After beating the Broncos on Sunday and watching the Texans, Ravens and Steelers all lose, the Patriots claimed sole possession of first place in the conference. New England has a one-game lead on Houston, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and it will clinch home-field advantage with victories in its final two games at Gillette Stadium against the Dolphins and Bills.
Despite that, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick chose to steer around the question about being in the AFC's driver's seat.
"Whatever happens, we can't control what any of those other teams do so we'll just try to go out there and play well against Miami on Saturday," Belichick said. "That's what we do.
"We have to go out and win, that's what we have to do. We can't worry about what everybody else does or doesn't do. We don't have any control over that. If we don't do well then I don't think we'll be where we want to be."
The Patriots can clinch the top overall seed as early as this weekend if they beat the Dolphins, and the Texans (at Indianapolis), Ravens (home against Cleveland) and Steelers (home against Rams) all lose.
But most importantly, the Patriots no longer need to rely on the misfortune of other teams. Even still, they weren't in the mood to discuss it.
"I don't think we think about any of those things other than Miami," quarterback Tom Brady said. "We've had a very short-term focus as we always do here, and certainly, this week is no different. You talk about something that is five weeks from now, that's not really what we're thinking about. What we're thinking about is Miami and the challenges that they present and the things that we need to do to prepare for the week. Ultimately, what's going to have a bigger influence on this game than anything is how we prepare this week? What we did three months ago in the opener has no bearing on this game. What we do five weeks from now has no bearing on this game. The most important thing is how well we prepare and ultimately how well we play."
Cornerback Devin McCourty had the most precise response. The Patriots have all the motivation they need to put a good game together — first this week against Miami and then next week against Buffalo.
"It really harps on how important it is for us to keep playing well, and to be ready to go on Saturday and try to go out and get a win," McCourty said.
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