Patriots

AFC Playoff Picture: Patriots' path to No. 1 seed becoming clearer

AFC Playoff Picture: Patriots' path to No. 1 seed becoming clearer

The New England Patriots didn't play this past weekend, but they still managed to pick up a win.

That's because the Kansas City Chiefs -- one of two teams ahead of the Patriots in the AFC -- lost an epic shootout to the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night to drop to 9-2. The defeat means Kansas City technically has just a one-game lead on New England, who owns the tiebreaker by virtue of its head-to-head win in Week 6.

Of course, the Patriots still will need help from both the Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers to secure the AFC's No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But if they win out (which admittedly is a big "if"), they need Kansas City to lose just one more game to capture the AFC's top spot.

Let's reset the AFC playoff picture entering Week 12.

AFC Overall Standings

1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)*

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2-1)*

3. New England Patriots (7-3)*

4. Houston Texans (7-3)*

5. Los Angeles Chargers (7-3)

6. Baltimore Ravens (5-5)

In the hunt: Cincinnati Bengals (5-5), Miami Dolphins (5-5), Indianapolis Colts (5-5), Tennessee Titans (5-5) 

AFC Wild-Card Round Matchups (as of Nov. 20)

No. 3 Patriots vs. No. 6 Ravens

No. 4 Texans vs. No. 5 Chargers

Key Week 12 Matchups

- Patriots at New York Jets

- Steelers at Denver Broncos

- Texans at Titans

With the Chiefs on a bye this week, the Patriots must take care of business on the road against New York if they want to remain in striking distance. Kansas City returns from the bye with an easy matchup against the Oakland Raiders, so the pressure will be on Bill Belcihick and Co. to take care of business.

Pittsburgh will be favored against Denver, but it is a late afternoon road game with a three-hour time difference, so there's a slight chance of a Broncos upset. New England also should keep an eye on Houston, which boasts an identical record after winning seven straight. The Patriots do own the tiebreaker over the Texans, though.

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Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger still dangerous at home

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Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger still dangerous at home

FOXBORO -- It doesn't matter how Ben Roethlisberger has looked in recent weeks. Bill Belichick fawned over him Friday like he was playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the league. 

Roethlisberger ranks in the middle of the league in a few key categories like yards per attempt (13th) and rating (15th), and only Jets rookie Sam Darnold has thrown more picks than Roethlisberger (15 to 13). In his last four games, Roethlisberger has thrown nearly as many interceptions (six) as touchdowns (seven).

But when asked about Roethlisberger's ability to extend plays, Belichick took his time lauding the Steelers veteran passer. 

"He's as good as anybody at that," Belichick said. "He's strong. He stands in the pocket, stiff-arms defenders, throws the ball. He's got great length himself to be able to see over practically everything. 

"He's got a tremendous arm. He can deliver with no windup or step into the throw. He can just flat-foot it and fire it 50, 60 yards downfield. He's got great poise, great patience. He knows how long he can wait. Usually, a lot of times, he waits until the bitter end and then delivers the ball on time."

Belichick referenced Roethlisberger's 97-yard touchdown throw to JuJu Smith-Schuster in Denver at the end of last month as a prototypical example of what he's willing to do to complete a pass. Standing in his own end zone, Roethlisberger took a hit to float one to Schuster, who did the rest to give the Steelers a lead in the third quarter. 

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"That's the kind of thing he does," Belichick said. "He hangs in there until the last second to make those throws. He's tough. I have a ton of respect for him."

Based on the numbers alone, though he's in the middle of the pack league-wide, Roethlisberger is having a Roethlisbergerian season. He's completing 67 percent of his passes, his best mark since 2015. He's averaging 7.7 yards per attempt, again his best since 2015. And despite having thrown a number of picks, his interception percentage is currently its best since 2014 thanks to the number of attempts (546, most in the NFL) he's thrown. 

And despite the fact that he's dealing with a rib injury, one reason the Patriots should expect Roethlisberger's best is because he's at home. His rating (104.0) is more than 10 points better than when he's away from PIttsburgh (92.1). His yards per attempt (8.19) are way up versus what he does on the road (7.30), and his touchdown-to-interception ratio is vastly improved in Pittsburgh (4-to-1) versus away (4-to-3).

He won't be among the toughest challenges the Patriots have faced this year when you consider Belichick and Brian Flores have had to prep for Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers. But, in Pittsburgh especially, Roethlisberger is still dangerous.

And if Belichick's press conference Wednesday is any indication, he'll be hammering home that fact with his players this week. 

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Despite Steelers' losing streak, Bill Belichick expects them to give Patriots a tough game

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Despite Steelers' losing streak, Bill Belichick expects them to give Patriots a tough game

FOXBORO -- Don't try to tell Bill Belichick that the confidence of his upcoming opponent might be waning. 

These are the Steelers we're talking about here, seemed to be Belichick's contention. Confidence? These guys? 

Despite three consecutive losses -- all one-score games to the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders -- Belichick said that he's expecting the same team the Patriots have seen for years in Pittsburgh.

"I think if you guys were around competitive guys you wouldn't see that," Belichick said. "I don't really see that. I wouldn't give that any credibility at all. 

"Competitive people compete. That's what they do. Certainly that's what the Steelers are. I'm sure we'll get their best. I think they'll get our best."

The question of confidence is an interesting one because it might as well apply to Belichick's team at the moment. Though they haven't had to deal with nearly a month of heart-breakers the way the Steelers have, the Patriots are coming off of the ultimate gut-punch on a last-second miracle in Miami and, they're about to play a talented team on the road in a season where they've struggled away from Gillette Stadium.

Still, the same answer would likely apply. Competitive people compete. We'll likely have learned a little bit about the competitiveness of both the Patriots and Steelers once they're done on Sunday night.

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