New England Patriots

Dec 23, 2018; Foxborough, MA New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick waves into the stands after their 24-12 win over the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Bill Belichick waves into the stands after their 24-12 win over the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

By Matt Dolloff,

The Patriots’ chances of getting the coveted first-round bye got a lot better on Sunday. Not long after beating the Buffalo Bills 24-12 to clinch the AFC East, the Houston Texans fell to the Philadelphia Eagles 32-30 on a last-second field goal by Jake Elliott. With both teams now at 10-5, the Pats win the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Texans and slide back into the No. 2 seed.

Reporters huddled around various TVs while they waited to head into the locker room, waiting breathlessly like everyone else in New England to see if the Eagles could finish it off. Thankfully, their kicker didn’t choke. And the Patriots were certainly happy to see that too.

That was evident in their reaction to the Texans’ loss in the locker room. As media poured in, linebacker Kyle Van Noy could be heard shouting “Yeah, Nick!” in reference to Nick Foles, the Eagles quarterback who burned the Patriots badly in Super Bowl LII but gave them a huge boost on Sunday.

The Patriots are certainly thankful for the early Christmas gift from Foles and the Eagles, but they still need to win one more game to set that No. 2 seed in the proverbial stone. As you might expect, that was the message for the all-business Patriots as they donned their AFC East championship hats & t-shirts.

“That’s the main thing we’re worried about, just us,” said safety Duron Harmon. “Thank you Nick Foles for getting the win, but I’ll take our team against anybody. We know how good we are and we know how good we can be. We just have to worry about ourselves and make sure that every time we step on the field from now on that we’re ready to go and play our best ball.”

“We still got to take care of business and take care of the Jets next week,” added edge rusher Trey Flowers. “We’re not looking too far ahead and whenever their time comes around, we also got to be well prepared. Nothing is really won today. The ultimate goal is not won today, but as long as we keep doing our job, we’ll be where we want to be.”

Home field throughout the AFC Playoffs is still not set. The Kansas City Chiefs would have to lose their final two games, so it’s not likely. But it’s still possible. The Patriots’ struggles on the road (3-5 record this season) continue to dwindle as an issue to worry about entering the playoffs, thanks to Sunday’s favorable results.

Because at home, the Patriots are 7-0 and look as strong as any team in the NFL. And they did it on Sunday against the Bills even without Tom Brady being a big part of it. Even if they end up with the No. 2 seed, their chances of having a deeper-than-expected playoff run are drastically improved with only Kansas City to worry about as a potential road destination.

As long as they take care of business next Sunday against the Jets, the Pats will be locked into that all-important bye. That’s especially true this season, with Brady and Rob Gronkowski appearing to be playing through rough injuries. If and when they’re in that spot, they should be considered as much of a contender as anyone to emerge as the winner from a wide-open AFC.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at