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Patriots Look To Wrap Up Playoff Berth Against Bengals

The Patriots will return to Gillette Stadium for an AFC matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in a contest with playoff implications for both teams. If the Patriots win, they will clinch a playoff berth, while Cincinnati needs to continue its strong play to stay in the playoff hunt. Each team is riding an impressive series of victories, with New England boasting a five-game winning streak and Cincinnati having won five of its last seven contests.

Despite seeing a potential playoff berth on the horizon, the Patriots will need to keep their focus on the Bengals, who rolled to a 31-3 victory over New England in the 2004 preseason. The Cincinnati offense has been among the NFL's best in recent weeks, averaging 42.5 points per game over its last two contests. But the New England defense is among the best in the league, especially at Gillette Stadium, where it has allowed an average of just 5.3 points per game in its last three home contests.

BROADCAST INFORMATION

TELEVISION: This week's game will be televised by CBS to a regional audience. The game can be seen in Boston on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Dick Enberg will handle the play-by-play duties, while Dan Dierdorf will provide analysis. Armen Keteyian will provide reports from the sidelines throughout the game.

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.

DOMINANT IN DECEMBER

When the calendar turns to the 12th month, the weather may turn cold, but in recent years the Patriots have remained red hot. Since Bill Belichick took over as head coach in 2000, the Patriots have recorded a 13-4 (.765) record in games played in the month of December. In home games over that span, the Patriots have recorded a solid 8-2 (.800) record, including an all-time December mark of 5-1 (.833) at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots' December dominance has fit into the team's recent history of saving its best football for the end of the season. Since 2001, the Patriots have recorded a 33-4 (.892) record in games played after Nov. 1, including a 6-0 mark in the playoffs.

PLAYOFF POSSIBILITIES

Patriots Win = Playoff Berth

If the Patriots defeat the Bengals this week, New England will qualify for the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons and for the seventh time in Robert Kraft's 11 seasons of ownership. Even if New England should lose this week, the Patriots would still qualify for the playoffs if Baltimore or Denver loses, or if Pittsburgh wins. A Patriots win this week would guarantee that New England would finish with no worse than a 12-4 record. Given that 11 of the AFC's 16 teams already have at least five losses, one more win would mean the Patriots would be guaranteed to finish among the top five teams in the AFC and thus earn the 13th playoff berth in team history.

Patriots Win Jets Loss = AFC East Title

If the Patriots defeat the Bengals on Sunday and the New York Jets lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England will clinch its third AFC East title in four seasons. With a New England win and a New York loss, the Patriots would own a three-game lead over the Jets with three games to play. In that scenario, even if the Jets were to come back and tie the Patriots in the final standings, New England would still take the division crown based on the fourth tiebreaker (record within the conference).

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