FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -Even when they don't play, the Patriots come up winners.
They had the weekend off and still improved their chances for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs when Indianapolis lost. Just one week earlier, New England knocked the Colts from the unbeaten ranks.
The loss by the Colts gave the Patriots (9-0) a two-game lead in the conference going into Sunday night's game at a hot Buffalo team. The Bills (5-4) have won five of their last six and lost two games by one point each. They also lost to the Patriots 38-7.
Few New England players are focusing on the prospects of having home-field advantage.
``It's all based on various scenarios,'' tight end Kyle Brady said Monday. ``If we don't take care of the business we have in front of us, basically one week at a time, well then none of that will really matter.''
Indianapolis and Pittsburgh have the second-best record in the AFC at 7-2. The Patriots beat the Colts at Indianapolis 24-20 on Nov. 4 and are home against the Steelers on Dec. 9.
A loss to the Steelers would give Pittsburgh the tiebreaker for home field in the playoffs if they finish with the same record as the Patriots. The team with the next- best record left on New England's schedule is the New York Giants (6-3) in the finale.
``We just have a tough road ahead of us, no matter who's doing what, what the records are,'' Brady said. ``It's kind of like the Iditarod, those sled dogs. Every single day you have to pull that sled and at night you eat your food and think about pulling that sled the next day.
``You really can't get too focused on what's going to play out in the last phase of the race.''
The Patriots returned from a five-day break and practiced Monday for the first time since last Tuesday. Wide receiver Troy Brown, on the physically unable to perform list, participated for the first time this season, but no decision was made on activating him.
Brown, who spent the past 14 seasons with the Patriots, plays a loaded position where they already have Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth. He also has returned punts and played defensive back.
``He's a leader. He means a lot to this football team and a lot of guys respect him,'' defensive end Richard Seymour said. ``He's a joy to be around as well, so it's always fun to have Troy back.''
The week off gave Seymour time to catch up after missing the first seven games following offseason knee surgery. It allowed all the players to rest their bodies and refresh their minds.
``It gives us an opportunity to get away from the monotonous, every day coming in doing the exact same thing,'' linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said.
The bye came at a very good time for the Patriots, after four preseason and nine regular-season games. Now they have just seven left, plus playoffs, and an unbeaten record.
``After nine games and preseason, a team's typically worn out, tired, banged up,'' Brady said. ``So it could be a real beneficial thing if you handle it well as a player, as an individual, and get your rest, get refreshed for the most meaningful part of the season.''
In their last game, the Patriots overcame a 20-10 deficit in the fourth quarter and beat the Colts 24-20. Indianapolis then went on the road and trailed San Diego 23-7 in the fourth quarter Sunday before making it 23-21.
Then Peyton Manning, who threw six interceptions, brought the Colts into field goal range. But Adam Vinatieri pushed a 29-yard attempt to the right with 1:31 left. That's the same kicker whose last-second field goals won two Super Bowls for the Patriots.
``Adam's made a lot of big kicks in his career,'' New England special teams star Larry Izzo said. ``I'm sure that's one he'd like to have back. But he's a clutch guy. He's shown that.''
In this special season for the Patriots, it was just one more thing that went their way.

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