By Levan Reid, WBZ-TV SportsBy Levan Reid

BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots are sitting pretty at 7-2 coming out of their bye week, but what do they need to do to remain the top seed in the AFC?

New England has a tough road ahead over the final seven weeks of the regular season. They face Indianapolis (6-3), Green Bay (6-3), San Diego (5-4) and the Jets (2-8), all away from Gillette. None of those games should be easy, as the Colts have Andrew Luck (he’s a stud), Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are brutal to beat at Lambeau and Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates are a great combination in San Diego. As for the Jets, they always play the Pats hard, and their Thursday night game last month is a prime example.

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First and foremost, throughout the tough stretch the Patriots will have to take care of business at home. They have home games against Detroit (7-2), Buffalo (5-4) and Miami (5-4), and winning all of those is a must — especially the two AFC East games. Detroit is tough, and Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate will test the Pats pass defense. Miami has played everyone tough this year, and you never know what you’re going to get against Buffalo.

Second, they have to try to stay healthy. They should get Chandler Jones back in a couple of weeks, and that should make the defense better than it is right now. But they can’t afford to lose any more key players anywhere on the field. They have to find away to keep Rob Gronkowski playing at this high level, but still out of harms way. His reckless style makes that difficult, but the Pats will need him come playoff time.

The defense will also need to start getting better against the run. This is nothing new, but now they have to make sure they are eliminating any and all errors.

The problem is that none of what the Pats do over the next seven weeks will matter if they lose just one game. Most of it will depend on how the Denver Broncos do with their cupcake schedule. Their toughest games are when they play Kansas City at home and San Diego on the road; the Chargers game could cause a problem, but lately they have looked more like pretenders rather than contenders.

The Pats have to win out the rest of the way, or the AFC Championship game will likely be played in Denver for the second straight season.

Follow Levan Reid on Twitter @LevanReid.

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