Originally created 01/06/02

NFL preview



NFL/Week 17

Atlanta Falcons (7-8) at St. Louis Rams (13-2)/Time: 4:05 p.m.

The Falcons are thinking about next season, and the Rams are thinking about the playoffs. The Rams will know whether they have to win early in their game - if the Bears win, the Rams have to win to get the No. 1 seed. Winning this one shouldn't be hard. Worth watching: The Rams' MVP candidates: Kurt Warner (33 TD passes vs. 19 interceptions) and Marshall Faulk (1,214 yards rushing, 11 rushing TDs and nine receiving TDs). Last meeting: The Rams won, 35-6, at Atlanta on Dec. 2. Key stats: The Rams have won five straight vs. the Falcons, outscoring them 197-75. TV: Fox-Ch. 54.

New England Patriots (10-5) at Carolina Panthers (1-14)/Time: 1 p.m.

The Patriots wrap up the AFC East title with a win and can be the No. 2 seed in the AFC with a win and an Oakland loss. The Panthers' goal is not so auspicious: They just want to avoid becoming the first team to lose 15 straight in the same season. The Patriots and Antowain Smith (1,076 yards, 45.0 avg.) should have their way. Worth watching: The Patriots' Tom Brady has thrown 17 TD passes vs. 10 interceptions. The Panthers' Todd Sauerbrun leads the NFL with 47.5-yard gross average, the highest in the NFL since Yale Lary's 48.9 in 1963. Last meeting: The Panthers won, 20-17 (OT), at New England on Oct. 29, 1995. Key stats: The Patriots are going for their first six-game winning streak since 1994, when they won seven straight. TV: CBS-Ch. 12.

Jacksonville Jaguars (6-9) at Chicago Bears (12-3)/Time: 1 p.m.

The Bears, widely chosen to finish last in the NFC Central, are ready to grab their first division title in 10 years. The Jaguars have stayed competitive in the second half, but the Bears are not likely to lose at this point. Worth watching: The Jaguars' Stacy Mack has three straight 100-yard rushing games. The Bears' Anthony Thomas has rushed for 1,023 yards and 4.2 avg. Last meeting: The Jaguars won, 24-23, at Soldier Field on Sept. 6, 1998. Key stats: The Bears are second in the NFC with a turnover differential of plus-12.

Arizona Cardinals (7-8) at Washington Redskins (7-8)/Time: 1 p.m.

Although finishing .500 would be more of a milestone for the Cardinals, the Redskins were one of the NFL's most improved teams in the second half of the season. Worth watching: The Cardinals' Jake Plummer threw four of his career-high 18 TD passes in the first game vs. the Redskins. Washington's Stephen Davis has rushed for 135.8 yards per game and four TDs in the past four game vs. Cardinals. Last meeting: Redskins won, 20-10, at Arizona on Dec. 9. Key stats: The Redskins have won four of the past five vs. the Cardinals.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-10) at Tennessee Titans (7-8)/Time: 1 p.m.

The Bengals started the season as a surprise team and wound up again among the worst. The Titans learned the damage a slow start (0-3) can do. Worth watching: The Bengals' Corey Dillon has rushed for 4.7 avg. and nine TDs in nine games vs. Titans. Tennessee's Jevon Kearse (10 sacks), has four in the past four games vs. the Bengals. Last meeting: The Titans won, 20-7, at Cincinnati on Nov. 18. Key stats: The Titans have won seven straight vs. the Bengals.

Cleveland Browns (7-8) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3)/Time: 1 p.m.

The Steelers have clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs and are just trying to stay sharp. Jerome Bettis hasn't played in three weeks and might skip this one, too. Worth watching: After throwing only six TD passes in the first 12 games, Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart has thrown eight in the past three. Browns linebacker Jamir Miller leads the AFC with 13 sacks. Last meeting: The Steelers won, 15-12, at Cleveland on Nov. 11. Key stats: It's the Steelers' No. 1 defense vs. the Browns' No. 30 offense.

Dallas Cowboys (5-10) at Detroit Lions (1-14)/Time: 1 p.m.

There won't be too much sentiment as the Lions play their last game in the Silverdome. After playing 30 miles north of Detroit for 27 years, the Lions will return downtown next season to play at Ford Field, a new $315 million, indoor venue that will play host to the 2006 Super Bowl. This has been a season both teams just want to end. Smith and the Cowboys' running game should control the day. Worth watching: The Cowboys' Emmitt Smith (944 yards) has 16,110 rushing yards, putting him on pace to break Walter Payton's NFL mark of 16,726 next season. The Lions' Robert Porcher has 11 sacks. Last meeting: The Lions won, 20-17 (OT), at Dallas on Sept. 19, 1994. Key stats: It's the Cowboys' No. 2 rushing offense vs. the Lions' No. 22 rushing defense.

Denver Broncos (8-7) at Indianapolis Colts (5-10)/Time: 1 p.m.

Will this be Jim Mora's last game as Colts' coach? That's about all that needs to be settled. The Broncos have a chance to finish the season with momentum. Worth watching: The Broncos' Brian Griese has had a solid season with 22 TD passes vs. 15 interceptions. The Colts' Peyton Manning has thrown 24 TD passes vs. 22 interceptions. Last meeting: The Broncos won, 35-13, at Denver on Oct. 3, 1993. Key stats: It's the Colts' No. 2 offense vs. the Broncos' No. 8 defense.

Green Bay Packers (11-4) at New York Giants (7-8)/Time: 1 p.m.

This is one of those incentive games - the Packers can win the NFC Central if the Bears lose and are playing for a home wild-card game at least. Brett Favre is having a big year, most notably a 2-1 TD-INT ratio (30-15). Worth watching: The Giants' Michael Strahan has 21 1/2 sacks, and is set to break Mark Gastineau's NFL record of 22 set in 1984. The Packers' Ahman Green leads the NFC with 1,286 yards rushing. Last meeting: Packers won, 37-3, at New York on Nov. 15, 1998. Key stats: The Packers are 4-3 on the road.

San Francisco 49ers (11-4) at New Orleans Saints (7-8)/Time: 1 p.m.

The Saints are stumbling to the end of a disappointing season, while the 49ers lost a pivotal game last week at Dallas. But the 49ers have something to play for - with a win, they have a chance to play host to a wild-card game. Worth watching: The 49ers' Terrell Owens has 91 catches, including an NFL-leading 14 TDs. The Saints' Aaron Brooks has thrown 26 TD passes vs. 18 interceptions. Last meeting: The 49ers won, 28-27, at San Francisco on Nov. 11. Key stats: The 49ers have turned the ball over a league-low 18 times.

Buffalo Bills (3-12) at Miami Dolphins (10-5)/Time: 4:15 p.m.

The Dolphins are in the playoffs and will win the NFC East if they win and the Patriots lose. The Dolphins aren't a great December team, but playing the Bills is a good way to end the regular season. Worth watching: The Bills' Shawn Bryson has rushed for 237 yards in the past two games. Lamar Smith leads the Dolphins with 810 yards rushing (2.9 avg.). Last meeting: The Dolphins won, 34-27, at Buffalo on Nov. 25. Key stats: The Dolphins are the only team to make the playoffs the past five seasons. TV: CBS-Ch. 12.

Kansas City Chiefs (6-9) at Seattle Seahawks (8-7)/Time: 4:15 p.m.

Can Trent Dilfer go to the Super Bowl for a second straight year? Doubtful, but the Seahawks are winning with him as Matt Hasselbeck recuperates. Dilfer is completing 60 percent of his passes, and Shaun Alexander is averaging 4.1 yards per carry. That will be enough. Worth watching: Dilfer, who has won 14 consecutive starts, remains Seattle's quarterback. Trent Green has thrown 16 TD passes vs. 23 interceptions in his first season with the Chiefs. Last meeting: The Chiefs won, 19-7, at Kansas City on Nov. 25. Key stats: The Chiefs have scored on their first possession in the past four games.

New York Jets (9-6) at Oakland Raiders (10-5)/Time: 4:15 p.m.

The best game of the day, with playoff implications for both teams. Both teams have struggled down the stretch. At this time of year, the home field matters. Worth watching: The Jets' Curtis Martin leads the NFL with 1,346 yards rushing (4.6 avg., 10 TDs). Rich Gannon leads the AFC in passing (26 TDs vs. 9 interceptions). Last meeting: The Raiders won, 31-7, at Oakland on Dec. 10, 2000. Key stats: The Jets lead the NFL with a turnover differential of plus-21.

Philadelphia Eagles (10-5) at Tampa Bay Bucs (9-6)/Time: 8:30 p.m.

It once seemed like a good idea - two playoff-bound teams on the last weekend of the season. But no matter what happens, the Bucs will visit the Eagles in next week's wild-card game, turning this into a virtual scrimmage. Worth watching: The Bucs' Keyshawn Johnson leads the NFL with 106 catches, but only one touchdown. The Eagles' Donovan McNabb has thrown 25 TD passes vs. only 12 interceptions. Last meeting: The Eagles won the NFC wild-card game 21-3 in Philadelphia on Dec. 31, 2000. Key stats: The Bucs are No. 5 in defense; the Eagles are No. 9. TV: ESPN.

Minnesota Vikings (5-10) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6)/Time: 9 p.m.

The defending Super Bowl champs might get back into the playoffs today, so they might be playing for nothing more than momentum. And if they're in, they'll have to play on wild-card weekend, meaning a short week of rest. The Vikings will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1995, and they will play their season finale without Dennis Green on the sidelines. Green was forced out by the Vikings' owner Friday. Worth watching: The Ravens need Elvis Grbac to get hot - he has thrown 15 TD passes vs. 18 interceptions. Rookie Michael Bennett has rushed for 630 yards and a 4.0 avg. for Vikings. Last meeting: The Vikings won 38-28 at Baltimore on Dec. 13, 1998. Key stats: The Ravens have outscored opponents 112-61 in the fourth quarter. TV: ABC-Ch. 6.