For the second straight week the Patriots moved up in the standings in the AFC. New England won its sixth straight, taking care of Tennessee 36-13. In doing so the Patriots (8-4) moved ahead of the Titans (8-4) and now sit in the No. 2 spot in the conference behind Baltimore (8-3).
That move came a week after the team vaulted to the top of the AFC East standings thanks to Buffalo's Week 11 loss to Indy, which put the Patriots in the third seed. The Bills (7-4) bounced back with a resounding road win in New Orleans Thanksgiving night, which temporarily put them back in first place ahead of the Patriots thanks to divisional tiebreakers.
That meant New England started Sunday as the fifth seed, but the ensuing victory allowed them to leapfrog the Bills again - setting up a showdown of the AFC East rivals next Monday night in Buffalo. The Bills currently occupy the sixth seed.
The banged-up Titans put up a fight for three quarters but eventually were worn down by the Patriots opportunistic defense that caused four turnovers. Still, Tennessee hits its bye week in the third slot, tied with New England but losers in the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Titans loss allowed Baltimore, 16-10 winners over Cleveland Sunday night, to vault into the top spot at 8-3.
Kansas City (7-4), which enjoyed its bye week, remains in first place in the AFC West and in the fourth spot. The race for three wild card spots will be fierce with 12 teams currently at .500 or better and therefore well within striking distance of a playoff spot.
Here's a look at the current playoff picture in the AFC:
Baltimore (8-3) Patriots (8-4) Tennessee (8-4) Kansas City (7-4) Cincinnati (7-4) Buffalo (7-4) L.A. Chargers (6-5)
Based on the current standings, the Patriots would host the Chargers in a wild card game the weekend of January 15-17. At this point such talk is wildly premature as the course of the Patriots season - as well as the rest of the conference - will change dramatically in the current weeks. Over the next month, New England is set to take on Buffalo twice sandwiched around a Saturday night affair in Indy while enjoying its bye in the middle. The outcomes of those games will go a long way in determining the Patriots playoff fate.