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Super Bowl champion New England back in the postseason

(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)