FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After losing 41-34 to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, the Patriots fell to third place in the AFC standings at 10-4. The loss pushes the Patriots behind the Denver Broncos (11-3), who won their ninth straight game earlier on Sunday.
The Broncos and Texans (12-2) are in control for the top two seeds in the AFC, and Houston can clinch the top overall seed with a Week 16 win. The Patriots would need either the Texans or Broncos to falter over the final two weeks of the season to have a chance at a first-round bye.
Unless the unexpected happens (Denver's final two foes have a combined .250 winning percentage), the Patriots seem headed to the No. 3 seed in the AFC and a wild-card weekend matchup against either Indianapolis or Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or -- believe it or not -- the New York Jets.
More importantly, the Patriots project to be headed to a divisional-round matchup against the surging Broncos ... in Denver. For Patriots fans, that has to be a concern.
Here is an updated look at the AFC playoff standings. You can project the final two games with ESPN.com's Playoff Machine:
1. Houston (12-2, clinched AFC South)
2. Denver (11-3, cliched AFC West)
3. New England (10-4, clinched AFC East)
4. Baltimore (9-5, clinched playoff berth)
5. Indianapolis (9-5)
6. Cincinnati (8-6)
In the mix
7. Pittsburgh (7-7)
8. New York Jets (6-7; play Tennessee on Monday night)
And here's a look at the remaining schedules for the top teams in the AFC: