two teams finish tied. Cincy has a pair of home games -- the Vikings and Ravens -- to close the season.
 
So if the Patriots -- who’ve had their road difficulties -- can’t get past Baltimore next week, New England will be hoping Baltimore does unto the Bengals as the Ravens did unto them.
 
The Patriots close the season at home against the Bills.
 
The importance of the No. 2 seed is that it keeps the Patriots idle for the first round of the playoffs and ensures they’ll host a playoff game. The third seed means they’ll be playing -- quite likely -- the Chiefs and then traveling to Cincinnati for a Divisional Playoff game.