FOXBORO — The Patriots have plenty at stake this weekend against the Dolphins in the regular season finale at Gillette Stadium .
First, the 11-4 Patriots need a win and some help to get a much-needed bye, and a week off. With the chances of Denver losing at home to the Chiefs in the season finale highly unlikely, the Pats  should know at kickoff just what their chances are for playoff bye since the Texans-Colts game will be in the books.
If the Colts win, the Patriots will control their own fate for a bye, something Bill Belichick  alluded to on Friday morning.
“There’s nothing that we can do to help ourselves unless we beat Miami,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do to help our situation unless we win. So, we have to win for anything to happen positive. That’s no guarantee that it will but that’s the first prerequisite. So, that’s what we’re operating under that premise. We have to go out there and win. If we want things to be better, we have to help ourselves. We have to do that first. That’s really what it’s all about.”
But even should the Patriots fall short in their goal of a bye, there’s something even more important – the health and protection of Tom Brady . And it centers on the five men protecting him on the offensive line. They haven’t had a great two weeks. Brady was sacked three times and hit nine times in a shaky win over the Jaguars, while throwing two interceptions. The week before against San Francisco, Brady was sacked three times and also threw two interceptions in a 41-34 loss.
“We try to do that every week,” Belichick said of the priority to protect No. 12. “Protect the quarterback, throw the ball, make holes for the running back, run the ball. It’s nothing any different. It’s what we try to do every week.”
The Patriots know:
All five of those things are a must if the Patriots are going to get what they really want for the new year – a playoff bye and a real shot at another Super Bowl  run.
“Depends on what the injuries are,” Belichick said Friday when asked how much the bye could help get rest for his injured players. “We’ll have to see how it goes. But it’s one less game you have to play so, in this league, at this time of year [playoffs], you know you’re playing a good team. So, whoever you play, they’re going to be good. Having to play one less game, I think there’s some advantage to that, definitely.”
To Belichick’s point, all five Super Bowl appearances in his tenure have come with the Patriots having advantage of the bye. Enough said.