'A lot on the line'; Patriots can clinch first-round bye with win vs. Jets.

AuthorGarven, Rich

Byline: Rich Garven

The Patriots have clinched the AFC East and an automatic berth in the playoffs for the 12th time in the past 14 seasons. Now, with two games remaining in the regular season, it's all about positioning.

The Patriots (11-3), Denver Broncos (11-3) and Indianapolis Colts (10-4) are competing for the first-round byes given to the top two finishers in the conference. The New Englanders can secure one with a win today against the sad sack, but still hated New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.

How important is that? Well, the Patriots have never made the Super Bowl under coach Bill Belichick unless they've received a first-round bye.

Furthermore, they can clinch the top seed in the AFC, which comes with home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs with a win today and a loss by the AFC West champion Broncos, who play the AFC North-leading Bengals on Monday in Cincinnati.

"(There) is a lot on the line for us,'' cornerback Kyle Arrington admitted. "So obviously, we're going to give it our all. But obviously ,we're focused on this weekend, and it's the Jets.''

It's been another down season in the Jersey Swamp, and likely the last for coach Rex Ryan, who led the Jets to the AFC Championship Game in each of his first two seasons but will finish out of the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

The Jets won their opener and then blew an 18-point lead to the Green Bay Packers in Week 2, igniting an eight-game losing streak. But they've continued to play hard -- a sure sign of the respect Ryan commands in the locker room -- and in the past five games have two wins along with a pair of one-score setbacks.

"Anytime we go out there, we're going to want to play hard,'' running back Chris Johnson said. "We always want to put out best foot forward and get victories. In the end, we still have to go out there and play, and we're men, we're not just going to let anyone run over us because we're out of the playoffs.''

The Jets are, including a 28-21 victory in the divisional round in 2010, 4-8 against the Patriots under Ryan. Four of the last five games in the series have been decided by three points or less, two of them in overtime.

"You've seen the dogfights we've been in with these guys ... so we expect no different this week,'' special teams captain Matthew Slater said, the Patriots having been top dogs in six of the past seven meetings in the series.

The Jets only do a couple of things well, one is to stop the run, and the other is...

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