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Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Patriots putting AFC East on ice

By James Walker

The AFC East is virtually in the bag for the New England Patriots. New England improved to 7-3 with an easy, 34-3, victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on "Monday Night Football."

New England now owns a two-game lead over the Buffalo Bills (5-5) and essentially a three-game lead over the New York Jets (5-5) after sweeping "Gang Green" this season. There's nothing to suggest the Bills or Jets, who are both struggling, can make up that deficit this late in the season.

The only question remaining for the Patriots is can they secure home-field advantage? New England is tied with the Baltimore Ravens (7-3), Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3) and Houston Texans (7-3) for the best record in the AFC. New England also has the easiest remaining schedule. The Patriots' final six opponents do not have winning records.

Texans starting quarterback Matt Schaub (foot) is lost for the season. Houston will likely be out of the running for the No. 1 seed.

New England's biggest competition is Pittsburgh and Baltimore. But the Ravens play the 9-1 San Francisco 49ers on Thanksgiving, in addition to a road game against the Cincinnati Bengals (6-4).  The Steelers also play the Bengals and 49ers.

Pittsburgh holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over New England and would get the top seed if the Steelers win the AFC North and have a similar record. But, barring injury, the Patriots appears to be a lock for at least the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the AFC.