Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and New England may know by nightfall whether they will be able to spend Christmas at home.
The Steelers already have clinched a wild-card spot and can nail down the AFC Central title today by winning at Houston. A victory would assure Pittsburgh the home-site advantage in the Dec. 30-31 divisional playoffs.
The Oilers have the best AFC record among the nondivision leaders and thus are candidates for one of the two wild-card berths in the conference. The Rams can win their sixth straight NFC West title if they defeat the New York Giants and the Atlanta Falcons lose at Cincinati. If the Rams and Falcons both win, Los Angeles clinches at least a wild-card spot.
The Patriots will win the AFC East title if they defeat the Cowboys at Dallas and Miami loses to the Redskins. A victory for the Cowboys or Patriots will guarantee them a wildcard berth.
The New England-Dallas game will be seen on television in most parts of the country as the second half of NBC's doubleheader (WBAL-TV-11), at 4 p.m.
Football-on-television widows will be aggrieved to learn that there will be another big game at 9 p.m. on ABC (WJLA-TV-7), between the leaders of the AFC West, Denver at Oakland.
They are tied at 8-5, a game ahead of Seattle, 7-6. The Seahawks still are in contention for a postseason berth and will be host to another 7-6 team with hopes for a playoff spot, Cleveland.
Still another AFC team with a 7-6 record and playoff aspirations is the New York Jets, who will be hosts to the Baltimore Colts as the defending Eastern Division champion of the three previous season tries to avoid dropping into last place.
Green Bay and Minnesota are tied at 7-5-1 in their quest for the NFC Central title.
The Packers play at Tampa Bay (5-8). The Vikings are at home against an NFC East team with playoff ambitions, Philadelphia (8-5).
By nightfall some of the high hopes that took root in training camps will be nearer to extinction and a few coaches may be wondering about job security, particularly with a colleague with George Allen's background out of coaching the season.