There’s one more game to go Sunday, the last before the New England Patriots officially get into postseason mode.

For Coach Bill Belichick, there’s an interesting call to make on how to go about dealing with that game and finishing off the regular season. Specifically, how much does he want to use toward beating the New York Jets.

Belichick already has his first-round bye locked up, which the Patriots clinched with their win against Buffalo on Sunday combined with the Jaguars’ loss to the 49ers. Yes, Jimmy Garoppolo (21 of 30, 242 yards, two touchdowns) had a hand in taking out Jacksonville.

So the only question now is whether the Pats, who are 12-3, earn home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who beat the Texans on Monday night, are 12-3 and still in the mix for that extra advantage beyond the bye.

If the Pats beat the Jets, they’re the top seed and gain that home-field edge. If the Pats win, it doesn’t matter what the Steelers do because the head-to-head win gives them the tiebreaker. If they lose to the Jets, the Steelers would have to lose to the Browns (0-15) for the Pats to keep the No. 1 seed. Don’t hold your breath on that one.

All of which brings us back to the Jets. How much should the Patriots push to win? Should Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Devin McCourty, et al, even play?

That’s what Belichick will mull this week. In our view it’s a green light. The starters should play. It’s a game they should try to win.


For starters, the Patriots don’t want to go back to Heinz Field for an AFC championship game. They might own the Steelers at any venue, but were lucky to win in Pittsburgh in Week 15. A return engagement there wouldn’t bode well. It doesn’t matter how good a road team they’ve been. Why take your chances in Pittsburgh when you’re just one win away from the Super Bowl?

As it is, the last time the Patriots won a road playoff game was 11 years ago in San Diego during the division round of the 2006 season, only to lose in Indianapolis the following week. Since then they’ve lost their only other two playoff road games, both AFC title-game losses in Denver (2013 and 2015 seasons).

Second, when they’ve had the top seed, it’s been a golden ticket. Under Belichick, five of the seven times they’ve made the Super Bowl was as the No. 1 seed. Yes, playing at home still means something in the playoffs.

Sure, Belichick might want to rest people, which is understandable. He does have a banged-up group. He still can accomplish that after getting out to a comfortable lead on a Jets team that might still be playing hard for Coach Todd Bowles but has Bryce Petty at quarterback. In Week 17, the Jets might pack it in, especially if the Pats get up quickly.

The Patriots players all seem geared up to play it out. They’re not necessarily approaching it as playing for home field or the top seed. They just don’t want to turn off the switch the final week, have a bye, then have to dial it back up for the playoffs. They want to stay sharp and focused.

“We talked about it earlier today,” McCourty said following Sunday’s win. “We’ve got to get into that elimination mentality from this point on. Either we’re eliminated or another team is eliminated. You don’t want to turn it off for a week or turn it off for two weeks. That mentality starts now.

“I thought we had that against Buffalo. We kept pushing. It was either us or them, and I think we have to continue to have that against the Jets.”

Wide receiver Danny Amendola agreed. He hopes the Patriots are able to end on a high note and not lose their momentum heading into the playoffs. Just keep their foot on the gas.

“That’s our goal. We have a game next week. We want to play everyone as tough and as physical as we can, and come out with a win,” Amendola said. “That’s going to be our focus. We’ll be ready to go.”

Brady, who has thrown at least one interception in five straight games, tying the longest streak of his career, would like to get into a better groove.

He’d surely like the offense to start clicking a little more consistently.

“(We’re) 12-3 with one game to go. 13-3 would be a pretty great year,” Brady said Sunday. “We’ve just got to finish strong.”

They have the first-round bye. That’s the ice cream sundae.

Now they need to put the cherry on top.