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After math

Patriots are in, but seek added stature

Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton runs back a fumble by Johnny Knox for a touchdown late in the first half of Sunday’s rout of the Bears. Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton runs back a fumble by Johnny Knox for a touchdown late in the first half of Sunday’s rout of the Bears. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / December 14, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — This much we know: If the Patriots win against the Packers Sunday, and the Steelers beat the Jets, New England will clinch the AFC East title and a first-round postseason bye.

If results differ from that scenario, things become a little murky.

The Patriots became the first team in the NFL to secure a playoff berth Sunday with their 36-7 win over the Bears, a victory propelled by a 33-0 first-half tour de force. For Chicago, a team climbing into the discussion as a top team, it was more tour de farce.

The Patriots make no secret that their first goal every season is to win the division title, a goal they have accomplished seven times in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era.

An eighth is now within reach, and the Patriots inched closer to it with their win over the Jets Dec. 6. In a fun (for New England) twist, New York’s inability to beat the Dolphins at home Sunday helped tip the AFC East odds even more in the Patriots’ favor.

Though a few players in the Patriots locker room at Soldier Field Sunday couldn’t conceal smiles when they heard that their rivals had lost to Miami, Belichick wasn’t about to do any celebrating in front of cameras.

“We can’t worry about that. We can’t be scoreboard watching and worrying about every team in the league,’’ he said. “We worry about ourselves and just try to play well. Whatever else happens, happens.’’

Winning against Green Bay would give New England a 12-2 record, while the Jets would slip to 9-5 with a loss in Pittsburgh. Under those circumstances, the Patriots would be up three games in the division with just two regular-season games to play.

It has been quite a turn of events for the Jets. Entering the “Monday Night Football’’ game against New England, they were the front-runners in the division, having beaten the Patriots in Week 2. The teams famously went into the rematch with the same 9-2 record, with New England undefeated at home and New York unbeaten on the road.

A win for New York would have all but salted away its first division title since 2002; instead, it is in the midst of a two-game losing streak and facing questions about whether coach Rex Ryan’s brash style can produce success and whether Mark Sanchez is the best quarterback to lead the team.

With the Ravens’ win last night in Houston, the Jets slipped to the sixth seed in the playoffs.

And playing at Heinz Field Sunday, with thousands of Terrible Towel-waving fans in full throat, will be no picnic. The Jets follow that with a trip to Soldier Field to face the Bears.

But it isn’t sealed. Should New England lose, or the Jets win, the Patriots would remain in the driver’s seat, but with tiebreakers and such, the math would get fuzzy.

The good news for the Patriots, however, is they currently are firmly in command, and barring a complete collapse over the final weeks of the regular season, they will win the division and earn a first-round playoff bye. They’ll also be at home for the playoffs, welcoming teams to the uncertain weather conditions this region has to offer in January.

We’ve all seen what they can do in Arctic-type temperatures in Chicago, and Brady hasn’t lost a regular season game at home since 2006.

Those odds are definitely in New England’s favor.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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