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Patriots On Outside Looking In, But Firmly In AFC Playoff Mix At Midway Point Of Season

BOSTON (CBS) -- Week 8 is in the books in the NFL, and things are looking a lot better for the New England Patriots than they were just two weeks ago. Winning back-to-back games will do that for any team in what is shaping up to be an interesting season in the AFC.

The Patriots are back to .500, sitting at 4-4 following a 27-24 win over the Chargers in Los Angeles over the weekend. That has New England just on the outside of the AFC playoff picture, but the Patriots have started to put their toe in the door. Keep stacking up wins and they may have that door kicked down in a few weeks.

Here is a quick look at how the AFC looks at the moment, as we approach the halfway point of the season. (That 17-game schedule is making the midway point kinda messy compared to other seasons.)

1. Tennessee Titans, 6-2 (top seed, AFC South leader)
2. Las Vegas Raiders, 5-2 (AFC West leader)
3. Baltimore Ravens, 5-2 (AFC North leader)
4. Buffalo Bills, 5-2 (AFC East leader)
5. Cincinnati Bengals, 5-3 (First Wild Card team)
6. Pittsburgh Steelers, 4-3 (Second Wild Card team)
7. Los Angeles Chargers, 4-3 (Third Wild Card team)
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8. New England Patriots, 4-4
9. Kansas City Chiefs, 4-4
10. Cleveland Browns, 4-4
11. Denver Broncos, 3-4

The Patriots are just a half game back of the Chargers and the Steelers for a wild card berth. They currently own the tiebreaker over both Cleveland and Kansas City based on best win percentage in conference games (New England is 4-1 against the AFC this season).

After facing the Carolina Panthers in Week 9, the Patriots have a massive tilt with the Browns at Gillette Stadium in Week 10. Cleveland has lost three of its last four and is dealing with numerous injuries on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Baker Mayfield, who is attempting to play through a nagging shoulder injury.

A win over Cleveland in a few weeks would give the Patriots a giant tiebreaker over the Browns, which could be of massive importance at the end of the season.

The Patriots will also play three other games against teams ahead of them in the standings: Weeks 13 and 16 against the Bills and a Week 12 home matchup against the Titans.

Tennessee may be the top seed at the moment, but the Titans just loss All World running back Derrick Henry for the season. Their road figures to get a lot bumpier over the coming weeks.

The Patriots shook off a rough start to the season to win their last two games, and that now has them in a position to return to the postseason by season's end. They still need to rack up wins, and win some very important games along the way, but they are firmly in the mix midway through the season.

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