Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New England Patriots [Print without images]

Sunday, December 23, 2012
Pats within reach of top-two seed

By Field Yates

It wasn't as easy as many thought it would be, but the Patriots took care of business against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday to improve to 11-4 and stay within reach of a top-two seed in the AFC.

It also wasn't the only victory during the early afternoon slate of games for the Patriots, as the Vikings were able to go to Houston and upset the Texans. That means the Texans fall to 12-3, and if they lose to the Colts in Indianapolis in Week 17 and the Patriots handle the Dolphins, the Patriots would be guaranteed a top-two seed.

The Denver Broncos have just begun their Week 16 action against the Cleveland Browns, and that game has direct ties to both the Patriots and Texans. If the Broncos lose, the Patriots would regain control of their own destiny for a top-two seed, and Houston would earn a top-two seed and a first-round bye.

If Denver wins, it will remain in the driver's seat for a top-two seed along with Houston, with each facing a win-and-clinch scenario in Week 17. Houston holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Denver because the Texans defeated the Broncos earlier this season.

There's still plenty to be decided in the AFC, and Week 17 promises to be an intriguing close to the regular season.

Here's an updated look at the division leaders and the AFC playoff standings, with remaining schedules included.

Division leaders
1. Houston (12-3, clinched AFC South; at Indianapolis)
2. Denver (11-3, clinched AFC West; vs Cleveland, vs. Kansas City)
3. New England (11-4, clinched AFC East; vs. Miami)
4. Baltimore (9-5, clinched playoff berth; vs. New York Giants, at Cincinnati)

Wild cards
5. Indianapolis (10-5, clinched wild card; vs. Houston)
6. Cincinnati (9-6, clinched playoff berth; vs. Baltimore)