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Patriots playoff road now looks like it will have to be … on the road

12.17.12 at 2:30 am ET

The Patriots had been so dominant at times through the course of the seven-game winning streak that they carried into Sunday night against the 49ers that it proved difficult to remain mindful of a critical fact: The team had failed to gain separation from its top AFC rivals.

But that fact was driven home by a new reality that prevailed after New England’s 41-34 home loss to San Francisco. With the defeat, the Patriots fell to 10-4, one game behind Denver (which has now won nine straight) for the No. 2 playoff seed in the AFC.

After the Patriots destroyed the Texans (still the top overall seed in the AFC) by a 42-14 count last Monday, giving New England an average margin of 25 points in its most recent four wins, it seemed more natural to ask whether the Pats could catch the Texans for home field throughout the AFC playoffs.

But with Sunday’s loss, New England now would need to win out its remaining two games (at Jacksonville and home against Miami) with the Texans losing out (home against the Vikings and on the road at the Colts) and the Broncos losing one of their two remaining home games (against the downtrodden Browns and Chiefs) to claim the top side, an exceedingly unlikely combination of events.

The Pats could still take the No. 2 seed if they win out and the Broncos lose one game, or if they win one game and Denver loses out. But given that Denver is 5-1 at home and hosting two teams that are a combined 2-11 on the road, there is an excellent chance that the Pats (assuming they win out) will be staring at a No. 3 seed in the playoffs, with no bye and, if they win a home game in the wild card round, in need of wins in Denver and/or Houston in order to advance to the Super Bowl.



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