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Recently, Patriots consistently good

FOXBOROUGH -- Forget the coachspeak, Bill Belichick is happy.

Happy that his team got a win over a playoff contender. Happy that his team did it in dominant fashion, with a 28-0 shutout of Tampa Bay. And happy that whatever buttons he has pushed of late are working.

The Patriots have won three straight games for the first time this season, and in the wins allowed one touchdown and one field goal.

''Well, it is good to play consistently," Belichick said after Saturday's victory. ''I mean we are always striving for that. We have had a good part of the season where we were so up and down in practically every area of the game.

''It certainly helps our football team when we can go out there and consistently do things sort of right, not perfect, but sort of right, and then correct them and try to get 'em right, rather than feast or famine -- 1-yard loss or an 80-yard touchdown, four three-and-outs or two 90-yard drives -- where you just don't have any idea what's going to happen."

The Patriots now know one thing that is going to happen -- they will host a wild-card playoff game. Richard Seymour suggested that not many NFL teams would put a date against the resurgent AFC East champions on their Christmas wish list.

The way Jacksonville played against San Francisco yesterday, you might think they agreed with Seymour.

The Jaguars barely held on for a 10-9 win over the 49ers, one of the worst teams in the league. The win means that if the standings remain the same, Jacksonville would travel to Gillette Stadium to face New England in the wild-card round.

Their narrow win didn't put a damper on the Jaguars' playoff spirits.

''It wasn't a thing of beauty, but 10 wins . . . double-digit wins in this league is a thing of beauty," Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said. ''I told the team, 'You never apologize for a win.' "

Jacksonville (10-4) has won six of its last seven games, but none of those wins came against a team with a winning record. The Jaguars won't see another quality squad until the playoffs, as they close against Houston (2-12) and Tennessee (4-10). A win in either one of those games secures the fifth seed in the playoffs, meaning Jacksonville would travel to the division winner with the worst record, which is likely to be the Patriots.

Indianapolis (13-1) and Cincinnati (11-3) join the Patriots as AFC division title winners. Denver (11-3) still needs a win to clinch the West, as with a pair of losses and San Diego winning its last two games, the Chargers take the title.

Despite Sunday's loss to San Diego, the Colts are guaranteed the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Amazingly, San Diego could get the No. 2 seed with two wins, two Denver losses, and two Cincinnati losses.

Denver is the second seed if it wins out; Cincinnati takes it with two wins and a Denver loss.

The Patriots cannot claim the No. 2 seed.

New England will be a huge favorite in its last two games -- at the Jets Dec. 26 and at home against the Dolphins on New Year's Day -- and with wins would post an 11-5 mark. Denver has a victory over New England, so even if it loses its last two games, it would have the tiebreaker over the Patriots. The same is true for the Chargers.

Cincinnati finishes with a home game against Buffalo, and at Kansas City. Losses in those two, coupled with a pair of Patriots wins, would drop the Bengals behind New England in the seedings, most likely sending Jacksonville to Cincinnati, and the other wild card to Foxborough.

In the unlikely occurrence of a three-way tie among Denver, Cincinnati, and New England (or San Diego, Cincinnati, and New England), the AFC West team would be the No. 2 seed, with the Patriots taking the third slot ahead of Cincinnati because of a better conference record.

All that said, it is most likely that Jacksonville comes to Gillette for the first round, and should the Patriots prevail they probably would travel to face Indianapolis -- the real team nobody wants to play in the playoffs -- in the divisional round. (Should a wild-card team beat the other divisional winner that first playoff weekend, the Patriots would play the No. 2 seed on the road in the second round.)

As far as the Patriots are concerned, after opening 4-4 and struggling to find that consistency Belichick speaks of, it is not about whom they play, but how they play.

''We clinched the AFC East this week, but hopefully we'll go out and play better next week," veteran receiver Troy Brown said. ''We're just trying to win the next game. That's all that matters right now.

''We can't do anything about the future or the past. We just look forward to next week."

Jerome Solomon can be reached at

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