By about 4 p.m., the Patriots could be sitting pretty. Or they could be like a loose-lipped henchman with his feet in cement.
Obviously, New England’s own game against the Bills is most important to the club’s fortunes. But the Titans-Dolphins game is running a very close second.
If the Patriots lose, they finish 3-3 in the AFC East. The Dolphins have already completed their division schedule at 4-2. Which would mean that Miami — with the Texans and Steelers remaining on the schedule — would be in control of the division. And that opens a whole other can of worms, playoff scenario-wise. Here are five other games to keep an eye on …
1) Falcons at Jets (1 p.m.): The Patriots’ old buddy Thomas Dimitroff’s club can help New England big here. But both Matt Ryan and Michael Turner are game-time decisions. The Jets, behind their top-ranked defense and running game, have sneaked right back into the wild-card race and, if the Patriots and Dolphins were to lose today, would re-enter the division race as well.
2) Bengals at Chargers (4:05 p.m.): San Diego can come within spitting distance of the second seed with a win here (not clinched, but as close as you can get). Plus, a Bengals loss would put the Patriots back in the mix for the “3” seed, and a possible side-stepping of Denver in Round 1.
3) Texans at Rams (1 p.m.): Surprised? Well, follow me here … If the Texans lose, the Mike Shanahan Watch starts in earnest in Houston. Presumably, that makes the Dolphins game against the Texans next week, and the Patriots season-closer against them the week after simpler propositions. Of course, the Rams aren’t very good. So maybe it’s just a moot point.
4) Raiders at Broncos (4:05 p.m.): Must win for the Broncos? That’s a little much. But with the red-hot Eagles and a trip to Philly on deck, this is a vital game against a team that’s shown some fight in biting teams like the Eagles and Steelers. And a win would further solidify Denver as a potential first-round opponent, if the Patriots (it’s a pretty big if) make the playoffs.
5) Bears at Ravens (4:15 p.m.): Don’t be shocked if Baltimore sneaks up and steals the fifth seed from Denver. It starts today. Should they beat Pittsburgh next week, the Ravens should finish 10-6, and hold the tie-breaker (head-to-head) with the Broncos.