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AFC East Champions clash with Niners in season finale

The Patriots will close out the 2004 regular season this Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots will close out the 2004 regular season this Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers at Gillette Stadium. Although the Patriots cannot improve their playoff positioning any further having already clinched the second seed in the AFC playoffs, a victory this week is important for New England if it is to maintain critical late-season momentum. The Patriots can tie the franchise's best 16-game record with a victory, equaling last season's 14-2 mark. In addition, a victory for the Patriots would tie the best record in NFL history by a defending Super Bowl champion.


TELEVISION: This week's game will be televised to a regional audience by the Fox Network. The game can be seen in Boston on WFXT-TV Channel 25. Curt Menefee will handle the play-by-play duties, while former Atlanta Falcons defensive end Tim Green will provide analysis.

RADIO: WBCN 104.1 FM is the flagship station for the Patriots Rock Radio Network. Play-by-play broadcaster Gil Santos is in his 28th season as the voice of the Patriots and will call the action along with Patriots Hall of Famer Gino Cappelletti. Santos and Cappelletti are celebrating their 21st season as a broadcast tandem.


The Patriots have clinched the AFC East title and a first-round bye, assuring that they will host a divisional round playoff game the weekend of Jan. 15-16. As the second seed in the AFC playoffs, New England will host the highest-seeded winner from the wild card round at 4:30 p.m. on Sat., Jan. 15 or 4:30 p.m. on Sun., Jan. 16.


Including this season, the Patriots have earned a first-round playoff bye in three of the last four years, tying them with the NFC's Philadelphia Eagles for the most byes in the NFL over that span. Since the first-round bye was instituted in its current format in 1990, the Patriots have earned a bye four times (1996, 2001, 2003 and 2004), and have advanced to play in the Super Bowl each of the previous three times they have earned playoff byes. The Patriots' four byes rank second in AFC history, trailing only the Pittsburgh Steelers' record of six byes since the current format was adopted 15 seasons ago.


If the Patriots defeat San Francisco this week, they would tie the best regular-season record in NFL history by a defending Super Bowl champion. A victory for the Patriots would allow them to finish the regular season with a 14-2 record for the second consecutive season and tie five other teams for the most victories by a defending champion in the Super Bowl Era (since 1966). The 1998 Denver Broncos were the last defending champs to finish with a 14-win campaign, joining San Francisco (1989 and 1990), Chicago (1986) and Washington (1983) as the only teams to defend their titles with 14 wins in the regular season. Out of the five teams that have previously accomplished the feat, two have repeated as champions - the 1998 Broncos and the 1989 49ers.


The Patriots have recorded 13 regular-season victories for the second time in the 45-year history of the franchise. The only other season in which New England recorded 13 or more victories was 2003, when it finished with a franchise-best 14-2 record.

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