Bill Belichick has said every season that his football team can’t worry about what other teams are doing, but this morning he has to feel like they’ve set themselves up in good position if the Patriots can take care of business over these final three games.


Belicihck and the Patriots are in control of their destiny in grabbing the top playoff seed.(USA TODAY Images)

Last night’s match-up between the Broncos and Chargers went in New England’s favor after San Diego knocked off Denver 27-20 on Thursday night football, putting the Patriots in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

That means if New England manages to win out, they’d hold a first round bye, as well as home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  For a team that’s 10-3 since 2002 at home in the postseason (2nd best winning percentage in the NFL over that span) that’s obviously a big advantage.

They also hold the edge over the remaining two top AFC teams.  Should the Patriots win their final three games, thanks to the Broncos’ loss, even if Denver wins out and finishes tied with New England with the same record of 13-3, the Patriots hold the edge thanks to the head-to-head match-up where they beat the Broncos at Gillette Stadium back in week 12.  Kansas City would be the next candidate, but New England currently has a better conference record at 7-2, compared to the Chiefs who are 6-3.  That 7-2 record by New England is currently the best record in the AFC.  They’re also one of just three teams with double digit wins in the AFC (Denver has 11, the Chiefs have 10), while only two teams in the NFC have ten or more wins (New Orleans has 10, the Seahawks have 11).

However, these final three games aren’t exactly a given.  The next two games are both tough road games against a Miami team that is playing much better football as of late and has won two in a row, followed by a trip to Baltimore against a Ravens team that has won three straight.  Even the Bills in the final game in Foxboro could be another tough one as despite the fact Buffalo may be out of the playoff hunt, there will likely be guys battling to finish strong in order to earn a new deal elsewhere or to keep their jobs heading into 2014.

Either way, the Patriots caught a break and the opportunity appears to be theirs for the taking.  It’s amazing that even through all the turmoil and  personnel losses they’ve suffered, they’re right where they need to be with just a few weeks left in the season.  Sunday’s game in Miami starts the beginning of a critical three game stretch that could certainly make the road to New York for a shot at a Super Bowl berth a little easier.

Now each win gets them one step closer to where they need to be. While it’s great that they’ve made it this far, Belichick has always done a great job in terms of making sure the players all turn the page and don’t focus on what they’ve done, but more on what they need to do each week. That’s been one of the big reasons this team has found themselves in this position over the years and why they’re once again holding their collective fate in their hands. They just need to continue to take it one week at a time.

“That’s what we have to do,” Belichick told the media this week.  ”That’s the National Football League. If you dwell on the past, you’re not going to play well in the future. We have another challenge this week, we have to move on.”

“You just have to do it that way,” said Belichick.  ”As good as some of the wins have been and as disappointing as some of the losses have been, by Monday, unless it’s a Monday game, by Monday afternoon, Monday evening, it’s on to the next team. It has to be that way.”

The good news is they’re now in control of their own destiny, so let the march begin.

SOLDER BACK AT PRACTICE:

Patriots left tackle Nate Solder was reportedly back at practice yesterday after missing the first regular-season practice of his career, which was the result of an apparent concussion that he sustained against the Browns last weekend.  That’s good news for New England, who is about to battle a Dolphins team that is 3rd in the league in sacks with 40.  He’s had a tough season keeping opposing players away from Tom Brady, as according to ProFootballFocus.com, Solder has allowed the third most sacks in the NFL among tackles, giving up 10 to this point.  Three players are ahead of him with 11, with Cleveland’s Mitchell Schwartz, the Giants’ William Beatty, and Miami’s Tyson Clabo having each allowed one more.

CLEVELAND UPSET ABOUT LATE NO-CALL LAST WEEK:

Apparently in Cleveland they’re upset about a call that wasn’t made in their match-up last week, and it’s been the topic of conversation for them since the loss.

According to ESPN the Browns have privately wondered if Patriots defensive back Logan Ryan should have been penalized for launching into Jordan Cameron on his catch at the Patriots 41 yard line leading up to Billy Cundiff’s eventual field goal attempt.

They felt the penalty should have been called, which would have moved the kick forward fifteen yards and made it from 43-yards instead of 58.  Cundiff hit the attempted field goal right down the middle; it just wasn’t long enough.

ESPN officiating expert Gerry Austin, a two-time Super Bowl referee, said in the entry that there was no penalty because Ryan turned his back to avoid a hit to the head.

“He does leave his feet, but he doesn’t do it in a targeting manner,” Austin said.

Either way the call wasn’t made and even if it was, there’s no guarantee Cundiff makes the kick.  But it’s a “what if” that will leave them wondering, and fortunately for the Patriots the non-call went their way.

GRONK DETERMINED TO BE BACK…FOR HIS CAMEO IN ENTOURAGE:

After suffering a torn ACL and MCL last week against Cleveland, Rob Gronkowski now faces a long offseason that will include a tough rehabilitation in order to be back in action for 2014.  However, he plans on being ready before that…at least in order to make his way onto the big screen.

TMZ reports that Gronkowski plans on being ready to go when the time comes to make his big screen cameo for the upcoming Entourage movie, which is set to begin filming in February.  That will happen just 2-and-a-half months into his recovery, which most experts have pointed out is usually 6-9 months.

Hopefully his recovery goes smoothly and he doesn’t suffer any setbacks.  But this will be one thing that will likely be watched very closely, especially after an offseason last year that included body slamming a friend while recovering from a fractured forearm and later having to undergo back surgery.

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON GLOBE:

Aqib Talib lacking confidence?  Never – Michael Whitmer – Whitmer has an article on Talib, who was challenged by Marquice Cole to do 35 pull-ups – and he did them right before practice.

Despite adversity, Dolphins have grown tighter – Shalise Manza Young – Manza Young files her notebook this morning, which leads off with the turnaround the Dolphins made after dropping their fourth straight game against New England earlier this season.

BOSTON HERALD:

Patriots have work to do to be playoff-ready – Jeff Howe – Howe offers up some thoughts on some of the things the Patriots need to correct over these final three games.

Patriots have inside track on AFC’s No. 1 seed – Jeff Howe – Howe has his take on the playoff picture, and points out that should the Patriots lose to Miami they could also lose their grip on not only the top playoff seed, the No. 2 spot.

The Chatham Report: Unknowns keep Dolphins afloat - Matt Chatham – Chatham files his weekly report, and writes that the fact Miami’s been able to avoid all the unprecedented distractions this season to be in the playoff hunt is impressive.

Borges: Honk if you miss Rob Gronkowski - Ron Borges – Borges has a column this morning with some quotes from Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who sounded like he’d actually prefer it if Rob Gronkowski were playing Sunday.

Patience, hard work pay off for DT Sealver Siliga – Mark Daniels – Daniels has a good read on Sealver Siliga, with the 23-year old taking advantage of his opportunities recently.

ESPN BOSTON:

Defensive groupings: 63 percent in sub – Mike Reiss – Reiss has snap totals breaking down the Patriots defense between their sub and base packages.

Pats have been here before - Mike Reiss & Tedy Bruschi – Reiss and Bruschi preview this week’s game, which is another hat-and-T-shirt game for the Patriots and a position Bruschi said they’ve been in enough times to know how to get it done.

Patriots-Dolphins connections, Part 2 – Field Yates – Yates has additional connections between the Patriots and Dolphins in this piece.

Solder limited at practice; Dobson absent – Field Yates – Yates has yesterday’s practice report, which saw Solder return while Dobson remained sidelined with a foot injury.

Weekly Patriots chat recap – Mike Reiss – Reiss has his chat recap from yesterday, which as usual provided some great insight.

CSNNE:

Predicting how Belichick’s career will end – While talking about the recent return to Boston by Doc Rivers, Michael Felger and the group on “Uno Sports Tonight” discussed how the Patriots coach might end his career.

WEEI:

Is Julian Edelman the next late bloomer to graduate to greatness? – Christopher Price – Price has a good read this morning on Julian Edelman, who he wonders will be the next player to take advantage of the opportunity presented to him.

WORCESTER TELEGRAM:

Dolphins’ Charles Clay shows confidence – Jennifer Toland – Toland has a good read this morning on third-year Dolphins tight end Charles Clay, who has emerged recently as a play-maker in Miami’s offense.

Patriots’ Jamie Collins making most of chance – Jennifer Toland – Toland also has a good article on rookie Jamie Collins, who played a season-high 55 defensive snaps in last week’s win over the Browns along with totaling seven tackles.

ATTLEBORO SUN CHRONICLE:

Carter delivers … for the media – Mark Farinella – Farinella writes that there weren’t many players looking to talk heading into this week’s Dolphins match-up, but Andre Carter decided to make himself available and Farinella has comments from him in this piece.