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FOXBORO - It has taken most of the season, but the Patriots finally look like a team capable of doing some postseason damage.

Too bad the odds remain against them getting a chance to prove it.

With just one week remaining on the schedule, the Titans and Steelers, in that order, clearly are the class of the AFC. The Colts and Ravens come next, followed by division winners in the East and West.

The way the Patriots are playing now, they belong in the mix with any of the final four. Their offense has emerged as one of the most potent in the NFL. And say what you want about their much-maligned defense, but yesterday it dominated the league's No. 2 scoring and passing offense in a 47-7 shellacking of the NFC West-champion Cardinals.

Now, those Cardinals appeared about as motivated as a lizard lounging in the sun - not to mention equally scared of snow - but 47-7 is 47-7. It represents the kind of utter domination that makes potential playoff foes take notice.

``I don't know if I'd want to play us,'' cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. ``I'd definitely look at us and say, `Those guys know what they're doing over there and they're on a roll.' We're playing some good Football. We're definitely a threat. We have to keep going out there and see what happens.

``Things are clicking. We've jumped out 21-0 in our last two games. We're winning tight games. We're executing well. It's not that other teams are making mistakes. We're just playing good Football. It's a thing of beauty right now.''

As the Dolphins and Jets stumble and bumble their way to the finish, ask yourself this: If the playoffs started tomorrow with the Patriots in New York or Miami, would you pick against them?

The Jets have been on a steady downward spiral since beating the Patriots and Titans in mid-November, culminating in yesterday's inexcusable loss to the Seahawks, their third in four games. It should have been four straight, but the Bills gift-wrapped one for them last week.

The Dolphins keep finding ways to squeak past lousy teams, as yesterday's 38-31 victory against the Chiefs attests. The last time they faced the Patriots, they got annihilated, 48-28.

And yet the Pats do not control their destiny. The Jets opened the door yesterday with their loss to the Seahawks and will need to beat the Dolphins in the finale for the Pats to win the division. Otherwise the Pats' only hope is a victory at Buffalo and a Ravens loss at home to Jacksonville.

``We have no one to be frustrated with but ourselves,'' left guard Logan Mankins said. ``We've lost five games. If we had won some of those, we wouldn't have anything else to worry about.''

Added Hobbs: ``We didn't take care of business in the middle of the season.''

While technically that's true, the reality is the Patriots were in only two of their losses - an 18-15 setback to the Colts and a 34-31 defeat to the Jets.

If the Patriots play the Colts tomorrow, the game probably would go either way again. If they played the Jets in the wild card round . . . even the most hardened Gang Green fan has to admit it would be a slaughter.

But the Patriots have to get there first. In the history of the NFL, only one 11-5 team has failed to reach the playoffs. The 1985 Broncos were edged out by the Jets and Cinderella Patriots in the wild card race.

If 11-5 isn't good enough this time around, it will be hard to find fault. It also will be hard to watch the postseason, knowing that on any given day, the Patriots could have competed with anyone.

``It's crazy how it's coming down in the AFC,'' Hobbs said. ``That's how strong this conference is. This is a competitive league and there's a narrow margin - one slip-up can cost you the season and hopefully it hasn't cost us ours yet.''

- jtomase@bostonherald.com

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 23, 2008

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