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NFL: WEEK 15 : TODAY'S GAMES

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ARIZONA (6-7) AT PHILADELPHIA (2-11)

Time: 1: 01 p.m.

Line: Cardinals by 3.

Vs. spread: Cardinals 5-8; Eagles 6-6.

Outlook: Arizona's playoff hopes may have been destroyed in a crushing loss to the Giants last week; no one is sure how Arizona will react against Philadelphia. Will the Cardinals be able to erase the loss, or will it haunt them? Making Arizona's job easier is the fact that Philadelphia is horrible, with the worst offense in the league. Although the Eagles held Arizona to 129 yards passing in Week 3, QB Jake Plummer has improved. Look for him to throw for 250 yards and RB Adrian Murrell to rush for 100.

Notable: Eagles have held three of their last four home opponents below 20 points.

Injuries:

CARDINALS: Out: G-T Matt Joyce (hand); DT Mark Smith (ankle); DT Eric Swann (knee). Doubtful: CB Tom Knight (hamstring); LB Ronald McKinnon (knee); RB Michael Pittman (hand). Probable: S Tommy Bennett (hip); G-T Allen DeGraffenreid (neck); CB Ty Howard (shoulder); LB Tony McCombs (toe); DE Simeon Rice (rib); DE Andre Wadsworth (calf).

EAGLES: Out: RB Charlie Garner (rib); DT Bill Johnson (knee-IR). Questionable: DE Hugh Douglas (groin). Probable: WR Irving Fryar (toe); DE Greg Jefferson (ankle); CB Clarence Love (hamstring); RB Kevin Turner (back).

CINCINNATI (2-11) AT INDIANAPOLIS (2-11)

Time: 1: 01 p.m.

Line: Colts by 4.

Vs. spread: Bengals 3-9; Colts 5-8.

Outlook: Stuck in the basement of the AFC Central, Cincinnati has been one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL, and coach Bruce Coslet will probably be fired at season's end. On his way out the door, he will get his first loss as the Bengals' coach in four games at the RCA Dome. Colts QB Peyton Manning is hot, and the Falcons barely beat him last week, while Cincinnati did not put up much of a fight against Buffalo. Manning has taken every snap this year (808 plays), has 21 TD passes and needs just two more to break the rookie record of former Giants QB Charlie Conerly. Don't be surprised if that mark falls today.

Notable: Colts have allowed 15 sacks, second-fewest in the NFL.

Injuries:

BENGALS: Out: TE Steve Bush (neck); QB Neil O'Donnell (hand-IR). Questionable: DE John Copeland (foot); LB Steve Foley (ankle); LB Jimmy Sprotte (hamstring). Probable: DE Clyde Simmons (knee).

COLTS: Questionable: CB Jeff Burris (knee); RB Chris Hetherington (groin); T Waverly Jackson (knee); WR Torrance Small (neck); DE Bernard Whittington (groin). Probable: LB Michael Barber (wrist); TE Ken Dilger (ankle/back/knee); DT Ellis Johnson (shoulder); DE Kendell Shello (back).

OAKLAND (7-6) AT BUFFALO (8-5)

Time: 1: 01 p.m.

Line: Bills by 7 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Raiders 6-7; Bills 8-3.

Outlook: The game features four Heisman Trophy winners: the Raiders' Tim Brown, Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson and the Bills' Doug Flutie. OK, Howard isn't in the same stratosphere as the rest of his Heisman buddies, but Brown, Woodson and Flutie are stars. One might think the key to this game is Flutie against a very good Raiders defense, but it reality, it's the Oakland offense against the Buffalo defense. Some opponents have said that the Raiders' offense has become predictable. The Bills will win because they are predictably tough at home.

Notable: In 197 regular-season starts since his freshman year in college, Flutie's record is 149-47-1.

Injuries:

RAIDERS: Out: S Eric Turner (foot). Doubtful: QB Jeff George (groin). Questionable: QB Donald Hollas (wrist); RB Napoleon Kaufman (groin); S Anthony Newman (toe). Probable: G Derek Graham (back); WR Desmond Howard (neck); DT Grady Jackson

(shoulder); DE Pat Swilling (knee).

BILLS: Out: G Ruben Brown (chest). Questionable: DE Bruce Smith (knee). Probable: LB John Holecek (knee); S Manny Martin (neck); WR Andre Reed (knee).

SAN DIEGO (5-8) AT SEATTLE (6-7)

Time: 4: 05 p.m.

Line: Seahawks by 7.

Vs. spread: Chargers 4-6; Seahawks 6-5.

Outlook: If the league decided to hold a vote on instant replay tomorrow, Seattle coach Dennis Erickson would be first in line, holding up a card with "Yes" on it. Because of the terrible call on Vinny Testaverde's sneak last week, the Seahawks are in a tremendous hole in terms of getting to the playoffs. They could have defeated the Jets, improved to 7-6 and, since they should beat the Chargers, been 8-6 after today. Erickson might have won the last two and saved his job. Now he's in trouble, but this week, he gets a respite.

Notable: Seahawks QB Jon Kitna is 44 of 75 for 618 yards and four TDs in the last two games.

Injuries:

CHARGERS: Out: LB Lew Bush (knee); T Vaughn Parker (leg). Doubtful: RB Natrone Means (foot). Questionable: CT David Binn (shoulder); TE John Burke (shoulder); TE Frank Hartley (foot); CB Terrance Shaw (knee); RB Tremayne Stephens (thigh).

SEAHAWKS: Out: S Mark Collins (shoulder); TE Itula Mili (knee). Doubtful: DT Dan Saleaumua (hamstring); LB Dean Wells (knee); CB Willie Williams (foot). Questionable: C Chris Gray (knee); WR James McKnight (pelvis); RB Mack Strong (ankle). Probable: CB Joey Eloms (quadriceps); TE Deems May (hand).

ATLANTA (11-2) AT NEW ORLEANS (6-7)

Time: 1: 01 p.m.

Line: Falcons by 4.

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

Outlook: When QB Chris Chandler is healthy, the Falcons may have the third-best offense in the league behind Minnesota and Denver. The Falcons have scored 353 points, and are on pace for a club-record 434. In 10 of its games, Atlanta has 300 or more yards of offense. But the Falcons will be facing a very confident Saints defense. New Orleans held Dallas to 8 yards rushing last week, a shocking number against a great offensive line and top back like Emmitt Smith. New Orleans will keep the Falcons from scoring 30 points, but Atlanta is too good, and the Falcons honestly believe they have a shot at home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Notable: Atlanta can match its club record for victories, set in 1980.

Injuries:

FALCONS: Questionable: DE Lester Archambeau (thumb); WR Tim Dwight (hamstring); CB Randy Fuller (shoulder). Probable: LB Craig Sauer (shoulder); T Bob Whitfield (abdomen); G Geoe Williams (knee).

SAINTS: Out: LB Kevin Mitchell (knee). Doubtful: WR Qadry Ismail (abdomen). Questionable: LB Vinson Smith (knee). Probable: LB Ink Aleaga (hamstring); TE Tony Johnson (groin); DT Wayne Martin (knee); TE Scott Slutzker (knee).

DENVER (13-0) AT N.Y. GIANTS (5-8)

Time: 1: 01 p.m., Ch. 9.

Line: Broncos by 12 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Broncos 9-4; Giants 5-8.

Outlook: The Broncos can both match the 1972 Dolphins, who finished the regular season 14-0, and win a league-record 19th straight game. In their last two games the Broncos have not looked pretty, and you can expect more of the same today against DE Michael Strahan and the Giants' defense. They will keep the game close, but the Broncos win because this is a special season, and when they want to be, they are unbeatable.

Notable: Broncos RB Terrell Davis is third NFL player to reach 6,000 yards rushing in first four seasons.

Injuries:

BRONCOS: Questionable: S Eric Brown (groin). Probable: WR Justin Armour (hamstring); S Steve Atwater (shoulder); QB Bubby Brister (thigh); LB Keith Burns (thigh); CB Ray Crockett (shoulder); G David Diaz-Infante (knee); QB John Elway (ribs); CB Darrien Gordon (back); WR Willie Green (hamstring); RB Howard Griffith (knee); DT Harald Hasselbach (ankle); RB Vaughn Hebron (toe); T Tony Jones (knee); RB Derek Loville (shoulder); WR Ed McCaffrey (hamstring/finger); WR Marcus Nash (hamstring); G Dan Neil (knee); CB Tito Paul (thumb); LB Bill Romanowski (shoulder); P Tom Rouen (shoulder/wrist); G Mark Schlereth (knee); DE Neil Smith (abdomen); DT Keith Traylor (back).

GIANTS: Out: LB Scott Galyon (leg-IR/knee). Doubtful: DT Robert Harris (calf); RB Tyrone Wheatley (hip).

PITTSBURGH (7-6) AT TAMPA BAY (6-7)

Time: 1: 01 p.m., Ch. 13.

Line: Bucs by 3.

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

Outlook: This is a critical game for both, as the team that loses is basically out of the playoff picture. The Steelers are coming off a bad home loss to New England, while the Bucs beat up on Green Bay on Monday night. That victory re-energized the Bucs' season. Look for Tampa Bay to prevail today because the Bucs are playing at home (they are 5-2 at Raymond James Stadium) and because the Steelers still have not found a way to cure their offensive ills, having scored only two TDs in their last 14 quarters.

Notable: Steelers have lost two in a row for the first time since December 1996 and might miss the postseason for the first time in coach Bill Cowher's seven seasons.

Injuries:

STEELERS: Out: RB Fred McAfee (knee). Questionable: DE Kevin Henry (ankle); RB Tim Lester (ankle). Probable: LB Carlos Emmons (ankle); RB Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (hamstring); WR Courtney Hawkins (knee); WR Charles Johnson (foot); T Jamain Stephens (knee).

BUCS: Out: G Jorge Diaz (foot). Questionable: WR Karl Williams (rib). Probable: RB Mike Alstott (thumb); WR Bert Emanuel (ankle); G Frank Middleton (ankle); T Jason Odom (hip).

DALLAS (8-5) AT KANSAS CITY (5-8)

Time: 4: 15 p.m., Ch. 5.

Line: Chiefs by 2.

Vs. spread: Cowboys 7-5; Chiefs 5-8.

Outlook: Dallas can clinch its sixth division title in the 1990s with a victory over the Chiefs and an Arizona loss. The Cowboys were the toast of the admittedly weak NFC East until that bizarre 22-3 loss to New Orleans last week. Look for the Chiefs to try to duplicate, at least in some form, the defense the Saints used, which featured lots of stunts on the line and run blitzing to shut down the running game. The problem is, Dallas' Chan Gailey is a smart offensive coach and won't be fooled twice. He will make some adjustments and get Dallas back on track.

Notable: If they clinch a spot, the Cowboys will set an NFL record for most playoff berths with 25.

Injuries:

COWBOYS: Doubtful: TE David LaFleur (knee); CB Kevin Smith (back). Questionable: CB Deion Sanders (toe); LB Fred Strickland (knee); RB Chris Warren (groin). Probable: T Erik Williams (knee).

CHIEFS: Out: T Marcus Spears (hand-IR); G-T Pete Swanson (abdomen). Questionable: T Jeff Criswell (foot); QB Rich Gannon (arm); CB James Hasty (back); WR Kevin Lockett (ankle); TE Ted Popson (neck); RB Tony Richardson (knee); LB Derrick Thomas (groin); LB Jerrott Willard (hamstring). Probable: CB Dale Carter (arm); S Keith Crawford (knee); DE Chester McGlockton (biceps).

CHICAGO (3-10) AT GREEN BAY (8-5)

Time: 1: 01 p.m.

Line: Packers by 13 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Bears 7-6; Packers 5-6.

Outlook: The refrain coming from the Packers these days seems to be, "Go ahead, doubt us, but we're still dangerous." Yet losing to Tampa Bay on Monday night was one of their low points this season. They have a lot of issues to resolve for the playoffs, like finding a consistent running game. The Bears -- who'll play host to Green Bay to close the season in two weeks -- don't present a legitimate threat to the Packers in any form, but they seem to always play them tough.

Notable: Packers QB Brett Favre has 27 TD passes in 12 career games against the Bears.

Injuries:

BEARS: Doubtful: WR Chris Penn (back); Questionable: QB Moses Moreno (ankle). Probable: G Todd Perry (ankle); LB Jim Schwantz (back).

PACKERS: Out: WR Corey Bradford (hamstring); LB Lamont Hollinquest (knee); WR Bill Schroeder (shoulder); C Frank Winters (ankle). Doubtful: WR Robert Brooks (hamstring); TE Tyrone Davis (hamstring); DE Vonnie Holliday (ankle). Questionable: WR Antonio Freeman (jaw); WR Derrick Mayes (knee); CB Craig Newsome (knee); G Marco Rivera (knee); CB Rod Smith (knee). Probable: DE Vaughn Booker (hip); DT Gilbert Brown (knee); RB Dorsey Levens (ankle); S Pat Terrell (shoulder); G Adam Timmerman (shoulder).

NEW ENGLAND (8-5) AT ST. LOUIS (3-10)

Time: 1: 01 p.m.

Line: Patriots by 7.

Vs. spread: Patriots 6-5; Rams 4-9.

Outlook: Have the Patriots run out of miracles? We won't find out this week, because it doesn't exactly take sleight-of-hand to beat the hapless Rams, who last week lost to Philadelphia. The Patriots' secondary, built around CB Ty Law, is second in the league with 20 interceptions. For some reason, QB Tony Banks is back for St. Louis. That's despite his 14-6 interception-to-TD ratio, not exactly Steve Young-like numbers. Here's the scary part: The passing game is the offense's strength. Only two teams have rushed for fewer yards than the Rams, whose leading rusher is still Greg Hill, who hasn't played since Week 2.

Notable: Rams offense has five TDs in eight games with Banks at quarterback.

Injuries:

PATRIOTS: Out: LB Ted Johnson (biceps). Questionable: G Heath Irwin (ankle); DE Willie McGinest (groin); DT Mark Wheeler knee). Probable: QB Drew Bledsoe (finger).

RAMS: Out: WR Isaac Bruce (hamstring-IR). Doubtful: LB John Hesse (hamstring). Questionable: RB Amp Lee (knee), RB Jerald Moore (rib). Probable: TE Derrick Harris (back); S Keith Lyle (toe); DE Grant Wistrom (hip).

TENNESSEE (7-6) AT JACKSONVILLE (10-3)

Time: 1: 01 p.m.

Line: Jaguars by 3 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Oilers 7-6; Jaguars 7-5.

Outlook: The Oilers stay afloat in the playoff race each year because they can run the football and QB Steve McNair makes clutch plays. As for the Jaguars, the rule of thumb is that you can expect one big week from an overmatched backup as he plays on adrenalin and his team rallies around him, but two weeks is too much to expect. That means RB Fred Taylor better have his running shoes on if QB Jamie Martin doesn't have the touch he had in replacing injured Mark Brunell last week.

Notable: All seven games in the series have been decided by eight points or fewer.

Injuries:

OILERS: Doubtful: DE Anthony Cook (shoulder). Questionable: WR Willie Davis (shoulder); RB Eddie George (ankle/shoulder); TE Jackie Harris (knee); P Craig Hentrich (groin); DE Kenny Holmes (ankle); CB Steve Jackson (knee); QB Steve McNair (foot); LB Barron Wortham (neck); WR Yancey Thigpen (knee); RB Rodney Thomas (hamstring); TE Frank Wycheck (ankle).

JAGUARS: Out: RB Tavian Banks (foot); QB Mark Brunell (ankle). Questionable: T Leon Searcy (thumb); CB Dave Thomas (leg). Probable: T Tony Boselli (ankle/foot); DE Eric Curry (ankle); LB Bryce Paup (shin); RB Daimon Shelton (ankle); G Rich Tylski (shoulder).

N.Y. JETS (9-4) AT MIAMI (9-4)

Time: 8: 20 p.m., ESPN.

Line: Dolphins by 3.

Vs. spread: Jets 9-4; Dolphins 8-3.

Outlook: Miami has been impressive at home, especially on defense, allowing 6.7 points a game, and overall has allowed a league-low 14.2 points a game. Another good omen for the Dolphins: QB Dan Marino has thrown for more yards (7,820) and TDs (68) against the Jets than any other team. But New York has the second-best offense in the AFC, and Miami's offense is average. The Jets can easily score 25 points against any defense, because QB Vinny Testaverde continues to excel. He is 9-1 as a Jets starter and has a conference-high 22 TD passes. Look for Testaverde to pass for more than 300 yards, and for Bill Parcells to add to his coaching legend with another big, prime-time victory.

Notable: Jets are 6-1 when RB Curtis Martin rushes for 100 yards.

Injuries:

JETS: Doubtful: RB Keith Byars (arm). Questionable: CB Aaron Glenn (ankle); DE Anthony Pleasant (hip).

DOLPHINS: Out: LB Larry Izzo (knee). Doubtful: G Kevin Donnalley (knee); T Richmond Webb (triceps). Probable: RB Karim Abdul-Jabbar (ankle); DE Trace Armstrong (groin); TE Troy Drayton (hand); WR Oronde Gadsden (toe); K Olindo Mare (hip).

Pub Date: 12/13/98

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