(Reuters) - The New England Patriots became the first AFC team to clinch a playoff berth when they beat the Houston Texans 27-6 on Sunday.
The Tom Brady-led reigning Super Bowl champions improved their season record to 11-2 to clinch their seventh straight playoff berth.
They are the third National Football League team to lock up a postseason spot, following the Carolina Panthers (13-0) and Arizona Cardinals (11-2) of the NFC.
New England has the best record in the AFC, following losses on Sunday by the Cincinnati Bengals (10-3) and Denver Broncos (10-3).
The Patriots are now in the box seat to secure a first-round bye, awarded to the top two teams in each conference.
New England’s remaining three regular season games are against Tennessee Titans (3-10), New York Jets (8-5) and Miami Dolphins (5-7).
Carolina earlier on Sunday locked up a first-round bye when they thrashed Atlanta 38-0.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; editing by Sudipto Ganguly