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The Patriots Can Clinch a First Round Bye This Week

The New England Patriots can lock up a bye week with some help from the Pittsburgh Steelers

The New England Patriots have won their record-tying 7th consecutive AFC East crown, but that's not good enough for head coach Bill Belichick and company. There's far more to achieve.

The Patriots actually hold the record for most consecutive first round byes, with five between 2010-14, and the franchise wants to extend their record to six straight seasons. This goal can be achieved this week.

Option One: The Patriots beat the Tennessee Titans AND the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Denver Broncos

Why? A Patriots victory sends New England to a 12-2, meaning a worst case scenario is a 12-4 record. If the Steelers defeat the Broncos, Denver falls to 10-4, meaning their best case scenario would be 12-4. The best case for the Broncos includes a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in week 16, meaning the Bengals best case scenario would also result in a 12-4 record.

Since the Broncos would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Patriots and Bengals, they would earn the #1 seed. The Patriots and Bengals would have identical 9-3 conference records, but since the Patriots hold the common games (Bills, Steelers, Broncos, Texans) tiebreaker (New England is 4-1, Cincinnati would be 2-3), New England would earn the #2 seed.

Option Two: The Patriots beat the Titans AND the San Francisco 49ers beat the Benagls AND the Broncos tie the Steelers

Why? The Patriots would achieve a minimum 12-4 record. If the Bengals lose, they can achieve a maximum of a 12-4 record. However, the Bengals would earn a 10-2 conference record in this scenario because they would have to defeat the Broncos, and Cincinnati would earn the #1 seed.

If the Bengals hypothetically defeat the Broncos in week 16, Denver could technically finish 12-4 as well. In this scenario, Cincinnati would win the three-way tiebreaker with their conference record, and then the Broncos would beat the Patriots for the #2 seed due to their head-to-head victory.

Therefore, the Patriots would need the Broncos to tie in order to ensure that Denver can't match the 12-4 record of the Patriots and Bengals, allowing the Patriots to take the #2 seed.