NFL WEEK 17

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Chicago (4-11) at Tampa Bay (9-6)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Bucs by 7 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Bears 7-8; Bucs 8-7.

Last week: Bears beat Rams, 13-10. Bucs lost to Jets, 31-0.

Worth watching: QB Erik Kramer is trying to finish the season with a strong showing so the Bears -- or someone else -- will anoint him a starter for next season. How much will Bucs RB Mike Alstott test his sore thigh in this game?

Outlook: The Bucs have lost three of their past four games and need a win to be assured of starting the playoffs at home; a loss means they might have to go to Detroit or Minnesota. The Bears, winners of three of their past four, will play with a nothing-to-lose attitude, which could make it close.

Notable: Bears' defense has held three of its past four opponents to 10 points or fewer.

Injuries:

BEARS: Questionable: LB Bryan Cox (back); LB Ron Cox (knee); Chris Penn (ankle); G Todd Perry (back). Probable: WR Bobby Engram (ankle).

BUCCANEERS: Out: TE Jackie Harris (hernia); DT Marcus Jones (ankle). Questionable: RB Mike Alstott (thigh). Probable: CB Anthony Parker (thigh); QB Trent Dilfer (ankle); LB Rufus Porter (neck); G Jim Pyne (groin).

N.Y Jets (9-6) at Detroit (8-7)

Time: 4 p.m., chs. 11, 4.

Line: Lions by 6 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Jets 8-7; Lions 8-5.

Last week: Jets beat Bucs, 31-0. Lions beat Vikings, 14-13.

Worth watching: Lions RB Barry Sanders, with a league-leading 1,869 rushing yards, needs only 15 for a career-high total and 131 to become the third player to rush for 2,000.

Outlook: Again, the Lions have gotten hot at the end of the season. In the first season under Bill Parcells, the Jets have matched the biggest one-season turnaround in NFL history (1-15 to 9-6). A win will give them a wild-card berth and first playoff appearance since 1991. QB Neil O'Donnell, who looked like a free-agent bust a year ago, gets the chance to prove his worth.

Notable: Lions have won four of their past five, losing only at Miami on a last-second field goal.

Injuries:

JETS: Out: DT Ernie Logan (leg-injured reserve). Questionable: QB Glenn Foley (knee); T David Williams (back).

LIONS: Probable: S Mark Carrier (back); CB Greg Jeffries (knee); QB Scott Mitchell (rib); WR Herman Moore (foot); T Larry Tharpe (groin).

Indianapolis (3-12) at Minnesota (8-7)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Vikings by 6 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Colts 7-7; Vikings 8-7.

Last week: Colts beat Dolphins, 41-0. Vikings lost to Lions, 14-13.

Worth watching: The Vikings need a big game from QB Randall Cunningham. Can Colts QB Jim Harbaugh put together two big games in a row? He threw for four TDs last week in Indy's stunning upset of Miami.

Outlook: The Vikings are capable of one of the all-time back-into-the-playoffs jobs. Even if they lose today, they would qualify if Washington loses to Philadelphia. The Colts have won two straight, but the home-dome advantage should save the Vikings.

Notable: Minnesota's five-game losing streak is the longest of the Dennis Green era.

Injuries:

COLTS: Questionable: WR Aaron Bailey (thigh); S Derwin Gray (knee); LB Scott Von Der Ahe (neck); RB Lamont Warren (ribs). Probable: LB Elijah Alexander (ankle); RB Marshall Faulk (knee); CB Carlton Gray (hand); LB Steve Morrison (knee).

VIKINGS: Questionable: DE Fernando Smith (knee-groin). Probable: DE Derrick Alexander (ankle-hip); CB Jeff Brady (neck); TE Hunter Goodwin (hamstring); WR Chris Walsh (thigh).

N.Y Giants (9-5-1) at Dallas (6-9)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Cowboys by 3 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Giants 8-6; Cowboys 3-10.

Last week: Giants beat Redskins, 30-10. Cowboys lost to Bengals, 31-24.

Worth watching: Will Giants QB Danny Kanell keep his momentum heading into the playoffs? Will Cowboys RB Emmitt Smith bounce back for one good game?

Outlook: The Giants are just trying to stay fresh for the playoffs, but they're a young team on the rise that wouldn't mind continuing to win. The Cowboys are old, and they're showing it.

Notable: Giants are the 11th NFL team since 1970 to go from last place to first.

Injuries:

GIANTS: Out: C Derek Engler (ankle); DE Cedric Jones (leg); LB Ryan Phillips (knee). Doubtful: CB Phillippi Sparks (knee). Questionable: CB Conrad Hamilton (knee-rib); S Brandon Sanders (groin); RB Tyrone Wheatley (ankle).

COWBOYS: Out: TE Eric Bjornsen (leg); RB Daryl Johnston (neck); CB Deion Sanders (rib); T Mark Tuinei (knees). Questionable: G Nate Newton (knee); CB Kevin Smith (back). Probable: DT Chad Hennings (hip); TE David LaFleur (hip); RB Emmitt Smith (shoulder); S Charlie Williams (foot); S Darren Woodson (shoulder).

Atlanta (7-8) at Arizona (3-12)

Time: 4 p.m.

Line: Falcons by 3.

Vs. spread: Falcons 7-4; Cardinals 7-7.

Last week: Falcons beat Eagles, 20-17. Cardinals lost to Saints, 27-10.

Worth watching: Cardinals rookie QB Jake Plummer has shown promise (73.2 passer rating). Falcons QB Chris Chandler has quietly had a big season, ranking second in the league with a 92.8 passer rating.

Outlook: The Falcons figure to finish with six straight wins after a 2-8 start. With a loss, the Cardinals will wrap up first pick in the draft, which they may trade because they're happy with Plummer.

Notable: Falcons' defense has allowed an average of 10.0 points in the past four games.

Injuries:

FALCONS: Questionable: DE Lester Archambeau (knee); LB Ruffin Hamilton (hand); T Matt Willig (back). Probable: K Morten Andersen (hamstring); DT Travis Hall (ankle); TE Brian Saxton (knee); DE Chuck Smith (ankle).

CARDINALS: Out: RB LeShon Johnson (hamstring); DT Eric Swann (finger-injured reserve); T Joe Wolf (knee). Questionable: S Matt Darby (shoulder). Probable: CB Tom Knight (knee); LB Tony McCombs (shoulder); DE Mark Smith (groin).

San Diego (4-11) at Denver (11-4)

Time: 4 p.m.

Line: Broncos by 14 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Chargers 6-9; Broncos 8-7.

Last week: Chargers lost to Chiefs, 29-7. Broncos lost to 49ers, 34-17.

Worth watching: How much work will Broncos All-Pro RB Terrell Davis get? He slightly separated his right shoulder in Monday night's loss at San Francisco. Vaughn Hebron (Cardinal Gibbons) will fill in for Davis.

Outlook: The Broncos are reeling after road losses to Pittsburgh and San Francisco and need a victory to clinch a home game in the wild-card round. Playing at Mile High -- where they are 7-0 this season -- against the Chargers, who have lost seven straight, will save them.

Notable: A win would give Broncos first back-to-back 12-win seasons in franchise history.

Injuries:

CHARGERS: Out: RB Terrell Fletcher (knee-injured reserve); CB Dwayne Harper (thigh-injured reserve). Questionable: RB Gary Brown (groin); DE William Fuller (thigh); LB Junior Seau (knee).

BRONCOS: Out: G Mark Schlereth (back). Questionable: RB Terrell Davis (shoulder). Probable: T Tony Jones (knee).

New Orleans (6-9) at Kansas City (12-3)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Chiefs by 8.

Vs. spread: Saints 6-8; Chiefs 10-3.

Last week: Saints beat Cardinals, 27-10. Chiefs beat Chargers, 29-7.

Worth watching: Chiefs QB Elvis Grbac returns from a broken collarbone to replace Rich Gannon, who went 5-1 as the starter in Grbac's absence, including wins over San Francisco and Denver.

Outlook: Although playing in the NFC West makes life easier for all, Mike Ditka has done more with the Saints than most expected. The Chiefs have wrapped up top seed in the AFC playoffs and have little to play for, but their momentum should carry them in this one.

Notable: The Chiefs, who have three safeties in their past four games, have won their past three games by a combined 103-16.

Injuries:

SAINTS: Out: LB Richard Harvey (toe); S Anthony Newman (neck). Doubtful: WR Alvin Harper (knee). Questionable: LB Ink Algea (ankle); WR Randal Hill (ankle); TE Nicky Savoie (ankle). Probable: WR Eric Guliford (thigh-knee); DT Wayne Martin (shoulder).

CHIEFS: Questionable: CB Darren Anderson (groin); DE Vaughn Booker (knee); LB Anthony Davis (ankle); QB Elvis Grbac (shoulder). Probable: RB Donnell Bennett (ankle); WR Lake Dawson (knee).

Pittsburgh (11-4) at Tennessee (7-8)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Oilers by 3.

Vs. spread: Steelers 8-5; Oilers 9-6.

Last week: Steelers beat Patriots in OT, 24-21. Oilers lost to Ravens, 21-19.

Worth watching: Steelers QB Kordell Stewart needs just 67 passing yards and 44 rushing yards to become only the third player to have 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in a season.

Outlook: The Steelers, who have won six of their past seven games against the Oilers, will use this as a scrimmage for their playoff opener the weekend of Jan. 3-4. The Oilers' only goal is a .500 season.

Notable: Steelers' defense leads AFC, allowing only 297.6 yards per game.

Injuries:

STEELERS: Out: LB Greg Lloyd (ankle infection); T Jamain Stephens (ankle). Questionable: RB Jerome Bettis (knee-back); WR Will Blackwell (chest); WR Courtney Hawkins (shoulder); T-G Justin Strzelczyk (calf). Probable: S Myron Bell (foot); TE Kirk Botkin (knee); TE Mark Bruener (foot); LB Levon Kirkland (quadriceps); RB Tim Lester (groin); WR Yancey Thigpen (hamstring); S Carnell Lake (foot).

OILERS: Out: CB Roger Jones (back-injured reserve). Questionable: CB Steve Jackson (ankle); LB Lonnie Marts (hamstring); S Marcus Robertson (knee).

Jacksonville (10-5) at Oakland (4-11)

Time: 4 p.m.

Line: Jaguars by 3 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Jaguars 8-6; Raiders 5-10.

Last week: Jaguars beat Bills, 20-14. Raiders lost to Seahawks, 22-21.

Worth watching: Jaguars QB Mark Brunell, 24-for-32 for 317 yards with an interception last week, has thrown only 16 TD passes, but he still ranks second in the AFC with a passer rating of 89.3.

Outlook: If Jacksonville wins and the Broncos lose, the Jaguars will have the home-field edge in the wild-card round. The Raiders have nothing to play for and figure to end one of the most dismal seasons ever for a once-proud franchise on a down note.

Notable: Jaguars have an AFC-best 15-5 record in their past 20 games.

Injuries:

JAGUARS: Questionable: T Tony Boselli (ankle); G Brian DeMarco (ankle); RB Ty Hallock (neck); RB Randy Jordan (shoulder); WR Keenan McCardell (knee); DT Seth Payne (shoulder). Probable: DE Tony Brackens (ankle).

RAIDERS: Out: RB Harvey Williams (knee-injured reserve). Doubtful: CB Albert Lewis (knee); DE Anthony Smith (shoulder-quadriceps). Questionable: WR Desmond Howard (toe). Probable: T Pat Harlow (back-hip); DT Chester McGlockton (calf).

San Francisco (13-2) at Seattle (7-8)

Time: 8 p.m., ESPN.

Line: Seahawks by 2 1/2 .

Vs. spread: 49ers 10-5; Seahawks 7-8.

Last week: 49ers beat Broncos, 34-17. Seahawks beat Raiders, 22-21.

Worth watching: 49ers QB Steve Young is likely to play little in a meaningless game, so look for backups Jeff Brohm and Jim Druckenmiller, the team's No. 1 draft choice this year, to possibly split time.

Outlook: After losing Jerry Rice for the season in the first game of his comeback, San Francisco doesn't figure to take many chances in this one. The Seahawks are going back to Warren Moon at QB, instead of giving Jon Kitna another start.

Notable: 49ers lead the NFL with a turnover differential of plus-23.

Injuries:

49ers: Out: RB Garrison Hearst (clavicle); WR Jerry Rice (knee). Questionable: S Curtis Buckley (hamstring); TE Greg Clark (chest); RB William Floyd (knee); CB Rod Woodson (concussion). LTC Probable: S Merton Hanks (thigh); CB Marquez Pope (Achilles).

SEAHAWKS: Out: RB Reggie Brown (knee-injured reserve). Doubtful: G Derrick Graham (neck). Questionable: T Howard Ballard (arm); LB Joe Cain (ankle); CB Jeremy Lincoln (ankle); CB Shawn Springs (thumb). Probable: LB Chad Brown (concussion); Carlester Crumpler (eye); S Darryl Williams (knee).

Pub Date: 12/21/97

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