The Patriots stand pat this week after a closer-than-many-anticipated 34-31 win over the Texans. They trail the Seahawks, Broncos and Panthers in the rankings. A look at the voting shows that they received two third-place votes, two fourth-place votes and two fifth-place votes.
The Patriots' remaining opponents are the Browns (27), Dolphins (17), Ravens (14) and Bills (24).
Now that we've reached the final quarter of the season, playoff positioning becomes a bigger part of the media-based discussion, and at 9-3, the Patriots would be the No. 2 seed if the playoffs started today. So if they win their final four games, they'd clinch a bye, which would naturally be preferred, though not a necessity (as the Ravens showed last season).
If the Patriots are dealt a fourth loss, it could potentially bring tiebreakers into play, and one thing to keep in mind is that the 8-4 Bengals would hold the edge over the Patriots because of their head-to-head win on Oct. 6.
As for hopes of winning out and getting the top seed, the Patriots would need the 10-2 Broncos to lose against one of these four teams: Titans (at home), Chargers (at home), Texans (on the road) and the Raiders (on the road).
That seems unlikely from this perspective, potentially setting up a scenario similar to that of last season, with Denver as the No. 1 seed and New England as the No. 2, with the suddenly-back-in-the-picture Ravens looming.