As the only team in the AFC to have wrapped up their division as of today, the Patriots are already playoff-bound. With a little help, they could ensure that they're home for the entirety of the postseason.
First off, New England needs to beat the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium this Sunday. If they succeed in doing so following their 1 o'clock kickoff, they'll need to watch the 4:25 contests involving the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers. If both those teams lose their respective games, the Patriots slide up from the No. 2 seed to the top spot in the AFC.
Meanwhile, after celebrating Christmas with a day off, players and coaches came back to work today. New England's 53-man roster remains relatively healthy, with just three players listed on today's injury report.
The Patriots held a walkthrough practice, rather than a workout in pads, but to a man, they maintained that they're not taking a win over the Jets for granted, even though New England vanquished New York at MetLife Stadium just last month.
"It's always tough to beat a team twice [in a season]," running back/co-captain James White pointed out. "It's always tough when we play these guys, home or away. They're going to come in ready to play no matter what their record is."
"Seeding and all that, it is what it is," special teams co-captain Matthew Slater remarked. "We need to play well to try to win the game against the Jets, and we can go from there."
By the same token, the Patriots understand what's at stake for them this weekend. Even if the Chiefs and Chargers both win, as long as New England does, too, the Patriots can do no worse than the No. 2 seed.
"For us, this is a playoff game," declared safety Patrick Chung. "We just worry about what we can control – win our game, things happen, could work out [that we get the No. 1 seed]. If things don't happen, we know we did our job. So, it's really a playoff game for us to get that bye week."
"We still have business to do in the regular season. We have to approach this like it's a playoff game. There's still a lot riding on this game," wide receiver Chris Hogan emphasized. "I don't think we're looking forward to what's going to happen in the future. All of our focus is on the Jets and what we have to do to come out and play a good football game against them…. There's no focus outside of what we have to do on Sunday. All of our focus is on the Jets. Whatever's going to happen is going to happen. We can't control that. What we can control is our attitude, effort, and preparation leading up to this game. Everyone's pretty locked in on what we have to do. We're going to work hard this week to do that."
"We have to play our best football, which we haven't done a lot this year," added White. "We all know we can play better in general and that's enough motivation to play our best… we know what we're capable of. The rest will take care of itself. We should only be focused on this week at this point."