New England (11-4) has the late, 4:25 p.m. ET game this week, while the Houston Texans (12-3) will face the Indianapolis Colts at 1 p.m. ET. The Patriots need to win and the Texans to lose in order to secure one of the top two seeds in the AFC, which includes a first-round bye.
"I'm sure we’ll all be aware of that, yeah. No question," Brady said candidly during his weekly press conference Wednesday. "But I don’t think that changes what our goal is for the weekend. I think we’re trying to win this game regardless. It could be different if some other teams win, but that’s really out of our control. We’re just going to go out and try to win."
But what if Houston wins? The Patriots cannot improve their seed unless the Denver Broncos (12-3) lose to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs (2-13), which is highly unlikely. Should New England shut it down and avoid risking injury to key players like quarterback Tom Brady? Or should the Patriots play to win regardless?
New England also will know the result of the Baltimore Ravens (10-5) and Cincinnati Bengals game at 1 p.m. ET. The Patriots could fall to the No. 4 seed if the Ravens win and New England loses. But the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds will host games in the wild-card round.
All of this presents a late-game dilemma the Patriots must consider. It will be a balance between winning and preserving good health heading into the playoffs.
Based on New England head coach Bill Belichick's comments Wednesday, it sounds like the Patriots will be full-go no matter what happens with other teams.
"I've been around this league long enough to know that you can’t predict how things are going to go on Sundays in the NFL," Belichick said. "We’ll control what we can control which is to get ready and play Miami."
The good news is the Colts are not laying down and will give the Texans their best shot. Expect a lot of Patriots fans to root for Indianapolis.