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Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Can Patriots secure home-field advantage?

By James Walker

It's amazing how quickly perception changes in the NFL.

Last week the New England Patriots were done. They were in the middle of a two-game losing streak and written off by many as has-been's. So much was the case that the AFC East blog felt the need to offer this public service announcement.

But following Sunday's win against the New York Jets, things are looking up for New England. Not only will the Patriots most likely capture the AFC East, but home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is within reach.

The path looks clear for New England (6-3) thanks to an easy schedule and unfortunate circumstances with other teams. The Patriots have the NFL's easiest remaining slate, which includes six consecutive games against teams with losing records. The only opponent New England faces with a winning record is the Buffalo Bills (5-4), who lost four of their last six games.

Also, the teams with the best records in the AFC are the Houston Texans (7-3) and Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3). Houston reportedly is losing franchise quarterback Matt Schaub for the entire season with a foot injury. Defensive end/linebacker Mario Williams also is out for the year. Can the Texans keep pace in the second half of the season without Schaub at quarterback and their best defensive player? It's doubtful.

The Steelers right now are the favorites for home-field advantage in the AFC. But they have at least two tough games remaining against the Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) and San Francisco 49ers (8-1). Pittsburgh owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with New England but was swept by the Baltimore Ravens (6-3) in the AFC North. Therefore, if both have equal records, the Steelers would be a wild card from their division. That might open the door for New England to take the top seed.

The Patriots came out of the hard part of their schedule with a 6-3 record. The Patriots, at the very least, look poised to lock up a No. 2 seed in the AFC. All they have to do in the second half of the season is stay focus and take care of business against inferior opponents.