NEW ORLEANS -- With the Dolphins' loss in Buffalo today (injuries are finally catching up with Miami, it seems), the Patriots can open a three-game lead in the AFC East by winning Monday night.
The Chargers, Bengals, and Patriots are now in a tight race for the first-round bye that will remain after Indianapolis locks up the No. 1 seed. The Chargers -- who I believe, along with the Vikings, are playing the best ball in the NFL right now -- have won six straight. The Bengals are back on track, after an inexcusable Week 10 loss in Oakland, and completed a sweep of their division today by beating Cleveland.
Here's the remaining slate for each of these teams ...
New England: @NO, @Mia, Car, @Buf, Jax, @Hou
Cincinnati: Det, @Min, @SD, KC, @NYJ
San Diego: @Cle, @Dal, Cin, @Ten, Was
It's worth noting that the Broncos could still catch the Chargers in the West, and the Steelers, even after getting swept, could use a tough Chargers-Vikings turn for Cincy to pass the Bengals in the North.
But as it stands right now, you can see why Monday night's game is more than just a bunch of hype for the Patriots. And why that Dec. 20 clash between the Bengals and Chargers in San Diego looms large.