New England @ Miami
The time: 1 p.m., EST
The line: Even
The story: Suddenly, it's New England that controls the AFC board, with the Patriots gaining home-field advantage by running the table the last three weeks. A defeat of Miami not only clinches the AFC East, but it would move the Patriots a step closer toward gaining a first-round bye.
It also puts a potential speed bump behind them, and fasten your seat belts, people. This could be a bumpy ride.
Look at the betting line. There's a reason New England isn't favored. First of all, they've spent the past three weeks rallying from double-digit deficits. Sooner or later slow starts will bite them, and maybe this is that game. Second, Miami is hot, winning three of its last four and moving into the playoff picture, with a victory making it a legitimate postseason threat. Third, the Patriots are without tight end Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady's most reliable receiver, and don't pretend that his loss won't impair Brady and his teammates ... because it will.
But there's a fourth factor here worth noting. Since 2001, the Patriots are 47-6 in December, the best record in the NFL. But three of those losses? Yep, they've been to Miami.
Something to consider: The Patriots won 17 of their last 18 games in December.
THREE OTHER GAMES WORTH CHECKING OUT
Green Bay @ Dallas
The time: 4:25 p.m., EST
The line: Cowboys by 7
The story: If quarterback Josh McCown can rip holes in the Dallas defense, imagine what Aaron Rodgers does. Well, that's the problem. We can only imagine. Nobody knows if Rodgers suits up for this one, with the Packers playing it coy. For that matter, nobody knows if rookie running back Eddie Lacy suits up, either. He played through a sprained ankle last week, and the Packers will only say they're "cautiously optimistic" that he's available.
Now you know why the Cowboys are favored by a touchdown. Yes, their defense stinks; yes, they're unpredictable; and yes, quarterback Tony Romo usually finds coal in his stocking in December. The guy is 11-16 for the month, 12-17 for December and January and 13-20 once you include the playoffs.
None of that is exactly encouraging for a team chasing Philadelphia in the NFC East, but this is: Without Rodgers, the Packers are all but toast ... 1-3-1 since his departure, with the lone win a defeat of Atlanta.
Something to consider: Since 2009, the Packers have a 16-5 overall record in December and January, second only to New England (19-3).
New Orleans @ St. Louis
The time: 4:25 p.m., EST
The line: Saints by 6
The story: Remember the last time these two met here? You can bet the Saints do. That was in 2011 when the Rams -- at the time a winless team -- upset New Orleans, 31-21, and shut down Drew Brees. "We've talked about it," Brees said. They should. Because while the Saints are expected to win here, it will be no Big Easy.
It's not the Rams' offense that's the concern; it's their defense. They can rush the passer, as Brees found out the last time he played here, and they can ... and will ... force mistakes -- with only seven teams having more takeaways than St. Louis (24). But the Rams lost five of their last seven and failed to score more than 15 points in four of those contests. Moreover, they're quarterbacked by journeyman Kellen Clemens, and if Cam Newton can't solve these guys how does Clemens?
Ask Rob Ryan. If there's an intriguing back story to this game it's the Saints' defensive coordinator. He was ticketed to take the same job with St. Louis in the offseason, but the deal fell through and Ryan moved on to the Saints. Lucky for them. New Orleans is sixth in total defense, third against the pass and fifth in points allowed.
Something to consider: Rams' coach Jeff Fisher is 4-0 vs. New Orleans.
Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh