Patriots no longer control own destiny

December, 17, 2012
12/17/12
12:11
AM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After losing 41-34 to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, the Patriots fell to third place in the AFC standings at 10-4. The loss pushes the Patriots behind the Denver Broncos (11-3), who won their ninth straight game earlier on Sunday.

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Do you think the Patriots will get a top-two seed and a first-round bye in the AFC?

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The Broncos and Texans (12-2) are in control for the top two seeds in the AFC, and Houston can clinch the top overall seed with a Week 16 win. The Patriots would need either the Texans or Broncos to falter over the final two weeks of the season to have a chance at a first-round bye.

Unless the unexpected happens (Denver's final two foes have a combined .250 winning percentage), the Patriots seem headed to the No. 3 seed in the AFC and a wild-card weekend matchup against either Indianapolis or Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or -- believe it or not -- the New York Jets.

More importantly, the Patriots project to be headed to a divisional-round matchup against the surging Broncos ... in Denver. For Patriots fans, that has to be a concern.

Here is an updated look at the AFC playoff standings. You can project the final two games with ESPN.com's Playoff Machine:

Division leaders
1. Houston (12-2, clinched AFC South)
2. Denver (11-3, cliched AFC West)
3. New England (10-4, clinched AFC East)
4. Baltimore (9-5, clinched playoff berth)

Wild cards
5. Indianapolis (9-5)
6. Cincinnati (8-6)

In the mix
7. Pittsburgh (7-7)
8. New York Jets (6-7; play Tennessee on Monday night)

And here's a look at the remaining schedules for the top teams in the AFC:


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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