If they beat the Buffalo Bills Saturday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, they will secure the AFC's top seed for the first time ever, and the road to the Super Bowl will travel through Foxborough, Mass.
The Patriots have a chance to close out their home schedule at 8-0 with a win this week. They have been near dominant defensively at Gillette Stadium where they have allowed only 68 points in seven games, or less than nine points per game. Since allowing 16 against the Jets on Sept. 21 and 30 against the Titans on Oct. 5, New England has allowed just 22 points in five home games while allowing just one touchdown during that span.
Buffalo has struggled on the road, winning just twice in seven tries -- at Jacksonville and at the Giants. The Bills have scored just 47 points in their five road losses and 26 of those came in one game -- at Tennessee. They failed to score more than seven points in any of the other four losses.
If those trends mean anything, New England is in the driver's seat for the home field advantage and should have a sizable edge at home in the postseason given its defensive stinginess at Gillette.
But while the top seed is important, it doesn't provide quite the edge one would imagine. Since the current six-team playoff format was implemented in 1990, only 5-of-13 No. 1 seeds have gone to the Super Bowl out of the AFC, barely more than the number of No. 4 seeds (4) that have advanced.
The first round bye, which the Patriots clinched Sunday night when the Colts lost to Denver, is more critical than being the top seed. Every NFC team that advanced to the Super Bowl since 1990 had a first round bye and 9-of-13 in AFC had the bye. The Patriots have gone to a pair of Super Bowls during that span and both came as the No. 2 seed.
In 1996, they hosted the AFC Championship and beat Jacksonville, and in 2001, they knocked off top-seeded Pittsburgh on the road. The bye is not only critical because a team hosts a divisional game and needs to win just twice to win the conference championship, but also because it allows for needed rest.
"Having the bye definitely helps our team and gives us time to rest up," wide receiver David Givens said, stating the obvious.
But obvious or not, the week off provides a clear advantage, and home field throughout would be another.
"It's something to keep you motivated," guard Damien Woody said. "Through the week, it's all about just winning one game because we know that if you take care of the little things and win one game -- the next game -- everything else will take care of itself."