Patriots shooting for top seed in playoffs

Tom Brady

The Patriots need another win to secure home field advantage in the playoffs.

Patriots shooting for top seed in playoffs

   Sticking to the company line they've toed throughout Bill Belichick's tenure in New England, the Patriots refuse to acknowledge the upcoming playoffs, including where they stand among their conference rivals and who they might play two weeks from now in their postseason opener.
   "I (couldn't) care less who we play," nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "The only thing for sure now is that we have one game in the regular season left and one playoff game right now. Where it is, who knows?
   "One, two seed -- who knows? (I) really don't care. Our main goal is playing good football, (and) being able to play good football. You can't compare any other season to this, because each one is different. You have different players, you have different coaches, and you have different teams in the playoffs, so you really can't compare."
   To some extent, Wilfork is right; you can't compare 2011 to any other season in Patriots' history, not even last year when they entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the AFC despite question marks on defense and promptly got bounced at home by the Jets in the divisional playoffs.
   The point is, despite losing their last two playoff games at home (including two years ago against Baltimore), the Patriots still want every advantage they can get, including home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which they can wrap up Sunday with a win over Buffalo.
   Being the No. 1 seed doesn't guarantee a particular opponent, but it does mean that for at least one round they can avoid whoever finishes with the No. 2 seed, which will either be Baltimore or Pittsburgh.
   The Ravens have already proven they can win a playoff game in Foxboro, as evidenced by their 33-14 wild-card victory in 2009, and the Steelers have already beaten New England this season, albeit in Pittsburgh. The only way that scenario could repeat itself in the playoffs is if the Patriots lose Sunday, Pittsburgh beats Cleveland to earn the No. 1 seed via tiebreaker, and both the Patriots and Steelers advance to the AFC title game, which, under that scenario, would be held at Heinz Field.
   The Patriots would never admit this publicly, but there's no doubt they'd rather host a potential playoff showdown against the Steelers rather than go back to Pittsburgh, where they were dominated on both sides of the ball in a 25-17 loss on Oct. 30.
   The team spokesmen, such as Wilfork, will say all the right things leading up to Sunday, but there's no denying the importance of obtaining the No. 1 seed, if for nothing else than to avoid the teams New England doesn't match up well against for at least one round.
   "The one thing we can do is play better, coach better, (and) just do the little things right," Wilfork said. "That's what we can control."

   --No need to worry about whether anyone will get too much rest this weekend in anticipation of the playoffs, because the New England Patriots still have something to play for in their season finale against Buffalo.
   Winners of seven consecutive games, the Patriots can wrap up the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a win, which would guarantee that the AFC's road to the Super Bowl will have to travel through Foxboro. A loss Sunday and win by Pittsburgh would push New England to the No. 2 seed by virtue of a tie-breaker (the Patriots lost at Pittsburgh earlier this season).
   The good news is the Patriots have the perfect opponent in place for a signature victory; they haven't lost at home to Buffalo in 11 years, plus they're coming off a loss earlier this season at Ralph Wilson Stadium, which snapped their 15-game winning streak against Buffalo.
   Suffice to say, there's plenty of motivation with the playoffs on the horizon. The Patriots know they're a much better team at home than they are on the road despite the fact they've lost their last two home playoff games. So, amidst all the talk of the upcoming Pro Bowl -- the Patriots had eight players selected to the roster -- the focus, as usual, is on the team's goals.
   "We have other plans, hopefully, and we've got a big game this week," quarterback Tom Brady said. "We could really put ourselves in a good position if we win it. It's a team we lost to before, and we've got to go out and play well."
   When these teams played in Week 3, the Patriots led, 21-0, in the second quarter, yet suffered a shocking, 34-31, loss that kept Buffalo unbeaten at 3-0 and handed New England its first loss of the season.
   The tables have turned drastically over the past few months. The Bills have hit hard times, losing nine of their last 12 since that win over New England, and are officially out of the playoff race while the Patriots are on the precipice of wrapping up the No. 1 seed in the conference.
   "They've been in a lot of close games all year -- some they've won and some they've lost," Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick said of the Bills. "They've been very competitive -- the Jets game is a good example; it came down to the last play. Our game came down to the last possession. They're in every game. It just comes down to who makes the plays at the end of the game -- them or their opponents."
   This is eerily similar to the scenario the teams faced in the 2003 season finale at Gillette Stadium. That year, the Bills won their season opener against New England, 31-0, at home, but the Patriots put the finishing touches on their 14-2 season with an equally embarrassing 31-0 win over the Bills in the finale. The Patriots eventually went on to win the Super Bowl.
   Whether this season ends in similar fashion remains to be seen, but the Patriots could assert themselves as the AFC favorite if they clinch home-field advantage through the playoffs. That's what's most at state Sunday, even though the players won't admit it publicly.
   "It's not something that we talk about at all," Brady said. "I think what we've talked about is trying to beat a Buffalo team that's coming here and always plays us tough and a team that beat us earlier in the year.
   "We're not thinking about anything beyond this weekend. I keep saying that every week. I know you guys probably think I'm full of crap, but it's a very short-term, focused team. We just try to stay focused on the present, and that's trying to have good practices and ultimately be prepared for our game on Sunday."
   SERIES HISTORY: 103rd regular-season meeting. Patriots lead series, 60-41-1. New England has won 15 of the last 16 games against Buffalo with the lone loss coming earlier this season in Buffalo, snapping the 15-game win streak against the Bills that ranked third among all-time winning streaks against a single opponent in NFL history. Buffalo has never won at Gillette Stadium; the Bills are 0-9 lifetime in New England's new facility and haven't won in Foxboro since 2000. 

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