After weeks of insisting they didn't know all the playoff scenarios, the Patriots have no excuse now.
It's Week 17 and they know exactly what's at stake this weekend: win and they're in the playoffs. Lose, and their season's over.
Simple as that.
It's a remarkable accomplishment given all the adversity and injuries the team has had to overcome this year.
"I'm just proud of our team for being in this position we're in," LB Mike Vrabeltold reporters at his locker Tuesday. "We expected to be here with a chance to continue to play in the post-season."
Now, if Vrabel and the Pats beat the Bills in Buffalo Sunday afternoon, they'll still have to wait for the outcomes of the Dolphins-Jets and Jaguars-Ravens games, both of which kick off at 4:15 Eastern, to learn whether they're AFC East champs or one of two Wild Card teams.
If Miami loses, the Pats would win the East by beating Buffalo. If Miami wins and the Ravens lose, the Pats would be the 6th-seeded team and would travel to Miami on Wild Card Weekend. If both the Ravens and Dolphins win, the Pats' season is over, regardless of what they do in Buffalo.
So, New England finds itself in the unusual position of having to cheer for the Jets. But first, they have to take care of the Bills.
"Yeah, once our game's over, then you can start worrying about that stuff," said WR Wes Welker. "Right now, we're just concentrating on Buffalo to make sure we're getting ourselves prepared for them."
"Our focus has got to be on Buffalo right now," Vrabel added. "We're not in rooter mode right now. We're just going to go out there and play hard. We've got enough to worry about [with Buffalo]."
"The only thing we're focused on right now is winning this game," left tackle Matt Lightinsisted. "You look at what Buffalo's been able to do this season and the challenge of playing at their place … it's a huge game. There's no reason for us to look past anything. We can't control anything else other than what we do this week.
"If we keep continuing to do what we do, play penalty-free and error free, and just go out there and finish this regular season, we'll let everything else unfold on its own."
Given that rain and snow showers are in the extended forecast for the Buffalo area on Sunday, the Patriots began work this week by practicing on the game field at Gillette Stadium – the same FieldTurf surface that they'll play on at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Four players were absent from the start of practice: safety James Sanders, LB Tedy Bruschi, WR/DB Ray Ventrone, and DE Richard Seymour, who left the Cardinals game with a back injury and never returned. Ventrone was not seen in the locker room prior to practice either. It's unclear what kept him out of the media portion of practice.
Six players were awarded black jerseys, the team's practice-player-of-the-week honor: WR Kelley Washington, LB Larry Izzo, G Dan Connolly, G Billy Yates, WR Sam Aiken, and practice squad member Darrell Robertson(LB).