The Patriots will head into the final week of the season with a chance to win one of two first-round byes, and still are alive for the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
The Patriots survived an ugly performance in Jacksonville and beat the Jaguars, 23-16, to improve to 11-4 on the season. The Texans fell to 12-3 with a home loss to the surging 9-6 Vikings. The Broncos easily handled the Browns in Denver to match Houston at 12-3.
As a result, the Patriots can win the No. 1 seed next week with a win over the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium, a Denver loss at home to Kansas City and a Texans loss to the Colts in Indianapolis. That would give the Patriots, Broncos and Texans all records of 12-4 record, and the Patriots beat both teams in their head-to-head meetings.
The Patriots can still win a first-round bye if they beat Miami, and the Broncos or Texans lose, giving the Patriots the No. 2 seed. If the Patriots lose, they will not have a first-round bye and will be playing the weekend of Jan. 5-6. The Patriots would finish No. 3 if they beat Miami and Houston and Denver both win next week. The Patriots will also finish No. 3 if they lose and the Ravens lose in Cincinnati in Week 17. If the Ravens and Patriots finish tied at 11-5, the Ravens will be the No. 3 seed and the Patriots No. 4 based on Baltimore's 31-30 win on Sept. 23.
Cincinnati and Indianapolis both won on the road Sunday, clinching the final two playoff spots in the AFC. Both the Bengals and Colts will be wild cards as the Ravens clinched the AFC North with a win over the Giants in Baltimore. The Colts will enter the playoffs as the No. 5 seed while the Bengals will be the No. 6 seed based on common games.
Here are the AFC playoff seedings after Sunday's games:
1. Texans (12-3, AFC South champs, beat Broncos head-to-head)
2. Broncos (12-3, AFC West champs, lost to Texans head-to-head)
3. Patriots (11-4, AFC East champs)
4. Ravens (10-5, AFC North champs)
5. Colts (10-5, wild card No. 1)
6. Bengals (9-6, wild card No. 2)