UNDATED (AP) – The New England Patriots have clinched the top seed, and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, after the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Denver Broncos Monday night.
The Patriots (12-3) were already the first team since the current postseason format was adopted in 1990 to get five consecutive first-round byes. New England earned that distinction after Sunday’s 17-16 win over the New York Jets.
The Pats wrap up the regular season next Sunday when the Buffalo Bills visit Gillette Stadium. The outcome of that game will not affect the Patriots’ playoff standing.
Denver (11-4), has the AFC West secured. But their home game Sunday with Oakland (3-12) has significance because a loss could force the Broncos to play in the wild-card round.
The Bengals (10-4-1) grabbed a playoff berth by beating Denver. They travel to face already-qualified Pittsburgh (10-5) on Sunday for the AFC North crown.
Indianapolis (10-5) has the AFC South title and will be either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed. The Colts are at Tennessee (2-13), which has the inside track for the top overall draft pick through 15 games.
The remaining AFC wild-card spot could go to Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, barring winning the North division; San Diego (9-6); Baltimore (9-6); Houston (8-7); or Kansas City (8-7). The Chargers have the easiest task: win at KC and advance.
But all of them remain alive heading to the weekend, with Jacksonville (3-12) at Houston, and Cleveland (7-8) at Baltimore.
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