NFL WEEK 15

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Atlanta (2-11) at New Orleans (2-11)

Time 1 p.m.

Line: Saints by 2

Vs. spread: Falcons 4-9; Saints 5-8.

Last week: Falcons lost to 49ers, 34-10; Saints lost to Rams, 26-10.

Outlook: NFC West cellar isn't big enough for both sad-sack teams. Saints are near bottom of league in most offensive categories, and Falcons are near bottom in most defensive stats. Does bad defense beat decent offense, or vice versa? Maybe Doug Nussmeier -- who? -- will give New Orleans a spark, subbing at QB for Jim Everett.

By the numbers: Falcons allowed 464 total yards vs. 49ers. Saints have lost six straight and are 0-5 under interim coach Rick Venturi.

Injuries:

FALCONS: Out: LB Cornelius Bennett (quadriceps), CB Juran Bolden (elbow), CB Tim McKyer (arm). Questionable: DE Lester Archambeau (hip), DT Moe Gardner (ankle), WR Terance Mathis (thigh), CB Elbert Shelley (hamstring). T Bob Whitfield (back). Probable: DT Travis Hall (neck), DE Chuck Smith (knee).

SAINTS: Out: TE Irv Smith (knee). Doubtful: WR Michael Haynes (foot), RB Ray Zellars (neck), WR Mercury Hayes (hamstring). Questionable: QB Jim Everett (concussion). Probable: DT Willie Broughton (eye), LB Ernest Dixon (thigh), S Anthony Newman (neck), WR Torrance Small (neck), RB Ricky Whittle (shoulder).

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Statistical comparison:

Off. Def.

NFL RANKINGS Tot. Rush Pass Tot. Rush Pass

Atlanta 19 28 10 28 25 25

New Orleans 28 30 22 18 29 5

Yds. Yds.

PER GAME Pts. rush pass TO Sacks

Atlanta Off. 18.0 86.9 226.9 2.4 2.8

Def. 30.2 126.2 235.2 1.3 2.4

New Orleans Off. 14.2 75.2 190.5 2.4 1.5

Def. 22.4 139.5 189.8 0.8 2.1

N.Y. Giants (5-8) at Miami (6-7)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Dolphins by 7

Vs. spread: Giants 6-7; Dolphins 5-8.

Last week: Giants lost to Eagles, 24-0; Dolphins lost to Raiders, ,, 17-7.

Outlook: QB Dan Marino and Dolphins seemed primed for playoff run after beating Colts and Oilers in consecutive weeks, but losses to Steelers and Raiders have pretty much doomed chances for team that started season a promising 3-0. Giants, after stunning Cowboys, pulled up lame against Eagles and can't run ball anymore, gaining just 3.3 yards per attempt, third-worst average in NFL.

By the numbers: Giants have 10 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries in last six games. Dolphins are 14-for-25 (.560) on field-goal attempts, worst percentage in NFL.

Injuries:

GIANTS: Doubtful: RB Keith Elias (knee), TE Aaron Pierce (knee-flu), C Brian Williams (back-flu), S Tito Wooten (ankle). Questionable: LB Corey Miller (ankle). Probable: T Scott Gragg (ankle).

DOLPHINS: Out: RB Jerris McPhail (arm). Questionable: DT Daryl Gardner (back). Probable: T James Brown (chest), CB Tim Jacobs (ankle), S Louis Oliver (ribs), G Keith Sims (knee), LB Zach Thomas (hamstring).

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Statistical comparison:

Off. Def.

NFL RANKINGS Tot. Rush Pass Tot. Rush Pass

Giants 30 20 30 15 19 16

Miami 20 25 13 21 10 26

Yds. Yds.

PER GAME Pts. rush pass TO Sacks

N.Y. Giants Off. 15.4 98.8 149.5 2.1 3.3

Def. 19.2 112.6 209.2 2.1 1.9

Miami Off. 21.9 93.6 218.8 1.6 2.2

Def. 20.5 97.8 237.5 2.4 2.2

Carolina (9-4) at San Francisco (10-3)

Time: 4 p.m., Ch. 45

Line: 49ers by 10

Vs. spread: Panthers 10-3; 49ers 7-6.

Last week: Panthers beat Bucs, 24-0. 49ers beat Falcons, 34-10.

Outlook: 49ers can clinch NFC West with victory, but Panthers are 2-1 vs. San Francisco. Carolina has defense that causes headaches with confusing blitz packages and will have to keep 49ers' Steve Young in the pocket, because he's just as dangerous running as throwing. Real problem for Panthers is their offense, which ranks 25th overall and 27th in passing, and faces fourth-ranked 49ers unit that is tough and experienced.

By the numbers: Panthers have allowed one TD and 19 points over last 15 quarters. 49ers are second in NFC with 122.1 rushing yards per game.

Injuries:

PANTHERS: Questionable: T Blake Brockermeyer (thumb), WR Muhsin Muhammad (hamstring). Probable: WR Michael Bates (knee), G Brandon Hayes (shoulder), S Brett Maxie (concussion).

49ERS: Out: LB Anthony Peterson (knee). Questionable: LB Daved Benefield (knee), DE Israel Ifeanyi (neck), RB Derek Loville (toe). Probable: DT Michael Brandon (knee), DT Dennis Brown (knee), RB William Floyd (leg), RB Terry Kirby (ankle), CB Frankie Smith (knee), DT Dana Stubblefield (ribs).

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Statistical comparison:

Off. Def.

NFL RANKINGS Tot. Rush Pass Tot. Rush Pass

Carolina 25 11 27 7 6 8

San Francisco 5 8 11 4 3 7

Yds. Yds.

PER GAME Pts. rush pass TO Sacks

Carolina Off. 22.5 116.2 180.2 1.5 2.6

Def. 12.6 92.5 195.3 2.0 3.6

San Francisco Off. 25.0 122.1 223.1 1.6 2.8

Def. 15.2 86.9 192.6 2.4 3.1

Denver(12-1) at Green Bay (10-3)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Packers by 10

Vs. spread: Broncos 9-3; Packers 7-6.

Last week: Broncos beat Seahawks, 34-7; Packers beat Bears, 28-17.

Outlook: Game once had great potential as possible Super Bowl preview, but Broncos clinched home-field edge in AFC last week and will begin resting up for playoffs. First on sideline is QB John Elway (hamstring), who isn't likely to play again until regular-season finale. Bill Musgrave, who has played in nine games in six seasons, will start in his place. Packers, tied with 49ers for best record in NFC, have clinched playoff berth, too. But they crave home advantage as well, and win today is crucial step toward attaining it.

By the numbers: Broncos are 2-7 in nine games missed by Elway due to injury or illness in his 14 seasons. Packers have won 25 of last 26 games, including playoffs, at Lambeau Field, dating to 1993.

Injuries:

BRONCOS: Out: T Gary Zimmerman (shoulder). Questionable: QB John Elway (hamstring). Probable: CB Randy Hilliard (ribs), TE Shannon Sharpe (ankle).

PACKERS: Questionable: TE Mark Chmura (foot).

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Statistical comparison:

Off. Def.

NFL RANKINGS Tot. Rush Pass Tot. Rush Pass

Denver 1 1 8 3 1 9

Green Bay 8 16 9 2 5 3

Yds. Yds.

PER GAME Pts. rush pass TO Sacks

Denver Off. 27.0 161.8 231.7 1.7 1.8

Def. 15.3 80.2 196.2 1.8 2.8

Green Bay Off. 26.6 107.0 229.9 1.4 2.5

Def. 14.7 91.6 174.8 2.5 2.2

St. Louis (4-9) at Chicago (5-8)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Bears by 6 1/2

Vs. spread: Rams 5-8; Bears 6-7.

Last week: Rams beat Saints, 26-10; Bears lost to Packers, 28-17.

Outlook: Neither team is going anywhere and both coaches -- Bears' Dave Wannstedt and Rams' Rich Brooks -- are subject of speculation about whether they will be dismissed at season's end. On field, Bears have rediscovered rushing attack with Raymont Harris averaging 4.1 yards per carry, and Rams may have found QB in fumble-prone but talented Tony Banks. Playing in cold at Soldier Field, where they are 4-2, should give Bears decisive edge.

By the numbers: Rams WR Isaac Bruce is second in NFL with 1,169 receiving yards. Bears have 15 players who have caught at least one pass this season.

Injuries: RAMS: Questionable: TE Ernie Conwell (hand), CB Torin Dorn (hamstring), RB Derrick Harris (ankle), RB Jerald Moore (ankle), CB Anthony Parker (knee), RB Lawrence Phillips (knee), RB Greg Robinson (knee), S Toby Wright (knee). Probable: CB Jeremy Lincoln (shoulder).

BEARS: Questionable: S Mark Carrier (ankle), TE Ryan Wetnight (knee).

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Statistical comparison:

Off. Def.

NFL RANKINGS Tot. Rush Pass Tot. Rush Pass

Louis 29 19 29 24 21 23

Chicago 24 15 21 11 14 17

Yds. Yds.

PER GAME Pts. rush pass TO Sacks

St. Louis Off. 18.9 99.1 161.1 2.7 3.6

Def. 25.7 118.2 226.5 2.3 2.2

Chicago Off. 15.5 107.4 191.7 1.8 1.3

Def. 19.1 105.2 209.9 2.0 2.1

N.Y. Jets (1-12) at New England (9-4)

Time: 4 p.m.

Line: Patriots by 13

Vs. spread: Jets 6-7; Patriots 6-7.

Last week: Jets lost to Oilers, 35-10; Patriots beat Chargers, 45-7.

Outlook: With Neil O'Donnell injured again, Jets coach Rich Kotite has decided to finish another dreadful season by starting third-team QB Glenn Foley, who dislocated shoulder last year against Patriots. Good luck, Glenn. Patriots are fighting Buffalo for AFC East title and trying to nail down playoff spot and possible postseason home game. They simply annihilated San Diego on road, and there's no reason Drew Bledsoe can't throw for more than three TDs against Jets' hapless defense. A complete mismatch.

By the numbers: Kotite update: He's 4-25 with Jets, 4-32 in last 36 games as a head coach. Patriots are 9-0 when Bledsoe completes 55 percent or better of passes.

Injuries:

JETS: Out: QB Neil O'Donnell (calf). Doubtful: WR Jeff Graham (toe). Probable: WR Henry Bailey (shoulder), TE Tyrone Davis (foot), T Jumbo Elliott (back).

PATRIOTS: Questionable: TE John Burke (foot), G Todd Rucci (leg).

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Statistical comparison:

Off. Def.

NFL RANKINGS Tot. Rush Pass Tot. Rush Pass

Jets 6 17 7 23 28 14

New England 7 23 3 25 9 30

Yds. Yds.

PER GAME Pts. rush pass TO Sacks

N.Y. Jets Off. 17.0 106.7 235.0 2.9 2.5

Def. 28.3 136.4 206.5 1.5 1.9

New England Off. 27.3 94.0 245.6 1.5 2.1

Def. 20.7 96.6 250.6 2.2 1.8

Dallas (8-5) at Arizona (6-7)

Time: 4 p.m., Ch. 5

Line: Cowboys by 10

Vs. spread: Cowboys 6-7; Cardinals 8-5.

Last week: Cowboys beat Redskins, 21-10; Cardinals lost to Vikings, 41-17.

Outlook: Controversies usually roll off Cowboys' backs, but loss of DT Leon Lett for violating substance-abuse policy will be felt in big way, especially since DE Charles Haley is out for season. Dallas won't feel it this week, however, because it owns Arizona, winning the past 12 meetings. Cardinals QB Boomer Esiason fell to earth last week after three-game roll, and it won't get any easier today.

By the numbers: Cowboys QBs are sacked once every 29.6 pass attempts, best ratio in NFL. Cardinals' Larry Centers leads league's running backs with 82 receptions.

Injuries:

COWBOYS: Out: DE Charles Haley (back), S Brock Marion (shoulder), TE Jay Novacek (back). Questionable: TE Eric Bjornson (ankles). Probable: LB Alan Campos (knee), WR Billy Davis (quadriceps), RB Emmitt Smith (ankle).

CARDINALS: Questionable: WR Marcus Dowdell (thigh). Probable: S Tommy Bennett (virus), RB Larry Centers (foot), S Matt Darby (thumb), T Ernest Dye (ankle).

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Statistical comparison:

Off. Def.

NFL RANKINGS Tot. Rush Pass Tot. Rush Pass

@Dallas 23 18 18 1 4 1

Arizona 11 24 5 20 22 19

Yds. Yds.

PER GAME Pts. rush pass TO Sacks

Dallas Off. 19.5 102.7 200.6 1.6 1.1

Def. 15.5 91.1 160.7 1.8 2.5

Arizona Off. 19.1 93.8 238.2 2.1 2.2

Def. 25.5 121.2 213.8 1.6 1.9

Jacksonville (6-7) at Houston (7-6)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Oilers by 6

Vs. spread: Jaguars 5-8; Oilers 9-4.

Last week: Jaguars beat Bengals, 30-27. Oilers beat Jets, 35-10.

Outlook: Hard to believe, but win today puts Jaguars into second-place tie with Oilers in AFC Central and fuels playoff hopes that are buoyed by closing, two-game set at home with Seattle and Atlanta. QB Mark Brunell has passed for more than 200 yards in 15 straight games and is the man in Jacksonville. Oilers' defense will try to keep him in pocket. Jaguars' defense is susceptible to strong rushing attacks, however, and Oilers have fine RB in Eddie George.

By the numbers: Jaguars' Mike Hollis was 5-for-5 on field-goal attempts vs. Bengals. Oilers have allowed opponents 16 TDs on 37 trips inside 20-yard line, a 43.2 percent ranking that is No. 2 in AFC.

Injuries:

JAGUARS: Out: G Brian DeMarco (knee). Probable: DT John Jurkovic (thigh), G Jeff Novak (hamstring), RB James Stewart (toe).

OILERS: Questionable: S Blaine Bishop (knee), QB Chris Chandler (ankle), CB Anthony Dorsett (abdomen), DT Mike Halipan (knee).

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Statistical comparison:

Off. Def.

NFL RANKINGS Tot. Rush Pass Tot. Rush Pass

Jacksonville 2 21 1 13 16 15

Houston 21T 6 28 8 2 13

Yds. Yds.

PER GAME Pts. rush pass TO Sacks

Jacksonville Off. 20.2 96.9 270.2 2.2 3.3

Def. 22.2 107.8 208.2 1.6 2.3

Houston Off. 22.4 127.2 180.2 1.5 1.9

Def. 19.5 82.5 205.9 1.7 1.8

San Diego (7-6) at Pittsburgh (9-4)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Steelers by 10

Vs. spread: Chargers 7-6; Steelers 7-5.

Last week: Steelers lost to Ravens, 31-17; Chargers lost to Patriots, 45-7.

Outlook: Steelers have huge incentive because victory will all but wrap up AFC Central title and keep them on course for possible home playoff game. Chargers are without QB Stan Humphries, knocked out with concussion against Patriots, giving Sean Salisbury first start since 1994. Steelers' plodding offense unraveled vs. Ravens after falling behind early, and it's unlikely to happen two straight weeks.

By the numbers: Chargers are 16-8 after December under Bobby Ross, including playoffs. Steelers are 10-0 vs. San Diego at Three Rivers Stadium.

Injuries:

CHARGERS: Out: CB Dwayne Harper (hamstring), QB Stan Humphries (head), TE Alfred Pupunu (ankle-injured reserve). Questionable: WR Andre Coleman (thigh). Probable: T Tony Berti (ankle), CB Lethon Flowers (knee).

STEELERS: Out: S Carnell Lake (knee), WR Yancey Thigpen (foot). Questionable: LB Chad Brown (ankle). Probable: DE Brentson Buckner (ankle), TE Jonathan Hayes (back), WR Charles Johnson (knee), RB Fred McAfee (hamstring), CB Rod Woodson (knee).

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Statistical comparison:

Off. Def.

NFL RANKINGS Tot. Rush Pass Tot. Rush Pass

San Diego 21T 29 12 27 18 27

Pittsburgh 14 2 26 5 7 6

Yds. Yds.

PER GAME Pts. rush pass TO Sacks

San Diego Off. 21.3 84.6 222.7 1.8 2.0

Def. 24.8 110.1 242.7 2.1 2.1

Pittsburgh Off. 23.0 140.5 181.0 1.8 1.3

Def. 16.2 93.5 191.1 2.6 3.1

Buffalo (9-4) at Seattle (5-8)

Time: 4 p.m., Ch. 4

Line: Bills by 4 1/2

Vs. spread: Bills 8-5; Seahawks 6-7.

Last week: Bills lost to Colts in OT, 13-10; Seahawks lost to Broncos, 34-7.

Outlook: Buffalo was derailed last week without QB Jim Kelly and RB Thurman Thomas. Both are probable, and you can bet Thomas would like to test 27th-ranked run defense. Seahawks have nothing to play for, having been drummed out of playoff chase with three straight losses. RB Chris Warren will find little room to run, and with DE Bruce Smith looming large, QB Rick Mirer is due for another long day.

By the numbers: Bills limit opponents to NFL-low 3.2 yards per rushing attempt. Seahawks have allowed an average of 183 rushing yards in last three games.

Injuries:

BILLS: Doubtful: LB Bryce Paup (groin), WR Steve Tasker (knee). Questionable: LB Marlo Perry (ankle), RB Tim Tindale (knee). Probable: WR Quinn Early (knee), T John Fina (wrist), C Kent Hull (hamstring), QB Jim Kelly (hamstring), G Jerry Ostroski (ankle), T Glenn Parker (knee), WR Andre Reed (knee), RB Thurman Thomas (ankle).

SEAHAWKS: Out: WR Brian Blades (rib-shoulder), RB Steve Broussard (hamstring).

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Statistical comparison:

Off. Def.

NFL RANKINGS Tot. Rush Pass Tot. Rush Pass

Buffalo 17 4 25 9 8 10

Seattle 12 9 15 19 27 11

Yds. Yds.

PER GAME Pts. rush pass TO Sacks

Buffalo Off. 20.5 130.2 186.6 2.0 2.6

Def. 16.5 95.0 196.7 2.0 3.2

Seattle Off. 19.2 119.4 210.4 2.0 2.3

Def. 24.4 136.0 197.8 1.6 2.2

Minnesota (7-6) at Detroit (5-8)

Time: 8 p.m., ESPN

Line: Lions by 2 1/2

Vs. spread: Vikings 7-6; Lions 4-9.

Last week: Vikings beat Cardinals, 41-17; Lions lost to Chiefs, 28-24.

Outlook: Vikings are nurturing slim playoff hopes, and Lions are long shots. Vikings have one of most aggressive defenses in league and can take away much of what Detroit wants to do with RB Barry Sanders and WR Herman Moore. Lions' defense isn't nearly as opportunistic. Vikings get edge with rapid improvement of QB Brad Johnson, who is coming off four-TD-pass game.

By the numbers: Johnson has highest QB rating (95.0) among NFC QBs in fourth quarter, having thrown five TD passes and one interception. Lions have scored more in second quarter (114) than entire second half (104).

Injuries:

VIKINGS: Questionable: DE Derrick Alexander (hip-ankle), LB Dixon Edwards (hamstring), QB Warren Moon (ankle), LB Darryl Talley (knee). Probable: WR Chris Walsh (ribs).

LIONS: Out: LB Stephen Boyd (abdomen). Doubtful: LB Tracy Scroggins (ankle). Questionable: S Ron Rice (ankle), S Ryan Stewart (hand), DT Henry Thomas (groin).

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Statistical comparison:

Off. Def.

NFL RANKINGS Tot. Rush Pass Tot. Rush Pass

Minnesota 10 22 6 12 20 12

Detroit 18 14 16 22 26 20

Yds. Yds.

PER GAME Pts. rush pass TO Sacks

Minnesota Off. 18.7 95.1 237.5 2.0 2.1

Def. 18.8 115.1 200.2 2.4 2.7

Detroit Off. 20.2 107.5 207.2 1.9 2.8

Def. 22.2 127.0 214.9 1.4 2.1

Pub Date: 12/07/96

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