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NFL WEEK 17 : TODAY'S GAMES

THE BALTIMORE SUN

BUFFALO (9-6) AT NEW ORLEANS (6-9)

Time: 1: 01 p.m.

Line: Bills by 3.

Vs. spread: Bills 9-4; Saints 10-5.

Outlook: QB Doug Flutie and the Bills clinched a playoff berth despite their loss to the Jets last week and will be the fifth or sixth seed in the AFC, traveling to Jacksonville, Miami or New England next week. Today they'll be playing for pride and stats. For example, WR Eric Moulds needs only 35 receiving yards to break Andre Reed's club season mark of 1,312 in 1989. With the Saints giving up an NFC-worst 251.7 passing yards, his chances should be pretty good. Out of the playoff hunt, Mike Ditka will let his team just mail this one in, right? Wrong. The Saints played a possible playoff team, the Cardinals, close last week and shouldn't let up this week.

Notable: Saints defense has scored nine TDs, most in the NFL.

Injuries:

BILLS: Out: DE Phil Hansen (knee); CB Thomas Smith (knee). Doubtful: G Ruben Brown (pectoral). Questionable: QB Doug Flutie (leg), WR Andre Reed (hamstring).

SAINTS: Doubtful: C-G Tom Ackerman (ankle); CB Je'Rod Cherry (ankle). Questionable: WR Brett Bech (groin); LB Kevin Mitchell (knee), Fred Weary (groin). Probable: LB Keith Mitchell (groin); RB Wilmont Perry (ankle); RB Lamar Smith (chest).

SAN DIEGO (5-10) AT ARIZONA (8-7)

Time: 4: 15 p.m.

Line: Cardinals by 7 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Chargers 4-8; Cardinals 5-9.

Outlook: Arizona can clinch a playoff berth with a victory, earning the right to open at Dallas in next week's wild-card round of the NFC playoffs. QB Jake Plummer fueled the Cardinals' critical, last-second victory over New Orleans last week, marking the eighth time in just 25 career games the second-year pro has engineered a fourth-quarter comeback. He then was rewarded with a four-year, nearly $30 million contract extension. This is the end for interim San Diego coach June Jones, who'll be leaving for the University of Hawaii. He won't miss QB Ryan Leaf, the No. 2 overall pick who has been a disaster on and off the field.

Notable: San Diego has not allowed a 100-yard rusher this year.

Injuries:

CHARGERS: Out: LB Lew Bush (knee); RB Natrone Means (foot). Questionable: TE John Burke (shoulder); TE Wendell Davis (hamstring); LB Kurt Gouveia (hand); G Kendyl Jacox (foot).

CARDINALS: Questionable: DT Mark Smith (ankle). Probable: S Tommy Bennett (ankle); T Lomas Brown (thigh); RB Larry Centers (knee); TE Chris Gedney (thigh); CB Tom Knight (hand); CB Tom Knight (hand); S Kwamie Lassiter (knee); LB Ronald McKinnon (knee); WR Eric Metcalf (ankle).

CAROLINA (3-12) AT INDIANAPOLIS (3-12)

Time: 1: 01 p.m.

Line: Colts by 5.

Vs. spread: Panthers 6-7; Colts 7-8.

Outlook: A loss would have put the Panthers on track for the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft, but Dom Capers, who could be coaching his last game, traded it to the Redskins in the Sean Gilbert deal. So long, Ricky Williams. It has been a rough year in Indianapolis, but is Peyton Manning the next John Unitas? The early returns look good. He has thrown 25 TD passes, tied for the lead in the AFC, and has four 300-yard passing games, most ever by an NFL rookie. He's a keeper.

Notable: Manning has taken every snap this season and could become only the eighth quarterback to do that since 1970.

Injuries:

PANTHERS: Out: CB Juran Bolden (ankle); G Corbin Lacina (knee); NT Tim Morabito (knee); DE Jason Peter (neck). Doubtful: TE Wesley Walls (foot). Questionable: WR Muhsin Muhammad (hamstring). Probable: LB Michael Barrow (shoulder); LB Greg Lloyd (shoulder); C Bryan Stoltenberg (knee); LB Kinnon Tatum (thigh).

COLTS: Out: LB Andre Royal (knee), DE Kendel Shello (back). Questionable: RB Keith Elias (ankle). WR Aaron Bailey (knee); S Robert Blackmon (thigh); T Adam Meadows (shoulder). Probable: Ellis Johnson (shoulder); DE Mark Thomas (elbow).

MIAMI (10-5) AT ATLANTA (13-2)

Time: 1: 01 p.m.

Line: Falcons by 3.

Vs. spread: Dolphins 9-4; Falcons 10-4.

Outlook: The Dolphins are riding high. They knocked off the Broncos on Monday and clinched a playoff berth with a brilliant, four-TD-pass performance by QB Dan Marino. The defense continues to play tough, having held Denver RB Terrell Davis to ** 29 yards, but the team is banged up and might rest starters as much as possible. The Dolphins need a win, however, to secure a wild-card home game, so there is some incentive. Don't look for the Falcons' starters to play much today, either. Their eyes are on the playoffs.

Notable: Falcons RB Jamal Anderson leads the NFC with 1,743 rushing yards, just 87 shy of Denver's Davis for the NFL lead.

Injuries:

DOLPHINS: Out: LB Larry Izzo (knee); T Richmond Webb (triceps). Questionable: RB Karim Abdul-Jabbar (concussion); G Kevin Donnalley (knee). Probable: RB John Avery (ankle); WR Nate Jacquet (concussion); LB Robert Jones (quadriceps); CB Sam Madison (hip).

FALCONS: Probable: DE Lester Archambeau (thumb); LB Cornelius Bennett (knee); CB Randy Fuller (shoulder), S Eugene Robinson (leg), DE Chuck Smith (back).

TAMPA BAY (7-8) AT CINCINNATI (3-12)

Time: 1: 01 p.m.

Line: Bucs by 6 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Bucs 7-8; Bengals 4-10.

Outlook: A Tampa Bay win, an Arizona loss, a Giants win and somehow the Bucs will back into the playoffs. Their running game has to move the ball consistently, and their defense can't allow another fourth-quarter comeback as it has three times this year. The Bengals' run defense is last in the league, and that should play to the strength of the Bucs' Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn. This is the time of year losing teams like Cincinnati play for pride, but how much pride is there in jockeying for position among the top five draft picks?

Notable: Bucs haven't won a game in 23 years when the temperature is below 40 degrees.

Injuries:

BUCS: Out: WR Bert Emanuel (kidney); WR Brice Hunter (knee). Questionable: G Jorge Diaz (foot); LB Mitch Palmer (hamstring); LB Al Singleton (back). Probable: WR Reidel Anthony (shoulder); P Tommy Barnhardt (hamstring); QB Trent Dilfer (shoulder); RB Jerry Ellison (Achilles); C Tony Mayberry (groin); G Frank Middleton (ankle).

BENGALS: Out: QB Jeff Blake (wrist); WR James Hundon (ankle). Questionable: T Rod Jones (triceps). Probable: T Willie Anderson (Achilles); TE Steve Bush (neck); RB Corey Dillon (back); C Rod Payne (hip); LB Jimmy Sprotte (hamstring).

SEATTLE (8-7) AT DENVER (13-2)

Time: 4: 15 p.m., Ch. 13.

Line: Broncos by 9 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Seahawks 7-6; Broncos 9-6.

Outlook: Denver coach Mike Shanahan's plan to play for keeps down the stretch for no reason other than records has backfired -- not in terms of injuries, but in terms of regular-season results. Despite going full-time with stars like QB John Elway and RB Terrell Davis in the last month of the season, Denver has played subpar football for four straight weeks and lost its bid for perfection. Its goal today is to get back on track.

Notable: Seattle's 13 TDs by returns (fumbles, interceptions and special teams) is an NFL record.

Injuries:

SEAHAWKS: Out: S Mark Collins (shoulder); TE Itula Mili (knee). Doubtful: DT Dan Saleaumua (hamstring). Questionable: LB Darrin Smith (back). Probable: WR Joey Galloway (toe); LB Dean Wells (knee).

BRONCOS: Doubtful: DE Neil Smith (abdomen). Questionable: S Eric Brown (groin); QB John Elway (hip); CB Darrien Gordon (shoulder). Probable: WR Justin Armour (hamstring); S Steve Atwater (shoulder); S Tyrone Braxton (shoulder); LB Keith Burns (thigh); CB Ray Crockett (ankle); RB Terrell Davis (back); G David Diaz-Infante (knee); RB Howard Griffith (knee); DE Harald Hasselbach (ankle); CB Darrius Johnson (ankle); T Tony Jones (knee); LB Seth Joyner (hamstring); RB Derek Loville (shoulder); WR Ed McCaffrey (back/hamstring); G Dan Neil (knee); P Tom Rouen (shoulder); G Mark Schlereth (knee); TE Shannon Sharpe (knee).

GREEN BAY (10-5) AT CHICAGO (4-11)

Time: 1: 01 p.m., Ch. 5.

Line: Packers by 6 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Packers 6-7; Bears 9-6.

Outlook: Green Bay has clinched a playoff berth and would be host to the 49ers in a wild-card game with a victory over the Bears and a San Francisco loss. WR Antonio Freeman has 1,359 receiving yards and could become the first Packer to lead the league in receiving since Sterling Sharpe's 1,461 in 1992. How far have the Bears fallen since their glory days in the '80s? James Allen, who was activated from the practice squad, rushed for 163 yards against the Ravens last week, the most rushing yards by a Bear since Walter Payton's 176 in 1986.

Notable: Packers have won the past nine meetings, the longest streak in the storied series.

Injuries:

PACKERS: Doubtful: TE Mark Chmura (calf). Questionable: WR Corey Bradford (hamstring); WR Robert Brooks (hamstring); TE Tyrone Davis (hamstring); DE Vonnie Holliday (ankle); WR Derrick Mayes (knee); CB Craig Newsome (knee); WR Roell Preston (foot). Probable: RB Darick Holmes (shoulder); LB Brian Williams (knee).

BEARS: Doubtful: RB Edgar Bennett (knee). Questionable: RB Ty Hallock (ankle); WR Chris Penn (knee); T James Williams (ankle/elbow). Probable: RB James Allen (ankle); DE John Thierry (calf).

NEW ENGLAND (9-6) AT N.Y. JETS (11-4)

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

Line: Jets by 6 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Patriots 7-6; Jets 11-4.

Outlook: The Patriots are in the playoffs, but it can't be said this game doesn't mean anything. It does to the players and the fans because it's against former coach Bill Parcells. The Jets have clinched their first AFC East title and a first-round bye. But this isn't any time to rest, if you ask Parcells. "We are going to play this game just like we play all of the others: to win," he told the Boston Globe. "At this time of year [going into the playoffs] it is important that you keep your team playing at a high level." The Jets have played the Patriots at a high level the past two seasons, winning two of the three "Tuna Bowl" meetings.

Notable: CB Ty Law leads the NFL with nine interception and could be the first Patriots player to lead the league or the AFC in that category.

Injuries:

PATRIOTS: Out: QB Drew Bledsoe (finger). Questionable: RB Tony Carter (ankle); LB Todd Collins (pectoral); DE Willie McGinest (groin); DE Chris Sullivan (knee); DT Mark Wheeler (knee).

JETS: Questionable: CB Aaron Glenn (ankle). Probable: RB Keith

Byars (arm).

N.Y. GIANTS (7-8) AT PHILADELPHIA (3-12)

Time: 4: 05 p.m.

Line: Giants by 4.

Vs. spread: Giants 7-8; Eagles 7-6.

Outlook: The Giants have staged a remarkable turnaround, winning four of their last five games, including a monumental upset of Denver two weeks ago. Still, by kickoff today, they might have already been eliminated from the playoffs. If Tampa Bay, which kicks off at 1: 01 p.m., wins, the Giants are out. Even if the Bucs lose, New York needs to win and then hope for an Arizona loss to San Diego. By all accounts, this will be Ray Rhodes' last stand as coach of feckless Philly. Still, as the Eagles showed last Sunday against the Cowboys, at least they haven't quit on Rhodes.

Notable: Eagles are 9-21-1 under Rhodes over the last two

seasons.

Injuries:

GIANTS: Doubtful: S Tito Wooten (hamstring). Questionable: RB Greg Comella (hamstring); DT Robert Harris (calf); WR Joe Jurevicuis (knee); G Ron Stone (calf); RB Tyrone Wheatley (hip). Probable: CB Phillippi Sparks (neck).

EAGLES: Questionable: WR Freddie Solomon (shoulder). DE Al Wallace (knee). CB Clarence Love (shoulder); C Morris Unutoa (hand); Probable: DE Hugh Douglas (groin); S Brian Dawkins (concussion); C Steve Everitt (neck); WR Jeff Graham (hamstring).

ST. LOUIS (4-11) AT SAN FRANCISCO (11-4)

Time: 4: 05 p.m.

Line: 49ers by 12 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Rams 5-10; 49ers 5-10.

Outlook: St. Louis hasn't beaten a team in its own division all season, and there's little reason to expect that to change in San Francisco. There have been complaints that coach Dick Vermeil has worked his team too hard in practice. The Rams, apparently, have responded by not working very hard in games. The 49ers are in the playoffs again, but there sure were a lot of long faces in the locker room after last week's surprising loss to the Patriots and backup QB Scott Zolak. Maybe the realization finally hit that they're not going to catch the Falcons in the NFC West and that they'll have to lower themselves and play in a wild-card game next week.

Notable: 49ers have not lost to the Rams since their first meeting in 1990, a span of 16 games.

Injuries:

RAMS: Doubtful: LB Jon Hesse (hamstring). Questionable: C John Flannery (knee). Probable: LB Eric Hill (biceps); DE Jeff Robinson (kidney).

49ERS: Questionable: S Zack Bronson (hamstring). Probable: RB Chuck Levy (thumb); S Marquez Pope (ankle). S Tim McDonald (rib); LB Winfred Tubbs (pectoral); QB Steve Young (knee).

Pub Date: 12/27/98

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