Here's how important Steelers game is to Patriots' first-round bye hopes

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The New England Patriots enter their Week 15 showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers as the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff picture, and Sunday's showdown will have a profound impact on whether the Pats earn a first-round bye.

A win for the Patriots on Sunday would raise their chances of clinching a first-round bye to 94 percent, per ESPN Stats and Info. A loss drops the Pats' chances to 63.6 percent. A 30-point swing is pretty emphatic, which shows how important this game is for Tom Brady and Co. Luckily for the Patriots, their quarterback has owned the Steelers throughout his career -- Brady is 8-2 in his career against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The Patriots, if they can beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh for the second consecutive season, would only need to beat struggling AFC East rivals in the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets at home to close the regular season and secure a first-round bye. A bye in the playoffs and the guarantee of at least one home postseason game is critical for a Patriots team that's 3-4 on the road this year. 

New England controls its own fate for the No. 2 seed, but the margin for error is small. The Patriots' toughest competition for a first-round bye is the Houston Texans, who also have a 9-4 record. The Texans close the regular season at the New York Jets, at the Philadelphia Eagles and home to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Only the Eagles pose any kind of threat, and the defending Super Bowl champs are struggling at 6-7.

A ton is at stake for the Patriots on Sunday, and if past results are any indication, it would be surprising if they didn't make enough plays to earn a much-needed victory. 

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