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COACHES ARE SITTING IN HOT SEATS SOME PLACES

Dave Wannstedt already has thrown in the towel in Miami. Butch Davis in Cleveland has been assured the Browns will keep him at least until the end of the season. It doesn't seem likely Jim Haslett will survive in New Orleans.

Seven NFL teams (Buffalo, Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, the New York Giants, Oakland and Washington) made head coaching changes before the 2004 season.

Fewer firings are expected this season, but it might be worth keeping an eye on at least four other NFL locations.

It would not be a surprise to see an emotional Dick Vermeil, who retired once after winning a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams, decide to leave on his own in Kansas City. The Chiefs, 13-3 last season, are 3-7; he retired from Philadelphia after going 3-6 in strike-shortened 1982.

The precipitous decline of the Dallas Cowboys after a surprise playoff appearance last year could send Bill Parcells back into retirement, although the Tuna has never left a team after a bad season. He left the Giants after they won Super Bowl XXV. He walked out on New England after an 11-5 season and a division title, and he hung it up with the New York Jets after an 8-8 year that was ruined by an injury to quarterback Vinny Testaverde.

After two seasons with an 8-18 record to show for them, Dennis Erickson might find himself on shaky ground in San Francisco.

Teams that underwent head coaching changes are 31-40 (.437 winning percentage) this year, with Atlanta (plus-3 wins) and the Giants (plus-1) having the most improvement. The teams were a combined 35-77 (.313) in 2003.

One of the teams not showing improvement is Oakland, 4-12 last season and 3-7 so far. If first-year coach Norv Turner gets axed by Al Davis it would create an unusual twin firing. Turner's brother, Ron, was let go at the University of Illinois last week.

Here's a look at this weekend's games involving endangered and safe coaches.

Game of the day

Ravens (7-3) at Patriots (9-1)
TV: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Patriots favored by 7.

The scoop: Could be a preview of an AFC playoff matchup. . . . Pats have won last three since losing at Pittsburgh. The Ravens have won five of last six. . . . New England's secondary is still hurting, but can improving Baltimore QB Kyle Boller take advantage? He had a 106.5 rating against Dallas week. . . . Ravens will be without RB Jamal Lewis (ankle). RB Corey Dillon becoming more of a factor for the Patriots.

Outlook: Pats go to 21-3 in Gillette Stadium, but it won't be easy. New England, 14-9.

Top attractions

Chargers (7-3) at Chiefs (3-7)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Chiefs by 2 1/2 .

The scoop: More attractive game than Jaguars-Vikings scheduled for this market on CBS. By the time network moguls in New York catch up to the San Diego story, it might be midnight for Cinderella. . . . Chargers have won last three, averaging 413 yards in total offense. Chiefs have lost their last three, averaging 457. . . . San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer returns to Arrowhead. Insiders say it's coordinators Cam Cameron and Wade Phillips who are responsible for San Diego turnaround. . . . Chiefs will be without RB Priest Holmes (knee) again.

Outlook: Waiting ends for Chiefs' offense to produce a win. K.C., 34-30.
Jaguars (6-4) at Vikings (6-4)
TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Vikings by 6.

The scoop: Jags hope to get QB Byron Leftwich (knee) back, and Vikings think WR Randy Moss (hamstring) may be ready. Both teams involved in close divisional and wild-card races.

Outlook: Vikings have played three close ones since rout by Giants. Look for another. Jaguars, 27-24.
Raiders (3-7) at Broncos (7-3)
TV: ESPN, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Broncos by 11.

The scoop: Raiders have lost six of last seven and are only 4-15 against former coach Mike Shanahan. . . . Expected Oakland to show some pride at home against San Diego, especially after being embarrassed by Bolts, 42-14, three weeks previous. However, Raiders remain lifeless.

Outlook: Don't like double-digit number, but Broncos' offense rarely disappoints. Denver, 31-10.

Rams (5-5) at Packers (6-4)
TV: Ch. 7, Monday, 9 p.m.

The line: Packers by 6.

The scoop: Has Mike Martz stopped crying yet? He put on a sour grapes performance for the ages after last week's loss to the Bills. . . . Packers have won their last five, going over 400-yard mark in all but one.

Outlook: This one is going to smart Martz. Pack, 45-21.

Best of the rest

Bills (4-6) at Seahawks (6-4)
TV: Ch. 4, 4:15 p.m.

The line: Seahawks by 5 1/2 .

The scoop: Despite the records, teams look about even. The Bills have just underachieved badly. Seahawks are 3-4 after 3-0 start and were very lucky to beat Miami at home last week. . . . Seahawks expect QB Matt Hasselbeck back. . . . One last chance for Jerry Rice to victimize the Bills again.

Outlook: You have to expect dreadful play by Drew Bledsoe and the Bills on the road. Seattle, 31-17.
Browns (3-7) at Bengals (4-6)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bengals by 6.

The scoop: Two teams barely managed 400 yards combined last week. Browns had 216 in loss to Jets at home, Bengals only 209 in home loss to Steelers. . . . Browns won first meeting, 34-17, in Cleveland and are winless since, including 34-31 OT loss to Eagles. Bengals are 3-2 since the game.

Outlook: Browns, who have won three of last four in Cincy, take another, 17-16.
Titans (4-6) at Texans (4-6)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Titans by 1 1/2 .

The scoop: Records are same, but teams are headed in different direction. Titans, who usually close strong under Jeff Fisher, have won two of last three and have QB Steve McNair back. Texans have lost last three to strong opposition -- Broncos, Colts and Packers.

Outlook: Tennessee will waltz, 20-10.
Eagles (9-1) at Giants (5-5)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Eagles by 7.

The scoop: Used to be a taut rivalry, but Eagles have moved ahead by leaps and bounds. Philly won season opener between teams, 31-17. . . . Second start for Eli Manning as Giants QB. He will get tested by blitzkrieg from Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. . . . Eagles have won last three since loss at Pittsburgh and are 7-0 versus NFC. Eagles can clinch division title with win.

Outlook: Giants make it interesting for a while, but then Donovan McNabb will take over. Eagles, 34-17.
Redskins (3-7) at Steelers (9-1)
TV: Ch. 29, 1 p.m.

The line: Steelers by 10 1/2 .

The scoop: Redskins are 2-3 on the road and have usually been competitive despite their many shortcomings. . . . Steelers looking to go 10-1 for first time since 1975, a Super Bowl year for them. . . . Pittsburgh is just overpowering teams with defense and power running, but expect a Joe Gibbs team to stand up physically for a while.

Outlook: Routine Steelers win, 24-14.
Saints (4-6) at Falcons (8-2)
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Falcons by 9 1/2 .

The scoop: Saints -- if they decided to play at all -- perform better on the road (2-2) than at home (2-4). New Orleans has won last two games against Falcons, but this is first meeting this season. . . . Ex-Bill Peerless Price had no catches in win over Giants last week and has caught no more than two balls in seven of 10 games.

Outlook: An "on" week for Saints. Falcons, 31-28.
Jets (7-3) at Cardinals (4-6)
Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Jets by 3.

The scoop: Jets escaped from Cleveland with a win, but what once looked like a cinch wild-card team may be in trouble. . . . Cardinals started Shaun King last week and ex-Buc had a career-best 343 passing yards in loss at Carolina. Four turnovers killed Arizona.

Outlook: Jets have lost at New England and Buffalo but generally play well on road. New York, 24-23.
Buccaneers (4-6) at Panthers (3-7)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bucs by 2.

The scoop: Both teams won by big margins last week. Bucs are revived with Brian Griese at QB, and defense held Niners to 197 yards last week. Tampa Bay has won three of last four with the loss coming at Atlanta. Panthers have beaten mighty 49ers and Cardinals in last two games.

Outlook: Bucs coming on. Tampa Bay, 21-14.

Dog game of the day

Dolphins (1-9) at 49ers (1-9)
Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Niners by 1 1/2 .

The scoop: When's last time Fish and Niners were 1-9? . . . Niners have lost their last five, Dolphins their last three, although they outhustled and outworked Seattle last week on the road under interim coach Jim Bates. . . . Wacky NFL schedule makers send Miami to West Coast for second time in two weeks. Didn't there used to be a players' union? . . . Jay Fiedler neck injury ends QB controversy for a while in Miami. A.J. Feeley will start again.

Outlook: Dolphins get win No. 2 next week against Bills. Niners, 17-14.
e-mail: mnorthrop@buffnews.com

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