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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Game Scout - Week 16
December 20, 2006

Minnesota Vikings (6-8) at Green Bay Packers (6-8)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Thursday, 8:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/21/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: NFL Network, Bryant Gumbel, Cris Collinsworth
SERIES:
2006 RANKINGS: Vikings: offense 14th (10th rush, 16th pass); defense 8th (1st rush, 29th pass). Packers: offense 19th (15th rush, 9th pass); defense 21st (10th rush, 26th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: There isn't much tape of QB Tarvaris Johnson for the Packers to study up on the Vikings' rookie who will make his first career start. He has a stronger arm and far more mobility than the deposed Brad Johnson, so the Vikings hope the big play that has been lacking from the offense becomes a threat again. But a primetime road game in Lambeau could well lead to several rookie mistakes as well. There is also a big mismatch with rookie RT Ryan Cook working against NFC sack leader DE Aaron Kampman. Offensively, the Packers likely won't give much more than a nod to the ground game, which won't go far against the Vikings' No. 1 run defense. This game falls on the arm of QB Brett Favre, who threw for 347 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first meeting. Expect the Packers to spread the field and test a thin Vikings secondary that could be without rookie starting CB Cedric Griffin.

FAST FACTS: Vikings: K Ryan Longwell is Green Bay's all-time leading scorer with 1,054 points from 1997-2005. ... Are 5-4 on Thursday nights. Packers: RB Ahman Green needs 159 rushing yards to surpass Jim Taylor (8,207) as the franchise's all-time leading rusher. ... Favre is 14-14 against the Vikings, marking his most losses against any team.

Kansas City Chiefs (7-7) at Oakland Raiders (2-12)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 8:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/23/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: NFL Network, Bryant Gumbel, Dick Vermeil
SERIES: 96th meeting. Kansas City leads the series 50-43-2 and has won the last seven matchups. The Chiefs won the last meeting in Arrowhead Stadium this season, with rookie Jarrad Page intercepting a pass in the end zone to secure a win.
2006 RANKINGS: Chiefs: offense 17th (8th rush, 21st pass); defense 15th (19th rush, 14th pass). Raiders: offense 32nd (28th rush, 31st pass); defense 4th (26th rush, 1st pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Coming off their third shutout loss of the season, the Raiders are well aware that they must play a high level of defense to even be competitive. With the strength of their pass coverage this season, expect the Raiders to utilize some run blitzes on early downs in an effort to contain RB Larry Johnson and create third-and-long situations. QB Trent Green has not been playing particularly well, and Johnson called out the play-calling this week as being too predictable. The Chiefs don't have to score much, because the Raiders' offense is in shambles with poor offensive line play and no running game. QB Aaron Brooks appears to be developing chemistry with WR Ronald Curry, but the vertical passing game still isn't an area that will scare the Chiefs.

FAST FACTS: Chiefs: Have won the past seven meetings. ... TE Tony Gonzalez needs one touchdown reception to tie Shannon Sharpe (62) for the most ever by a tight end. Raiders: DE Derrick Burgess has 27 sacks in 30 games with Oakland. ... Brooks is 1-15 in his past 16 starts.

Baltimore Ravens (11-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/24/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
SERIES: 22nd meeting. The Ravens trail the regular-season series, 13-8. The Steelers also won the only postseason meeting in 2001. The Ravens have won four of the past six meetings, including a 27-0 shutout on Nov. 26. The Ravens sacked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger nine times. Quarterback Steve McNair hit tight end Todd Heap for a 20-yard touchdown on the opening drive and the Ravens never looked back.
2006 RANKINGS: Ravens: offense 19th (23rd rush, 12th pass); defense 1st (2nd rush, 6th pass). Steelers: offense 6th (12th rush, 8th pass); defense 9th (5th rush, 15th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: If the Ravens can stop the run, build a lead and set the stage to come after Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger with their aggressive blitz packages, this one could be as ugly as the first meeting, a 27-0 Baltimore victory Nov. 26. Pittsburgh is starting rookie RT Willie Colon, but RB Willie Parker is averaging 5.4 yards per carry at home and the Steelers will stick with the ground game as long as possible. Pittsburgh has slowly worked its way back into the playoff discussion with dominating defense, allowing a combined 13 points the past three games. The Ravens will attempt to remain balanced with RB Jamal Lewis, but their game plan is to attack the Steelers through the air with QB Steve McNair relying heavily on the intermediate passing game.

FAST FACTS: Ravens: TE Todd Heap has at least four receptions in seven consecutive games, but just one touchdown during that span. ... DE Trevor Pryce has 7.5 sacks in the past five games. Steelers: Parker already has established a single-season career high 1,331 rushing yards. ... Are 6-2 this season and 103-23-1 under coach Bill Cowher when they score first.

Carolina Panthers (6-8) at Atlanta Falcons (7-7)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/24/06
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Curt Menefee, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
SERIES: 24th meeting. Falcons lead series 15-8. The Falcons ran for 252 yards in a 20-6 win over the Panthers in the season opener at Bank of America Stadium. That was the second-most ever surrendered by the Panthers on the ground. The stretch plays and zone blocking schemes really threw the Panthers for a loop. In the game, Carolina lost linebacker Dan Morgan, left tackle Travelle Wharton and center Justin Hartwig to season-ending injuries.
2006 RANKINGS: Panthers: offense 18th (27th rush, 11th pass); defense 10th (14th rush, 10th pass). Falcons: offense 10th (1st rush, 32nd pass); defense 22nd (10th rush, 31st pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: QB Michael Vick might be limited somewhat in his scrambling ability by a sore groin, but the Falcons do expect rookie RB Jerious Norwood to return to share the rushing load with Warrick Dunn. The Panthers' run defense tends to fade as games wear on, and their line is thinner with DE Mike Rucker lost for the season. That also impacts Carolina's pass rush and allows Atlanta to focus even more on Julius Peppers on the other side. Vick is coming off a strong passing game and will certainly take shots against a Panthers secondary that is finally starting to recover from several players battling hamstring injuries. QB Chris Weinke is expected to get his third consecutive start in place of injured Jake Delhomme, and has yet to create much chemistry with WRs Steve Smith and Keyshawn Johnson.

FAST FACTS: Panthers: Smith has caught at least seven passes in each of the past three meetings. ... Defense leads the NFC, allowing just 4.53 yards on first down. Falcons: PK Morten Andersen has 538 career field goals, one shy of Gary Anderson's all-time record. ... Vick needs 10 rushing yards to become the first quarterback with 1,000 in a season.

Chicago Bears (12-2) at Detroit Lions (2-12)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/24/06
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan, Jay Glazer
SERIES: 96th meeting. Kansas City leads the series 50-43-2 and has won the last seven matchups. The Chiefs won the last meeting in Arrowhead Stadium this season, with rookie Jarrad Page intercepting a pass in the end zone to secure a win.
2006 RANKINGS: Bears: offense 15th (14th rush, 18th pass); defense 5th (9th rush, 4th pass). Lions: offense 25th (32nd rush, 7th pass); defense 27th (23rd rush, 19th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Chicago has clinched home-field advantage in the NFC, but is expected to play its starters for most of the game. The Lions want to attack the interior of the Bears' defensive line, where starting DTs Tommie Harris (injury) and Tank Johnson (suspension) will be missing. The problem is Detroit is down to its fourth option at running back in Arlen Harris, and he'll be playing behind a beat up offensive line. QB Jon Kitna has struggle with poor decisions downfield in recent games and the Bears have a deep and strong pass rush, so the Lions can't afford not to get help from the ground game. Detroit is also hurting on the defensive line, and Chicago will attempt to grind out the victory with RBs Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson having split carries evenly the past three games.

FAST FACTS: Bears: LB Lance Briggs has double-digits in tackles in seven consecutive games. ... LB Brian Urlacher's 6.0 career sacks against Detroit is tied for his most against any opponent. Lions: Kitna has thrown at least one interception in 12 consecutive games. ... WR Roy Williams has averaged 119.5 receiving yards in his past six home games.

Indianapolis Colts (11-3) at Houston Texans (4-10)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/24/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Solomon Wilcots
SERIES: 10th meeting. Colts lead the series, 9-0. Indianapolis has swept the series between the two AFC South rivals every year since the division was created in 2002. The Colts are averaging 30.6 points per game in the series while limiting Houston to 14.7 points per outing. Indianapolis' average margin of victory in the series is 15.8 points per game. The Colts' average 34.4 points per game and have allowed 15.8 points in five home games with the Texans. Games played at Houston's Reliant Stadium have been a bit closer, with Indianapolis averaging 26 points per game as compared to the Texans' 13.5 points.
2006 RANKINGS: Colts: offense 2nd (17th rush, 2nd pass); defense 16th (32nd rush, 2nd pass). Texans: offense 28th (24th rush, 24th pass); defense 25th (20th rush, 24th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Texans have finally settled on RB Ron Dayne as their feature back, and his physically style could pose a problem for the Colts' smallish front seven. If Dayne can be effective, it will help take some of the pressure off embattled QB David Carr following a horrendous game in New England. WRs Andre Johnson and Eric Moulds have a height advantage downfield, but Carr too often is forced to go to underneath routes because of a lack of protection. The Colts' offense regained some rhythm against Cincinnati, and the Texans' defense will have a difficult time getting off the field unless it is able to generate constant pressure against QB Peyton Manning. With just 27 sacks through 14 games and the Colts allowing a league-low 15 sacks this season, that figures to be a tall order for Houston.

FAST FACTS: Colts: Clinch first-round bye with a win and a loss by Baltimore. ... Manning has thrown at least 25 touchdown passes for the ninth consecutive year. ... WR Marvin Harrison has caught at least 80 passes for the eighth consecutive year. Texans: Carr has four touchdown passes and no interceptions in the past two meetings. ... Johnson has at least six receptions in nine consecutive games.

New England Patriots (10-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (8-6)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/24/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
SERIES: 7th meeting. The Patriots have dominated this series, winning five of six matchups. Last year the Jaguars traveled to New England and got smacked in the first round of the playoffs, 28-3. It was the third time the two have met in the postseason. New England topped Jacksonville 20-6 in the 1996 AFC Championship game, sending the Patriots to their second Super Bowl. The Jaguars returned the favor in 1999, beating the Scott Zolak-led Patriots 25-10 in the playoffs.
2006 RANKINGS: Patriots: offense 13th (13th rush, 14th pass); defense 6th (4th rush, 13th pass). Jaguars: offense 12th (2nd rush, 27th pass); defense 2nd (3rd rush, 7th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Jaguars have to be concerned facing the league's No. 4 run defense with RB Fred Taylor battling a hamstring injury that has his status in doubt and rookie Maurice Jones-Drew expected to play through a knee injury. With QB David Garrard coming off a three-interception game and the Patriots adept at rushing the passer from all angles, the Jaguars certainly need to establish their ground game to move the ball consistently. The Patriots' offensive game plan could be drastically different, knowing the Jaguars are difficult to run on with DTs John Henderson and Marcus Stroud clogging the middle. New England won't abandon the run, but expect QB Tom Brady to be given the opportunity to spread the field and work the Jaguars' secondary with plenty of multiple receiver sets.

FAST FACTS: Patriots: Clinch AFC East with a win or a loss by the Jets. ... Brady has surpassed 3,000 passing yards for the fifth consecutive season. Jaguars: Taylor needs 80 rushing yards for his sixth 1,200-yard season. ... Jones-Drew has rushed for a touchdown in a team-record six consecutive games.

New Orleans Saints (9-5) at New York Giants (7-7)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/24/06
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
SERIES: 24th meeting. The Giants lead the series, 14-9, after winning seven of the last nine matchups. The Saints have dropped their last four games in Giants Stadium and came away with losses in five of their last six visits to the Meadowlands. In their last meeting on Sept. 19, 2005, the Giants took a 27-10 victory.
2006 RANKINGS: Saints: offense 1st (20th rush, 1st pass); defense 12th (25th rush, 5th pass). Giants: offense 11th (9th rush, 15th pass); defense 20th (11th rush, 28th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Giants will receive a boost if DE Michael Strahan is able to return from his foot injury. Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka have been playing just fine, but the Giants can't have too many pass rushers in their quest to get to Saints QB Drew Brees before he is able to pick apart their shaky secondary. Brees has been protected well all season, but the offense did bog down last week when New Orleans couldn't get the running game untracked. To protect their defense, the Giants must get their own ground game going off the bat and sustain a few early drives. This could easily turn into a track meet, so QB Eli Manning has to avoid turnovers, be decisive in his decision-making and not allow the offense to settle for field goals in the red zone.

FAST FACTS: Saints: Clinch a first-round bye with a win and a loss by Dallas. ... Offense leads the NFL with 18 touchdowns and 58 pass plays of 20 yards or longer. Giants: Are 0-2 at home against teams with winning records this season. ... Are 3-4 overall at home. They haven't reached the postseason without a winning home record since going 4-4 in 1981.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-11) at Cleveland Browns (4-10)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/24/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Matt Vasgersian, J.C. Pearson
SERIES: 7th meeting. Cleveland leads the series 5-1. The Bucs gained their only win against the Browns in 2002, Jon Gruden's first season with the Bucs.
2006 RANKINGS: Bucs: offense 30th (29th rush, 26th pass); defense 23rd (17th rush, 23rd pass). Browns: offense 29th (30th rush, 22nd pass); defense 31st (29th rush, 17th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Bucs coach Jon Gruden has finally pulled the plug on struggling rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski in favor of veteran Tim Rattay, who gave the offense a shot in the arm in relief against Chicago last weekend. However, Rattay will now get a full-game taste of playing behind a young offensive line and perhaps without ailing RB Carnell Williams. Even if it's running back by committee, the Bucs must take advantage of the Browns' porous run defense. Cleveland will start QB Derek Anderson for the third consecutive game. He has a strong arm and quick release, but he's not very mobile. The Browns need to run the ball to ease the pressure on Anderson, but the offensive line is dinged up and Cleveland has too often abandoned the ground game early.

FAST FACTS: Bucs: WR Joey Galloway needs 95 receiving yards to join Keyshawn Johnson as franchise's only players with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. ... CB Ronde Barber needs one interception to break a tie with Donnie Abraham (31) for the franchise record. Browns: WR Joe Jurevicius has 18 receptions his past three games after totaling 18 through the first 11 games. ... Seek consecutive victories for the first time since Weeks 5-6 in 2003.

Tennessee Titans (7-7) at Buffalo Bills (7-7)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/24/06
SURFACE: AstroPlay
TV: CBS, Gus Johnson, Steve Tasker
SERIES: 41st meeting. The Titans lead the series 24-16 and have won four of the last five including the most recent game, a 28-26 win in Nashville on Dec. 14, 2003 during which QB Billy Volek suffered a lacerated spleen.

2006 RANKINGS: Titans: offense 27th (7th rush, 30th pass); defense 32nd (30th rush, 25th pass). Bills: offense 31st (26th rush, 29th pass); defense 14th (27th rush, 8th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: In rookie QB Vince Young's first start in a cold road environment, the Titans need to work on controlling the ball better than they did against Jacksonville last Sunday. That means leaning heavily on RB Travis Henry early on, especially with the Bills certain to look at the tape of how the Jaguars kept Young from hurting them with his legs. The goal for Buffalo is to put the game on Young's arm, especially with Tennessee's underwhelming receiving corps. Bills QB J.P. Losman appears as though he is coming of age, but this is still a run-first offense. The Titans' defense won the game last weekend by chasing Jaguars QB David Garrard into mistakes, and the Bills don't want to open themselves to a repeat. A great matchup will be watching any time big-play youngsters are matched up in Bills WR Lee Evans and Titans CB Pacman Jones.

FAST FACTS: Titans: Have the league's highest strength of schedule (.571). ... Young needs 38 rushing yards to become the first rookie quarterback with 500. Bills: Losman is the first Bill to throw multiple touchdowns in three consecutive games since Drew Bledsoe in 2002. ... DE Aaron Schobel has at least one sack in five consecutive games.

Washington Redskins (5-9) at St. Louis Rams (6-8)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/24/06
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Brian Baldinger, Rob Desir
SERIES: 32nd meeting. Redskins lead 22-8-1, 20-6-1 in regular season. The most famous matchup was the 1945 NFL title game when the Rams, playing their final game in Cleveland before moving to Los Angeles, beat the Redskins 15-14. On a frigid December afternoon, the Rams prevailed in part because Redskins Hall of Fame QB Sammy Baugh had a pass hit the goalpost for a safety.
2006 RANKINGS: Redskins: offense 16th (5th rush, 23rd pass); defense 24th (21st rush, 21st pass). Rams: offense 8th (21st rush, 6th pass); defense 21st (31st rush, 9th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The formula for the Redskins offensively is pretty straight-forward -- pound away with RB Ladell Betts so QB Jason Campbell is less likely to turn the ball over on the road. Campbell is incorporating more of coordinator Al Saunders' offense each week, but Washington still wants to focus on attacking a Rams run defense allowing 147.8 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry. The Redskins defense has been lending an increasing hand, with three of the unit's four lowest yards allowed totals of the season the past four games. Rams RB Steven Jackson is coming off a strong game and St. Louis needs his presence to help their beleaguered offensive line. If QB Marc Bulger has time to set and look downfield, the Redskins' secondary has been eaten up by far inferior receiving corps than the Rams' Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Kevin Curtis.

FAST FACTS: Redskins: Betts seeks his fifth consecutive 100-yard rushing game, which would tie the franchise record shared by Clinton Portis (2005) and Rob Goode (1951). ... RB Rock Cartwright is on pace for 1,478 kick return yards. The franchise record is 1,478 set by Brian Mitchell in 1994. Rams: Jackson's 82 receptions are five short of Marshall Faulk's team record for running backs. ... Bruce needs 116 receiving yards for his eighth 1,000-yard season.

Arizona Cardinals (4-10) at San Francisco 49ers (6-8)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/24/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Jesse Palmer, Chris Myers
SERIES: 31st meeting. The 49ers lead the series that dates to 1951, 17-13, but the Arizona Cardinals have won three in a row, including the 2006 season opener, in which the Big Red scored the first three times it has had the ball. The Cardinals also swept the 2005 series, their first divisional season sweep since 2002 realignment.
2006 RANKINGS: Cardinals: offense 26th (30th rush, 10th pass); defense 30th (16th rush, 30th pass). 49ers: offense 24th (4th rush,28th pass); defense 26th (18th rush, 27th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Knowing the 49ers are going to continually feed the ball to RB Frank Gore, the Cardinals have to give their own running game a chance to level time of possession on the road. RB Edgerrin James has benefited from stronger line play in front of him the past month, and the more successful he is the better the Cardinals will be able to attack the 49ers' secondary. CBs Shawntae Spencer and Walt Harris are strong, but there isn't much depth so expect Arizona to exploit the weakness with plenty of multiple receiver looks. The Cardinals' secondary is even more vulnerable, but the 49ers are never quite sure what they will get out of QB Alex Smith. If he can take advantage when the Cardinals stack the box against Gore, the 49ers will be in good shape. If not, this is a rare winnable road game for Arizona.

FAST FACTS: Cardinals: QB Matt Leinart has set a franchise rookie record with 2,385 passing yards. ... WR Larry Fitzgerald has averaged 121.3 receiving yards in the past three meetings. 49ers: Gore needs 80 rushing yards to break Garrison Hearst's single-season franchise record of 1,570 set in 1998. ... DE Bryant Young has 8.5 sacks in the past nine games.

Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) at Denver Broncos (8-6)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/24/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
SERIES: 24th meeting. Broncos lead 15-8 in the series. The last four games have taken place in Cincinnati, with the teams splitting. The last meeting was on Monday night in 2004, with the Bengals winning 23-10. The Broncos are 10-2 in games played in Denver. The teams have not played in Denver since 1997. It will be Cincinnati's first game at Invesco Field at Mile High.
2006 RANKINGS: Bengals: offense 7th (22nd rush, 5th pass); defense 29th (13th rush, 32nd pass). Broncos: offense 21st (6th rush, 25th pass); defense 13th (12th rush, 22nd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Don't expect the Bengals to play a soft Cover-2 like they did against the Colts on Monday night. They want to get after Broncos rookie QB Jay Cutler and attempt to force some turnovers on the road. Cutler has proven he has a cannon for an arm and the Bengals' secondary struggled to keep up with the Colts' receivers, but Denver still wants to give its young signal-caller plenty of help from the ground game. There should be an outstanding battle when the Bengals have the ball between WRs Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Broncos CBs Champ Bailey and Darrent Williams -- two of the better tandems at their respective positions. But for QB Carson Palmer to make the no-huddle attack work and wear the Denver defense down, he must receive better protection than he did against Indianapolis.

FAST FACTS: Bengals: Clinch playoff spot with a win, a loss by Buffalo and a loss by Jacksonville or the Jets. ... Houshmandzadeh needs 57 receiving yards for his first 1,000-yard season. Broncos: Clinch playoff spot with a win, a loss by Kansas City and a loss by Jacksonville or the Jets. ... C Tom Nalen will play in his 188th game for Denver, fourth-most in franchise history. ... PK Jason Elam needs two points for an NFL-record 14th consecutive 100-point season.

San Diego Chargers (12-2) at Seattle Seahawks (8-6)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/24/06
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: CBS, Dick Enberg, Randy Cross
SERIES: 48th meeting with the defending NFC champion Seahawks leading, 25-22. The teams last played in 2002 when the Seahawks prevailed in overtime, giving them five straight wins over the Chargers. Seattle has won 10 of the last 12 meetings between these former AFC West rivals.
2006 RANKINGS: Chargers: offense 5th (3rd rush, 17th pass); defense 7th (6th rush, 11th pass). Seahawks: offense 22nd (16th rush, 20th pass); defense 17th (22nd rush, 16th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Seahawks' offense is struggling to find any rhythm, in large part because the line isn't run- or pass-blocking well. That's a dangerous combination against a Chargers defense that is very stout against the run and then able to abuse opposing quarterbacks in long passing situations. The Seahawks not only need RB Shaun Alexander to get positive yardage on early downs, but QB Matt Hasselbeck must improve his decision making under pressure and his receivers have to stop dropping passes. The Chargers' offense has been rolling thanks to RB LaDainian Tomlinson's historic roll, but San Diego wants to get QB Philip Rivers back on track and confident before the end of the regular season. Seattle has had major issues stopping the run, but if the Seahawks can keep Tomlinson under control they do have quick linebackers who can bring the heat against Rivers.

FAST FACTS: Chargers: Clinch first-round bye with a win, and home-field advantage if Baltimore also loses. ... Rivers leads the NFL with a 116.9 fourth-quarter passer rating. Seahawks: Clinch NFC West with a win or a loss by San Francisco. ... Hasselbeck has been sacked more times in 10 games (27) than he was in 16 games last season (24).

Philadelphia Eagles (8-6) at Dallas Cowboys (9-5)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Monday, 5:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/25/06
SURFACE: Sportfield Realgrass
TV: NBC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Andrea Kremer
SERIES: 95th meeting. The Cowboys lead the series, 53-41. The Eagles have won 10 of the last 13 meetings, including a 38-24 victory in Philadelphia in Week 5. The Eagles sacked Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe seven times in that game and forced three interceptions, including a game-clinching one by cornerback Lito Sheppard that he returned 102 yards for a touchdown.
2006 RANKINGS: Eagles: offense 3rd (11th rush, 3rd pass); defense 18th (28th rush, 12th pass). Cowboys: offense 4th (10th rush, 4th pass); defense 11th (7th rush, 20th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: RB Julius Jones remains the starter for the Cowboys, but Marion Barber will continue to receive significant touches. His hard-nosed style should help wear down an undersized Eagles front seven, and if Dallas is successful on the ground it will open more man coverage for WRs Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn to work against downfield. The Eagles' Andy Reid is typically a pass-heavy coach, but the offense actually has one more run play than pass attempt since QB Jeff Garcia took over for Donovan McNabb. While the Cowboys are allowing 4.5 yards per carry their past three games, Garcia is going to have to push the ball downfield for the Eagles to keep pace. To beat the Cowboys, especially in Dallas, opponents have to take advantage of their struggles to defend the deep pass.

FAST FACTS: Eagles: Clinch a playoff berth with a win. ... RB Brian Westbrook (1,092) has topped 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career. ... LB Omar Gaither is the team's first rookie linebacker to record a sack since Ray Farmer in 1996. Cowboys: Clinch NFC East with a victory. ... Barber leads the NFL with 15 touchdowns overall and 13 rushing. ... Owens has 10 touchdowns in his past 10 games.

New York Jets (8-6) at Miami Dolphins (6-8)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Monday, 8:30 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/25/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: ESPN, Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann, Tony Kornheiser, Suzy Kolber, Michele Tafoya
SERIES: 82nd meeting. Jets lead series, 42-38-1. The Dolphins have won three of the last four meetings at home, but their last two victories over the Jets in Miami came in December meetings in which the Jets had long since been eliminated from playoff contention. This season, the Jets are in the thick of the wild-card chase and still have an outside shot at the AFC East title going into the weekend.
2006 RANKINGS: Jets: offense 23rd (18th rush, 19th pass); defense 28th (24th rush, 18th pass). Dolphins: offense 20th (25th rush, 13th pass); defense 3rd (8th rush, 3rd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Dolphins have mastered New England and laid an egg at Buffalo the past two weeks, so it's impossible to predict which version of coach Nick Saban's team will show up. The first key is getting a better performance out of QB Joey Harrington, who should have RB Ronnie Brown back in the lineup for the first time in four games to pound away at the Jets' soft run defense. But Harrington also needs help from a receiving corps that let him down with at least six drops in the first meeting. The Jets' offense knows it won't dominate on the ground, but it needs enough of a running threat to sell the play-action pass for QB Chad Pennington. He was sacked just twice in the first meeting, so increasing the pressure will be a major emphasis for the Dolphins' defense.

FAST FACTS: Jets: Have doubled last season's win total. ... Pennington has seven touchdown passes and no interceptions in the past three meetings. Dolphins: Team's 39 victories on Monday nights ties Dallas for the most all-time, and Miami leads the league with 32 losses. ... Have four players with at least 50 receptions for the third time in franchise history.
TV announcers: Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann, Tony Kornheiser, Suzy Kolber, Michele Tafoya

   
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