The hats and T-shirts will be at the ready Sunday when the New England Patriots visit the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.
A win or tie against the division rival Dolphins would give the Patriots their 10th consecutive AFC East title and 15th in the last 16 years. New England currently sits at 9-3 entering Week 14, three games ahead of 6-6 Miami in the divisional standings.
The Patriots, who have won just once in their last five visits to South Florida, also have a chance to strengthen their bid for a first-round playoff bye. Their 24-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday allowed them to maintain their grip on the AFC’s No. 2 seed with four games remaining.
The Houston Texans, who have reeled off nine consecutive wins, boast an identical 9-3 record, but the Patriots own the tiebreaker after beating them in Week 1. New England trails the 10-2 Kansas City Chiefs — whom they also have defeated this season — by just one game in the AFC standings.
Three of the Chiefs’ final four opponents (Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle Seahawks) would make the playoffs if the season ended today.
After their matchup with the Dolphins, the Patriots will travel to Pittsburgh for a showdown with the slumping Steelers before finishing the season with home dates against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, both of whom effectively have been eliminated from playoff contention.
Here’s a look at the updated playoff standings for each conference:
1. Kansas City Chiefs (10-2; AFC West leader)
2. New England Patriots (9-3; AFC East leader)
3. Houston Texans (9-3; AFC South leader)
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1; AFC North leader)
5. Los Angeles Chargers (9-3; first wild card)
6. Baltimore Ravens (7-5; second wild card)
In the hunt: Miami Dolphins (6-6), Indianapolis Colts (6-6), Denver Broncos (6-6), Tennessee Titans (6-6)
Long shots: Cincinnati Bengals (5-7), Cleveland Browns (4-7-1), Buffalo Bills (4-8), Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8), New York Jets (3-9), Oakland Raiders (2-10)
1. Los Angeles Rams (11-1; NFC West winner)
2. New Orleans Saints (10-2; NFC South leader)
3. Chicago Bears (8-4; NFC North leader)
4. Dallas Cowboys (7-5; NFC East leader)
5. Seattle Seahawks (7-5; first wild card)
6. Minnesota Vikings (6-5-1; second wild card)
In the hunt: Philadelphia Eagles (6-6), Washington Redskins (6-6)
Long shots: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7), Green Bay Packers (4-7-1), Atlanta Falcons (4-8), New York Giants (4-8), Detroit Lions (4-8), Arizona Cardinals (3-9), San Francisco 49ers (2-10)
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images