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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Game Scout - Week 17
December 29, 2006

New York Giants (7-8) at Washington Redskins (5-10)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 8:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/30/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: NFL Network, Bryant Gumbel, Cris Collinsworth
SERIES: 146th meeting. The Giants lead the series 81-60-4, having played the Redskins every year since 1932. They won the first meeting this year at Giants Stadium 19-3, but have split the series in each of the three previous seasons.
2006 RANKINGS: Giants: offense 14th (10th rush, 18th pass); defense 23rd (15th rush, 28th pass). Redskins: offense 15th (4th rush, 22nd pass); defense 30th (22nd rush, 29th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Despite losing six of their past seven games, the Giants can all but secure a playoff spot by beating the Redskins for the second time this season. Desperately seeking a spark for his offense, coach Tom Coughlin took play-calling duties away from coordinator John Hufnagel and gave them to quarterbacks coach Kevin Gilbride. The Redskins figure RB Tiki Barber will be a big part of the game plan, so the Giants need QB Eli Manning to step up in a huge game and lead the offense with poise and consistency. Redskins rookie QB Jason Campbell is protecting the ball better in recent games, and his job has been made much easier with RB Ladell Betts running extremely well. The Giants are without DE Michael Strahan, but need to stop Betts and then get after Campbell before he can work against New York's poor secondary.

FAST FACTS: Giants: WR Plaxico Burress is the seventh player in franchise history with double-digits in touchdown receptions. ... Barber leads the NFC with 43 carries of at least 10 yards. Redskins: Betts has tied a franchise record by rushing for at least 100 yards in each of the past five games. ... Campbell has gone 72 passes since his last interception (Philadelphia in Week 14)

Carolina Panthers (7-8) at New Orleans Saints

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/21/06
SURFACE: Sportexe Momentum
TV: FOX, Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan
SERIES: 24th meeting. Panthers lead series 12-11. The Panthers defeated the Saints 21-18 earlier this season in one of the few bright spots this year. However, the Saints were coming off an emotional Monday night win in the first game back at the Superdome and they seemed primed for a letdown. Carolina's DeShaun Foster helped seal the win with a 43-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
2006 RANKINGS: Panthers: offense 22nd (24th rush, 15th pass); defense 9th (13th rush, 5th pass). Saints: offense 1st (17th rush, 1st pass); defense 11th (24th rush, 3rd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: If the Giants lose on Saturday and the Panthers still have a shot at the playoffs, it appears QB Jake Delhomme will attempt to play after missing two games with a sprained thumb. Delhomme provides more of a passing threat than backup Chris Weinke, but expect the Panthers to continue to focus on the running game that provided so much success last Sunday. The more success Carolina has on the ground, the less time New Orleans' high-powered offense spends on the field. Saints QB Drew Brees has eight 300-yard games this season, including 349 in a Week 4 meeting against the Panthers. But Brees can be slowed if Carolina can first take away the running game. If the Saints get RBs Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush producing, then Brees should have little trouble picking apart the Panthers' secondary.

FAST FACTS: Panthers: WR Steve Smith has scored a touchdown in each of the past four meetings. ... DE Julius Peppers owns the franchise record with 53.5 career sacks. Saints: Bush's 86 receptions are an NFL rookie record for running backs. ... WR Marques Colston is the first NFL rookie drafted in the seventh round or later to top 1,000 receiving yards (1,038).

Cleveland Browns (4-11) at Houston Texans (5-10)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/21/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Don Criqui, Richard Baldinger
SERIES: 4th meeting. The Browns lead the series 2-1. The Browns lost in Houston 19-16 last year.

2006 RANKINGS: Browns: offense 31st (31st rush, 23rd pass); defense 31st (30th rush, 20th pass). Texans: offense 28th (21st rush, 24th pass); defense 24th (20th rush, 24th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Browns have a trio of red flags offensively -- a third-string quarterback with a weak arm playing behind a battered line minus three starters. With QB Ken Dorsey unlikely to stretch the field much, Cleveland has to get a strong effort out of RB Reuben Droughns if for no other reason than to help even time of possession. The Browns' own run defense has been a major disappointment, and the Texans' offense has received a boost from the strong running of RB Ron Dayne down the stretch. QB David Carr still relies too much on the dink-and-dunk passing game, but he should take at least a few shots vertically to WR Andre Johnson. If Houston gets any kind of big plays out of its passing game, it should coast with Cleveland likely to struggle to put points on the board.

FAST FACTS: Browns: WR Braylon Edwards needs 162 receiving yards to become the sixth player in franchise history with a 1,000-yard season. ... OLB Kamerion Wimbley is second among all NFL rookies with 10.0 sacks. Texans: Carr leads the NFL with a 68.6 completion percentage. ... Dayne has rushed for at least 87 yards in a career-high four consecutive games.

Detroit Lions (2-13) at Dallas Cowboys (9-6)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/21/06
SURFACE: Sportfield Realgrass
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Brian Baldinger, Jay Glazer
SERIES: 19th regular-season game between the Lions and Cowboys, with the Cowboys holding a 10-8 lead, including wins in each of the last three years. The teams also have met twice in the playoffs, with Dallas winning in 1970 and the Lions winning in the 1991 playoffs.
2006 RANKINGS: Lions: offense 24th (32nd rush, 6th pass); defense 26th (23rd rush, 21st pass). Cowboys: offense 5th (11th rush, 7th pass); defense 12th (9th rush, 22nd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Lions will struggle to get off the field defensively. They don't stop the run or rush the passer well, and the Cowboys simply have too many playmakers for Detroit to account for. That means Lions QB Jon Kitna can't afford to let the offense go three-and-out. RBs Arlen Harris and Aveion Cason received carries last weekend, and Detroit needs to stay balanced with Dallas having problems in defending the run the past month. But to pull the upset, Kitna will have to come up with several big plays and avoid the interceptions that have plagued so many of his starts. But the Cowboys are athletic along their front seven and should have little trouble routinely getting in Kitna's face.

FAST FACTS: Lions: Kitna needs 98 yards for the second 4,000-yard passing season in franchise history (Scott Mitchell, 4,388 in 1995). ... WR Mike Furrey needs 16 yards for his first 1,000-yard receiving season. Cowboys: Win NFC East with a win combined with a loss by Philadelphia. ... Coach Bill Parcells is 8-3 against Detroit.

Jacksonville Jaguars (8-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-7)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/21/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Gus Johnson, Steve Tasker
SERIES: 6th meeting. Jaguars lead the series, 4-1. The won the last meeting in 2004 by a 22-16 score when Cortez Hankton caught a 14-yard touchdown pass with 45 seconds remaining. The Chiefs only victory was on Dec. 30, 2001 when they snapped an 11-game losing streak in Florida.
2006 RANKINGS: Jaguars: offense 10th (2nd rush, 26th pass); defense 2nd (3rd rush, 11th pass). Chiefs: offense 16th (8th rush, 21st pass); defense 15th (18th rush, 14th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The loser is done for the season. Even the winner needs significant help to reach the postseason. The offense that best takes advantage of its strong ground game is most likely to hold onto its slim playoff aspirations. It will be interesting to see how Chiefs RB Larry Johnson fares against the league's No. 3-ranked run defense anchored by the interior duo of DTs John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. The Chiefs could help Johnson by presenting the threat of the pass, but QB Trent Green continues to look a bit off with his timing since returning from a concussion. The Jaguars are also heavily reliant upon their ground game, and expect to have RB Fred Taylor back in the lineup for a 1-2 punch with rookie Maurice Jones-Drew. The difference could be the play of QB David Garrard, who has more big-play ability at his fingertips than Green, but he's also far more prone to game-changing turnovers.

FAST FACTS: Jaguars: Are 22-5 (.815) under coach Jack Del Rio when scoring first. ... Garrard has a 91.3 passer rating in his past six road starts. Chiefs: Johnson already has a single-season Chiefs record 383 carries, breaking Christian Okoye's record of 370. ... Johnson's 44 career rushing touchdowns is tied with Marcus Allen for second-most in franchise history behind Priest Holmes' 76.

New England Patriots (11-4) at Tennessee Titans (8-7)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/21/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Dick Enberg, Randy Cross
SERIES: 37th meeting. New England leads the all-time series with Tennessee 20-16, although most of the games between the two teams took place when the Titans franchise was still in Houston.
2006 RANKINGS: Patriots: offense 11th (12th rush, 12th pass); defense 6th (5th rush, 13th pass). Titans: offense 27th (5th rush, 30th pass); defense 32nd (28th rush, 26th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: As impressive as Titans rookie QB Vince Young has been, he remains very sporadic in the passing game. He continues to struggle with his accuracy and doesn't have a stellar receiving corps. No one is better at exploiting a young quarterback than Patriots coach Bill Belichick, and he will feature a variety of looks and blitz packages that Young has never seen before. That makes it more imperative than ever that RB Travis Henry takes control of the ground game and keeps Young out of third-and-long situations in which he'll be forced to go to the air. But there is no denying Young's resiliency, and New England knows jumping out to an early lead isn't enough. The Patriots' running game has been more miss than hit lately, and New England would be wise to take the opportunity to get its ground game untracked against the Titans' poor run defense.

FAST FACTS: Patriots: Are 6-1 on the road this season. ... QB Tom Brady is 25-4 in games decided by seven points or less. Titans: Young has engineered four comebacks in the fourth quarter or overtime. ... Are 6-2 when Henry rushes for at least 70 yards.

Oakland Raiders (2-13) at New York Jets (9-6)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/21/06
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
SERIES: 35th meeting. Raiders lead 19-13-2, but Jets have won three of past four including a 26-10 win last Dec. 11 at the Meadowlands in Marques Tuiasosopo's lone start of the season. Tuiasosopo was sacked six times, threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles. Two days later, coach Norv Turner switched back to Kerry Collins as the starter.
2006 RANKINGS: Raiders: offense 32nd (28th rush, 31st pass); defense 4th (27th rush, 1st pass). Jets: offense 21st (20th rush, 17th pass); defense 25th (25th rush, 16th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Raiders finally received something positive from their running game last Sunday, and need to build on that in a road game that will likely spiral quickly out of control if they fall behind early. All the motivation lies with the Jets, who know they get to play at least one more game with a victory. New York would love nothing more than to punish RB Justin Fargas on early downs and then attack Oakland's poor offensive line. The Jets' offense hasn't been particularly strong running the ball all season, but the Raiders do have to be wary of QB Chad Pennington utilizing the short passing game and screens to help supplement the meager ground game. Pennington still leaves a few balls up for grabs each game, and the Raiders can keep the game interesting if they're able to capitalize with a few turnovers.

FAST FACTS: Raiders: Fargas is coming off a career-best 90-yard rushing game. ... DT Warren Sapp needs 1.0 sack to reach 10.0 for the fourth time in 12 seasons. Jets: Clinch a playoff spot with a victory. ... RB Leon Washington needs 27 rushing yards to pass Freeman McNeil (623, 1981) for the fourth-most by a Jets rookie.

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-7)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/21/06
SURFACE: Synthetic
TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Solomon Wilcots
SERIES: 73rd meeting. Steelers lead the series that began in 1970, 42-30, including one playoff game they won in Cincinnati last season. They hold an 18-17 lead in Cincinnati. The Bengals beat the Steelers 28-20 on Sept. 24.
2006 RANKINGS: Steelers: offense 7th (14th rush, 9th pass); defense 10th (4th rush, 18th pass). Bengals: offense 8th (22nd rush, 5th pass); defense 28th (12th rush, 31st pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Steelers are more physical and can wear the Bengals down if they are able to build a lead and slowly pound away with their ground game. They have to move the chains and sustain drives because Pittsburgh's defense will need a breather between drives while dealing with Cincinnati's no-huddle attack. Bengals QB Carson Palmer knows he has an advantage downfield, and will attempt to attack CBs Bryant McFadden and Deshea Townsend while forcing the tempo and preventing the Steelers from substituting as much as possible. With the likelihood of an up-and-down high-scoring affair, the Steelers have to protect the ball -- they have a minus-six turnover margin compared to plus-five for the Bengals.

FAST FACTS: Steelers: Have allowed just two opponents to score on their opening drive this season. ... RB Willie Parker needs two touchdowns to break Louis Lipps' single-season team record of 15. Bengals: Palmer needs three touchdown passes to join Cleveland's Brian Sipe (twice) as the only players to throw 10 touchdown passes over three consecutive meetings against the Steelers. ... Palmer needs 216 passing yards to become the first Bengal with 4,000 in a single season.

Seattle Seahawks (8-7) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-13)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/21/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Matt Vasgersian, JC Pearson, Chip Carter
SERIES: 7th meeting. Seattle leads the series, 5-1. The teams entered the NFL together in 1976. Seattle beat the Bucs that season, 13-10 when Mike Curtis blocked a 42-yard field-goal try. The teams last played in 2004, when the Seahawks claimed a 10-6 victory at Tampa Bay.
2006 RANKINGS: Seahawks: offense 19th (13th rush, 20th pass); defense 21st (21st rush, 15th pass). Bucs: offense 29th (29th rush, 25th pass); defense 17th (17th rush, 18th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bucs' offense suddenly has little punch with veteran QB Tim Rattay able to spread the ball around through the air. WR Joey Galloway, a former first-round pick by Seattle, figures to attempt to exploit the Seahawks deep. Seattle lost last Sunday on poor coverage from SS Michael Boulware, and rookie CB Kelly Jennings will start with the team's top corner, Marcus Trufant, out. But with RB Carnell Williams appearing to be a long shot to play, the Seahawks can focus on helping the secondary. Seattle's offense continues to lack any rhythm. The line isn't blocking well and the receivers are dropping an alarming number of passes. The Seahawks desperately need a strong four-quarter showing to build some confidence heading into the playoffs.

FAST FACTS: Seahawks: Coach Mike Holmgren is 13-4 (.765) against Tampa Bay. ... QB Matt Hasselbeck is 8-3 with a 99.5 passer rating in his past 11 road games. Bucs: CB Ronde Barber needs one interception to break a tie with Donnie Abraham (31) for the most in franchise history. ... LB Derrick Brook's six career interception returns for touchdowns is tied for the most in NFL history for a linebacker.

St. Louis Rams (7-8) at Minnesota Vikings (6-9)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/21/06
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Dan McLaughlin, Tony Boselli
SERIES: 33rd regular-season meeting. Vikings lead, 17-13-2, including a 27-13 victory in Minnesota last season. Prior to that game, the last time the teams met in Minnesota was in 1991. The last Rams victory in Minnesota was in 1978.
2006 RANKINGS: Rams: offense 6th (19th rush, 4th pass); defense 22nd (31st rush, 8th pass). Vikings: offense 18th (16th rush, 19th pass); defense 8th (1st rush, 32nd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Rams don't want to get too one-sided offensively, but they also won't be stubborn if RB Steven Jackson isn't able to make much headway against the league's top-ranked run defense. The Vikings are without CBs Fred Smoot and rookie Cedric Griffin and figure to be very vulnerable to the Rams' passing attack. The other major problem for the Vikings is they certainly can't afford to get caught up in a shootout in rookie QB Tarvaris Jackson's first career home start. While possessing great physical tools, Jackson is very raw and his receivers continue to drop too many passes for the passing game to be effective. So the Rams can expect to see plenty of RB Chester Taylor charging at their 31st-ranked run defense. But eventually Jackson will need to make a few plays downfield to prevent St. Louis from sending eight and nine men in the box to stop Taylor.

FAST FACTS: Rams: Coach Scott Linehan was Minnesota's offensive coordinator/QB coach from 2002-04. ... QB Marc Bulger (4,053) has his first 4,000-yard season. Vikings: Taylor needs 115 rushing yards to join Robert Smith (1,521, 2000) as the team's only 1,300-yard rushers. ... Taylor needs five carries to break Smith's single-season team record of 295 in 2000.

Arizona Cardinals (5-10) at San Diego Chargers (13-2)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/21/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Matt Devlin, Dale Hellestrae
SERIES: 11th meeting. The Chargers lead the series with the Cardinals, 7-3 and have won five of the past seven. They have not met since the Chargers' 23-15 win on Sept. 22, 2002, at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. The Cardinals, however, won the last meeting in San Diego, on Nov. 25, 2001, 20-17, as receiver David Boston, who eventually would play for the Chargers, caught six passes for 121 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown, for the Cardinals.
2006 RANKINGS: Cardinals: offense 25th (30th rush, 10th pass); defense 29th (16th rush, 30th pass). Chargers: offense 4th (3rd rush, 16th pass); defense 7th (8th rush, 12th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: With QB Kurt Warner starting in place of injured Matt Leinart, the Cardinals certainly need to get production out of RB Edgerrin James. The problem is San Diego's front seven should be able to win the battle in the trenches, which would leave the immobile Warner exposed to the league's top pass rushing defense. If Arizona can somehow manage to create shorter passing situations, WRs Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald should be able to work effectively against San Diego's cover men. The Chargers' offense needs to get first-year starting QB Philip Rivers back on track -- he has had a passer rating of 85.4 or lower in four of his past five games. RB LaDainian Tomlinson is enough to beat the Cardinals at home, but the Chargers know they will need to regain some semblance of a balanced attack heading into the playoffs.

FAST FACTS: Cardinals: S Adrian Wilson is the only player in the NFL with at least 5.0 sacks and four interceptions. ... Boldin has joined Roy Green as the only Cardinals with three 1,000-yard seasons. Chargers: Clinch home-field advantage with a victory. ... Tomlinson needs two rushing touchdowns to tie Priest Holmes' NFL record of 48 over a two-year span (2002-03).

Atlanta Falcons (7-8) at Philadelphia Eagles (9-6)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/21/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
SERIES: 23rd meeting, Eagles lead 11-10-1. The Falcons won the last meeting 14-10 in the 2005 season opener at the Georgia Dome. The two teams have met three times in the playoffs, with Philadelphia holding a 2-1 advantage.
2006 RANKINGS: Falcons: offense 12th (1st rush, 32nd pass); defense 18th (10th rush, 25th pass). Eagles: offense 2nd (9th rush, 3rd pass); defense 16th (26th rush, 10th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Eagles have rushed the ball 72 times the past two games, a bad sign for a Falcons team that watched Carolina hold the ball for 41:47 while calling 52 rushing plays last Sunday. If Atlanta can't shore up its run defense, the porous secondary will be even more vulnerable to red-hot Eagles QB Jeff Garcia. Meanwhile, the Eagles have been playing much better run defense during their four-game winning streak. The Falcons' offense begins and ends with the success or failure of its ground game. RB Warrick Dunn needs to get rolling early to provide momentum for an offense that needs to build some confidence on the road. Atlanta can't afford to come from behind considering Philadelphia has been rushing the passer better of late, and the Falcons' passing game is still far from imposing.

FAST FACTS: Falcons: The first team since the 1985 Browns with two players with at least 1,000 rushing yards (RB Warrick Dunn, 1,082; QB Michael Vick, 1,022). ... OLB Keith Brooking has started a team-high 95 consecutive games. Eagles: Clinch their fifth division title in the past six years with a victory. ... RB Brian Westbrook is just the third player in franchise history with at least six 100-yard rushing games in one season.

Buffalo Bills (7-8) at Baltimore Ravens (12-3)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/21/06
SURFACE: Sportexe Momentum
TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
SERIES: 3rd meeting, series is tied 1-1. Both games have been played in Baltimore. On Oct. 31, 1999, the Bills rallied from a 10-3 deficit in the fourth quarter to win 13-10. Doug Flutie's five-yard TD pass to Jonathan Linton gave Buffalo the lead and the defense held on during the ensuing possession. On Oct. 24, 2004, Baltimore's defense keyed a convincing 20-6 Ravens victory. The Bills turned the ball over five times, including four interceptions by Drew Bledsoe, one that was returned 48 yards for a touchdown by Deion Sanders.
2006 RANKINGS: Bills: offense 30th (27th rush, 29th pass); defense 19th (29th rush, 7th pass). Ravens: offense 17th (25th rush, 11th pass); defense 1st (2nd rush, 6th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Even if RB Willis McGahee is getting stuffed early on, the Bills must remain committed to the running game. QB J.P. Losman has been sacked nine times the past three games, and the Bills are simply asking for trouble exposing him to the Ravens' strong pass rush and ball-hungry secondary. The dilemma is that Baltimore owns the league's No. 2 run defense. By contrast, the Bills are ranked 29th, allowing 64.6 more yards per game and 1.5 more yards per carry than their counterparts. The translation is a large discrepancy in time of possession if Ravens RB Jamal Lewis is able to consistently churn out positive yardage. Buffalo must win the turnover battle to have a legitimate shot, but Baltimore leads the league with a plus-15 ratio on the season. The Bills have to force the Ravens to due something they're excellent at avoiding -- beating themselves.

FAST FACTS: Bills: Have scored at least 20 points in six consecutive games for the first time since 2004. ... Are second in the NFL with an average of 4.09 points per takeaway. Ravens: Clinch a first-round bye with a victory and home-field advantage if San Diego also loses. ... QB Steve McNair has a 10-3 record and a 100.0 passer rating in 13 career home starts in December.

Miami Dolphins (6-9) at Indianapolis Colts (11-4)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/21/06
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
SERIES: 67th meeting. The Dolphins hold a 44-22 all-time advantage with victories in seven of their past 10 games. The Colts won their last meeting, 23-17, in November 2003 after a five-sack effort by the Indianapolis defense.
2006 RANKINGS: Dolphins: offense 23rd (26th rush, 14th pass); defense 3rd (7th rush, 4th pass). Colts: offense 3rd (18th rush, 2nd pass); defense 20th (32nd rush, 2nd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: While the Colts are desperately trying to regain their lost form in time for the postseason, the Dolphins are turning to former third-string QB Cleo Lemon to close out their season. Lemon provided a spark in relief of Joey Harrington on Monday, but the real key is RB Ronnie Brown. He ran well against the Jets -- and pretty much everyone has run well against the Colts. Indianapolis' shoddy run defense appears to be an Achilles heel, but if they can stop Brown they should be able to force a few turnovers by pressuring the inexperienced Lemon on long passing downs. The one constant remains the Colts' offense. QB Peyton Manning has been playing at a very high level the past few weeks and should have success against Miami's beat up secondary. Unless DE Jason Taylor is able to lead a ferocious pass rush -- unlikely considering how well the Colts protect Manning -- Lemon doesn't figure to be a threat in a scoring duel.

FAST FACTS: Dolphins: Taylor has tied former Dolphin Trace Armstrong for 17th place all-time with 106.0 career sacks. ... Are 7-3 with 18 interceptions in 10 games against Manning. Colts: Earn a first-round bye with a victory and loss by Baltimore. ... Manning is the first player in NFL history with seven consecutive 4,000-yard seasons.

San Francisco 49ers (6-9) at Denver Broncos (9-6)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/21/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Curt Menefee, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
SERIES: 12th meeting. The Broncos lead the series 6-5 with victories in the past two meetings. The teams last faced each other on Sept. 15, 2002, a game in which QB Brian Griese threw two TD passes in a 24-14 Broncos victory.
2006 RANKINGS: 49ers: offense 26th (7th rush, 28th pass); defense 27th (19th rush, 27th pass). Broncos: offense 20th (6th rush, 27th pass); defense 14th (11th rush, 23rd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The 49ers have a significant issue without suspended WR Antonio Bryant. Even against eight-man fronts, RB Frank Gore can have success -- but San Francisco now lacks the big-play threat to keep defenses remotely honest. And if the 49ers fall behind, QB Alex Smith will have almost no chance to mount a comeback while forcing the ball against CBs Champ Bailey and Darrent Williams. However, he has been looking more often to promising rookie TE Vernon Davis, who has the ability to work the middle of the field and catch the Broncos' safeties if they over-play the run. Meanwhile, the Broncos want to continue to build the confidence of QB Jay Cutler. The 49ers have nothing to lose and coach Mike Nolan will certainly devise some special schemes in an attempt to take advantage of Cutler's inexperience. Still, the Broncos are at home and should be able to run the ball enough to put Cutler in manageable passing situations.

FAST FACTS: 49ers: Are 5-0 when Smith has at least a 95.0 passer rating. ... Gore needs 29 rushing yards to break Garrison Hearst's single-season team record of 1,570 set in 1998. Broncos: Clinch a playoff spot with a victory or a loss by Kansas City. ... DE Elvis Dumervil is third among all rookies with 7.0 sacks.

Green Bay Packers (7-8) at Chicago Bears (13-2)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 1/21/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: NBC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Andrea Kremer
SERIES: 173rd meeting. The Bears lead the series between the league's oldest rivals 88-78-6, including a 33-14 victory over the Packers in the 1941 Western Division Playoff in the teams' only postseason meeting. Chicago has won three straight games for the first time since it won five in a row from 1990 to '92. The Packers previously had won 21 of 26 meetings with Brett Favre at quarterback from 1992 to 2004. The Bears prevailed 26-0 in the season opener this year at Green Bay on Sept. 10.
2006 RANKINGS: Packers: offense 9th (23rd rush, 8th pass); defense 13th (14th rush, 17th pass). Bears: offense 13th (15th rush, 13th pass); defense 5th (6th rush, 9th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Packers will know by kickoff if they still have a chance to reach the postseason with a victory. That could go a long way toward determining the tempo of the game, with the Bears going with their starters but likely to rest anyone who is questionable. RBs Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson have been splitting carries for the past month, but the Packers are most vulnerable through the air. Chicago wants to see QB Rex Grossman be efficient, with backup Brian Griese expected to see action in the second half. The Bears hope the return of CB Charles Tillman solidifies their own secondary and leads to a few turnovers from Packers QB Brett Favre. Green Bay would like to find more balance than it has in recent games, and will attack Chicago's shaky run defense even with the Bears getting DT Tank Johnson back in the lineup.

FAST FACTS: Packers: A win would be Favre's 147th, tying him with John Elway for second-most all-time by a quarterback behind Dan Marino's 148. ... RB Ahman Green needs 12 yards for his sixth 1,000-yard season. Bears: Have clinched home-field advantage. ... DE Mark Anderson leads all NFL rookies with 12.0 sacks. ... Lovie Smith is first Bears coach to lead team to consecutive division titles since Mike Ditka.

   
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