Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, left, walks from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady after an NFL football game early Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots won 34-31 in overtime. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
With just three games left in the season, the Patriots may have all sorts of injuries issues to deal with, but they're also in the driver's seat when it comes to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That's because the Broncos lost Thursday night to the Chargers, dropping Denver to 11-3, just a half-game ahead of New England, who faces Miami this weekend.
Should both the Broncos and Pats win out, New England would hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their head-to-head win over Denver in Week 12. But it won't be an easy road. Here's the Pats' remaining schedule:
Week 15: @ Miami (6-7)
Week 16: @ Baltimore (7-6)
Week 17: Buffalo (4-9)
Denver, meanwhile, has two remaining regular-season games: @ Houston (2-11) and @ Oakland (4-9).
The implications over the final two weeks are huge. The Broncos would prefer to play at home throughout the playoffs, especially after they came to Foxboro and blew a 24-0 lead in late November. Of course, Denver had home-field advantage a season ago and lost to the Ravens in overtime of the AFC Divisional round, again dredging up questions about Peyton Manning's ability to play in cold weather.
Over his career, Manning's actually an average-to-above-average quarterback once the temperature dips below 40 degrees, but the problem is that Tom Brady has played some of his best football in cold weather. Given their druthers, the Broncos would prefer to be Sports Authority Field instead of Gillette Stadium to decide the next meeting between these two teams.
Something else to watch out for: If Denver and New England slip over the final weeks and the Bengals win out, Cincinnati could find themselves in the No. 1 or No. 2 seed. So, yeah, there's still a lot to decide.