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Strength at top forces teams to play wild cards

There are clear-cut leaders in four of the NFL's eight divisions, which means the wild-card route will be the only way to the playoffs for a lot of teams. The Week 11 schedule is loaded with games that have wild-card implications. Cleveland at Baltimore, San Diego at Jacksonville and Tennessee at Denver in the AFC and the New York Giants at Detroit and Chicago at Seattle in the NFC match teams in wild-card contention. Others in the wild-card picture are the Bills, Kansas City, Houston, Washington, Philadelphia, Carolina, New Orleans and Arizona.

>Game of the day

Patriots (9-0) at Bills (5-4)

TV: Ch. 2, 8:15 p.m.

The line: Patriots (-15 1/2 )

The scoop: This is the fourth year in a row and fifth time since 2000 that the Patriots have had a bye the week before facing the Bills. Is that fair? Suggestion to NFL: Give all teams in the same division the same bye week, then have them face each other the next week. It might make for more entertaining football, which the league is short of these days.

Outlook: Bills and crowd keep it interesting for a while. Patriots, 34-20.


>Top attractions

Chargers (5-4) at Jags (6-3)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Jaguars (-3).

The scoop: Was it just a bad dream that the Chargers blew a big lead and lost on an Adam Vinatieri field goal last Sunday night? Actually, they won but no fans in the NFL are more upset with their team and coaching staff than usually docile San Diegans.

Outlook: David Garrard returns to lead Jags to 17-13 win.


Browns (5-4) at Ravens (4-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Browns (-3).

The scoop: Browns blew lead and lost at Pittsburgh when 52-yard field goal try by Phil Dawson came up short. How much of a dent, if any, did that put in the confidence of Romeo Crennel's entertaining team? . . . Ravens' offense is dreadful these days, though not as bad as San Francisco's. . . . Birds will start Kyle Boller at QB with Steve McNair out.

Outlook: Browns' passing game tough to stop. Cleveland, 27-13.


Giants (6-3) at Lions (6-3)

TV: Ch. 29, 1 p.m.

The line: Giants (-3).

The scoop: Just when they got back in the game, Giants gave up big pass in home loss to Cowboys last week. . . . Detroit reverted to usual Lions form and had three-game win streak end at Arizona. . . . This is key juncture of season for Lions, who are 4-0 at home and have first-place Packers visiting on Turkey Day.

Outlook: How many 6-3 teams are home underdogs? Lions, 31-28.


Panthers (4-5) at Pack (8-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Packers (-9 1/2 ).

The scoop: Panthers now NFL's most overrated team, stealing honor from Saints and Ravens. Going against Carolina's Vinny Testaverde, 44, will make Brett Favre really feel like a kid in a season in which he leads all NFL with 2,757 passing yards.

Outlook: Can Panthers lose to Falcons at home one week and win at Green Bay the next week? No. Packers, 23-17.


Titans (6-3) at Broncos (4-5)

TV: ESPN, Monday, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Broncos (-2).

The scoop: Broncos won at K.C. last week without Travis Henry and with QB Jay Cutler hurting. . . . Titans' Vince Young coming off highest passing yards total of career, and threw first TD pass in two months in win over Jags.

Outlook: Mile-high air will have Young's tongue hanging out. Broncos, 20-17.


Chiefs (4-5) at Colts (7-2)

TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Colts (-14 1/2 ).

The scoop: Hey, Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning: Nice job of icing your own kicker in San Diego last Sunday night. . . . Brodie Croyle gets start at QB and RB Larry Johnson is out for Chiefs. Wounded Colts missing WR Marvin Harrison and have lost DE Dwight Freeney for season. Syracuse guys sure are fragile.

Outlook: Indy has enough to win against 30th-ranked offense. Colts, 20-10.


'Skins (5-4) at Cowboys (8-1)

TV: Ch. 29, 4 p.m.

The line: Cowboys (-11).

The scoop: Are the Cowboys really that good or has the rest of the NFC East turned into marshmallows? . . . Redskins have won three of last four against 'Boys but lost in last visit, 27-10, in what turned out to be Drew Bledsoe's last hurrah.

Outlook: Just can't imagine a 'Skins-'Boys game not being a dogfight. Cowboys, 28-24.


>Best of the rest

Bears (4-5) at Seahawks (5-4)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Seahawks (-5 1/2 ).

The scoop: Much-maligned Rex Grossman helped Bears pull out what would have been a crippling loss at Oakland last week after Brian Griese hurt his left shoulder, and Grossman gets the start today. . . . Second straight trip to West Coast for Midgets of the Midway. . . . Seahawks had shutout over Niners last week. Playing San Fran is like having an open date.

Outlook: Bears are due and 'Hawks underachieve. Chicago, 17-14.


Saints (4-5) at Texans (4-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Texans (-1 1/2 ).

The scoop: Interconference game between teams with wild-card hopes. . . . Saints were rocked at home by winless Rams last week. Texans coming off bye.

Outlook: Saints have come too far to lose again. New Orleans, 33-27.


Cards (4-5) at Bengals (3-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bengals (-3).

The scoop: If Cards can win this, they have a playoff shot with home games against cream puff Niners, Falcons and Rams left on schedule.

Outlook: Bengals regained some confidence in win over Ravens last week. Cincy, 37-30.


Bucs (5-4) at Falcons (3-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Buccaneers (-3).

The scoop: Joey Harrington and Falcons looking for third win in a row. . . . Tampa Bay, coming off bye, is 1-3 on road. Atlanta is 2-2 at home. . . . Atlanta fans are no-shows and Falcons will be against stingy Bucs' defense.

Outlook: No Jeff Garcia mistakes. Tampa Bay, 17-10.


Raiders (2-7) at Vikings (3-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Vikings (-4 1/2 ).

The scoop: Vikes not much fun to watch without Adrian Peterson (knee) and no quarterbacking. . . . Raiders QB Daunte Culpepper gets shot at his old team. . . . Chester Taylor takes over for AP as Vikings' RB.

Outlook: Chet the Jet leads Minny to 13-7 win.


Dolphins (0-9) at Eagles (4-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Eagles (-9 1/2 ).

The scoop: Dolphins, who would have trouble winning in NFL Europa and would be underdogs to Rhein Fire, nearly beat Bills last week and didn't have Zach Thomas and missed Jason Taylor in fourth quarter. . . . Eagles rallied past division rival Redskins.

Outlook: In-and-out Eagles will be out to lunch. Philly, 16-9.


Steelers (7-2) at Jets (1-8)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Steelers (-9 1/2 ).

The scoop: Steelers are 15-2 all-time against Gang Green. . . . Pittsburgh has good shot at the No. 2 seed in AFC playoffs, meaning Colts won't get bye week. . . . More trouble ahead for Jets. They play Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving.

Outlook: Jets haven't lost by one-sided score since opener against Pats. Steelers, 24-17.


>Dog of the day

Rams (1-8) at 49ers (2-7)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Rams (-3).

The scoop: Niners not good enough for NFL Europa. . . . Ex-Bills OT Jonas Jennings hurt again. Ex-Bill Nate Clements can't help woeful offense. . . . Rams' corpse began to stir last week.

Outlook: Can't imagine Niners beating anybody. Rams, 30-10.


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