Playoff fate isn't up to Pats in tight AFC

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. --- The New England Patriots need just two more wins to finish at an impressive 11-5 without Tom Brady -- and possibly miss the playoffs.

Denver and Arizona could wind up at 8-8 and get in.

That's the same Denver team the Patriots routed 41-7 in the seventh week of the season and the same Arizona team that has clinched the NFC West but is an 8-point underdog to the Patriots in Foxborough on Sunday.

Nearly perfect last season, all the team of the decade can do is play its last two regular-season games and hope the outcomes of others help them reach the postseason for the sixth year in a row -- and give them another chance for their fourth title in eight years after finishing 18-1 with a loss in the Super Bowl.

If Patriots coach Bill Belichick thinks it's unfair for a team with three fewer wins to reach the playoffs while his team becomes the first 11-5 club to miss the postseason in 23 years, he's not saying.

"I'm not even thinking about it. I'm not sure exactly what all the scenarios are. It doesn't make any difference," he said Monday. "There's a million things that can happen and the only thing we can control is how we prepare and play against Arizona."

His players are taking the same approach: win two games then see where they end up.

"I love the challenge," safety Brandon Meriweather said. "I'm more excited than anything just to see how it's all going to play out and see how well the team is going to play in the last couple games."

Quarterback Matt Cassel stayed on the West Coast for his father's funeral today and will then return to prepare for the Cardinals.

The Patriots could dominate them the way they dominated Oakland in a 49-26 win Sunday and still be on the sidelines, as so many of their injured players are, when the playoffs begin.

But the Patriots also will be favored in their last regular-season game, at Buffalo. The other three teams in the AFC East -- New England, Miami and New York -- are 9-5, but the Dolphins and Jets would have the tiebreaker edge over the Patriots if all three finish with the same record. The Patriots also need help in the wild-card race.


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