Sunday's games through Pats lens

December, 16, 2012
12/16/12
11:31
AM ET
With another prime-time game in Week 15, Patriots fans will be able to enjoy an afternoon of football before their team takes the field to host the San Francisco 49ers at Gillette Stadium.

Just three weeks remain in the regular season, meaning every game will be closely monitored as it relates to playoff implications. For the Patriots, two games will kick off at 1 p.m. ET that bear monitoring.

Before we take a look at each, here's a quick playoff standings reset.

Division leaders
1. Houston (11-2, clinched playoff berth)
2. New England (10-3, clinched AFC East)
3. Denver (10-3, clinched AFC West)
4. Baltimore (9-4, first in AFC North)

Wild cards
5. Indianapolis (9-4)
6. Cincinnati (8-6; defeated Philadelphia 34-13 on Thursday night)

In the mix
7. Pittsburgh (7-6)
8. New York Jets (6-7)

And now a look at the two games that most closely pertain to the Patriots.

BroncosRavens* Denver (10-3) at Baltimore (9-4): The Patriots are ahead of both of these teams in the standings, so wins in their final three games would render the outcome of this AFC clash moot. But if the Patriots were to lose any of their three games down the home stretch, this game will take on significant meaning. If the Broncos win, they will continue to hold serve in the race for a top-two seed. Because of a head-to-head loss to the Patriots back in Week 5, they would have to finish a game ahead in the standings to overtake New England.

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A Ravens loss would eliminate them from a shot at a top-two seed and first round bye.

A win for Baltimore would push them into the third seed and narrow the Broncos' chances for a top two seed. Additionally, if the Ravens win and finish in either a two- or three-way tie with the Patriots and Broncos, they would hold the tiebreaker because of head-to-head wins (when a three-way tie in the standings exists, if one team has swept the other two in head-to-head matchups, it wins the tiebreaker).

Truth be told, the impact of this game can't be fully quantified until season's end. If the Patriots were to lose this Sunday, a Broncos victory would push them back to the third seed, while a Ravens victory would do the same. With two weeks to play after that, a lot could change in that time, so there isn't a right answer as to whom to root for from a Patriots' perspective.

ColtsTexans* Indianapolis (9-4) at Houston (11-2): The implications of this game are a little clearer for the Patriots, as they stand behind Houston for the top seed in the conference. If the Patriots are to have any shot at the top overall seed in the AFC, they will need Houston to lose at least one more game. If Indianapolis defeats Houston and the Patriots win tonight, they will overtake the top seed on the AFC.

We'll continue to break down playoff scenarios and possibilities as the end of the regular season draws nearer.
Field Yates has previous experience interning with the New England Patriots on both their coaching and scouting staffs. A graduate of Wesleyan University (CT), he is a regular contributor to ESPN Boston's Patriots coverage and ESPN Insider.

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