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Plenty at stake as NFL's regular season ends

Any spoilers in the crowd?

Tennessee, Houston, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, Washington and Carolina each have the opportunity to play that role in some key NFL games on today's Week 17 schedule.

If Tennessee should upset the Colts in Indianapolis, it would open the door for Jacksonville to win the division provided the Jaguars can win at Houston with ex-Bill Trent Edwards at quarterback.

Pittsburgh and Baltimore have made the playoffs and are tied for first in the AFC North with the Steelers owning the tiebreaker advantage. If Pittsburgh should lose at Cleveland and Baltimore wins against the Bengals, the Ravens would take the division title and first-round bye in the playoffs. Pittsburgh needs just a win or a Baltimore loss to wrap up the division.

The Bears can keep the Packers from clinching an NFC wild-card berth with a win at Green Bay. A loss by the Packers would mean they would need losses by the New York Giants and Tampa Bay to make the playoffs.

If the New York Giants should lose at long-time division rival Washington, they would be knocked out of the wild-card picture altogether.

Lowly Carolina, already assured of the NFL's worst record, could prevent Atlanta from clinching the NFC South and the No. 1 seed in the conference playoffs by upsetting the Falcons today. An Atlanta loss, though unlikely, would open the door for New Orleans to claim the divisional title and homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs with a home win over Tampa Bay. Of course, Tampa Bay will be out to keep its own wild-card chances alive. The Buccaneers need a win in New Orleans and losses by both the Giants and Packers to make the postseason.

Either the St. Louis Rams or Seattle Seahawks are assured of being the party pooper in their showdown tonight for the NFC West title. The Rams own a one-game lead but a Seattle win would knot the race and give the Seahawks the tie-breaker advantage based on a better record within the division.

Detroit already has been a spoiler. The Lions have won only five games but their victories over St. Louis, Green Bay and Tampa Bay have damaged the playoff chances of all three teams. The Rams would already have clinched the NFC West were it not for a 44-6 loss to the Lions on Oct. 10.

A capsule look at final regular season games:

>Game of the day

Buccaneers (9-6) at Saints (11-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Saints (-7)

The scoop: Saints handed the Bucs 31-6 loss in their first meeting Oct. 17. Tampa Bay has gone 6-4 since. All the Tampa Bay victories have been over teams with losing records. On the other hand, their losses have come against teams with a combined 62-28 record. RB LeGarrette Blount of the Bucs leads all NFL rookies in rushing with 941 yards, 5.2 average and six touchdowns. Chris Ivory of the Saints is next with 683 yards. Rookie WR Mike Williams (Riverside High, Syracuse), has 61 receptions for franchise-record 10 TDs and 15.1 average per catch.

Outlook: Youthful Bucs go down swinging. Saints, 30-28.

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>Top attractions

Rams (7-8) at Seahawks (6-9)

TV: Ch. 2, 8:20 p.m.

The line: Rams (-3)

The scoop: Seattle probably would be favored if QB Matt Hasselbeck (hip) was available for certain but unproven Charlie Whitehurst may get the start against Rams rookie Sam Bradford. St. Louis last made playoffs in 2004. Seattle last won division title in 2007.

Outlook: Don't think Bradford is ready to win big road game in noisy stadium. Bad Seattle team (28th on offense, 30th defense) makes postseason, 17-14.

Jaguars (8-7) at Texans (5-10)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Texans (-3)

The scoop: Trent Edwards gets start for Jaguars because David Garrard is out after surgery on finger. He gets chance to work against NFL's worst pass defense. Jacksonville has won last four against Houston. Big question in Houston: Will another disappointing season cost head coach Gary Kubiak his job or will defensive coaches take the fall?

Outlook: Neither defense looks so hot. Houston, 38-31.

Titans (6-9) at Colts (9-6)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Colts (-9 1/2 )

The scoop: Indy held off Titans, 30-28, in Nashville three weeks ago. Colts have won last four in AFC South rivalry. Last Titans win in Indianapolis was by 16-10 in 2007. Colts looking for eighth straight home win against division opponents. Is this last game for Titans head coach Jeff Fisher?

Outlook: Titans have lost last four on road by average score of 29-14. Make it Colts, 30-14.

Bengals (4-11) at Ravens (11-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Ravens (-9 1/2 )

The scoop: Hard to believe but Cincy's 15-10 victory over Ravens on Sept. 19 was fourth straight over AFC-North rival. Bengals QB Carson Palmer has 9-3 record against Baltimore.

Outlook: Downtrodden Bengals looking for their third win in a row in late-season push, but Ravens have more at stake. Baltimore, 27-20.

Steelers (11-4) at Browns (5-10)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Steelers (-5)

The scoop: Steelers and their fans make annual excursion up the turnpike to Cleveland. Pittsburgh has won 13 of last 14 in rivalry. Steelers are 6-1 on road this season. The talk in Cleveland is that Browns president Mike Holmgren will fire head coach Eric Mangini and either take over team himself or bring in his own man. Stay tuned.

Outlook: Steelers need it to wrap up division. Even with Troy Polamalu out it's Pittsburgh, 27-10.

Bears (11-4) at Packers (9-6)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Packers (-9 1/2 )

The scoop: This is a classic throwback rivalry to the NFL's Bulldog Turner/Don Hutson leather-helmet era. Chicago has clinched NFC North and No. 2 seed in NFC playoffs so there is nothing riding on this one for Bears. Packers need it to make playoffs. Defensive duel between Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher of Bears and Clay Matthews of Packers should be fun to watch on frozen tundra of Lambeau.

Outlook: Packers need it too much. Green Bay, 24-17.

Giants (9-6) at Redskins (6-9)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Giants (-4)

The scoop: Big Blue fans still talking about meltdown against Eagles two weeks ago, and blowout at Green Bay last week. Some are even looking forward to possible comeback by WR Plaxico Burress next season. Giants coach Tom Coughlin may have to jettison OC Kevin Gilbride or DC Perry Fewell to satisfy second-guessers. Mike Shanahan closes out stormy first season in Washington. Three of Redskins' six wins have been in OT.

Outlook: Giants whupped Redskins first time. They do it again with heavy pass rush on Rex Grossman. New York, 21-10.

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>Best of the rest

Bills (4-11) at Jets (10-5)

TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Jets (-1 1/2 )

The scoop: Bills' first visit to New Meadowlands Stadium. They tripped Jets, 16-13, in OT last time they played in Jersey Swamp despite being outgained, 414-296. New York's 38-14 win at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Oct. 3 was perhaps low point of Bills season. QB Mark Sanchez (shoulder) expected to see limited action in game that means nothing to Jets.

Outlook: Bills hang around against uninspired opponent. Jets, 20-17.

Panthers (2-13) at Falcons (12-3)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Falcons (-14)

The scoop: Carolina (0-7) is only NFL team without a road win this season while Falcons are 6-1 at home and need win to lock up division title and home-field advantage throughout playoffs. Atlanta WR Roddy White (109 receptions) looking to lock down league receiving title and top franchise record of 111 by Terance Mathis (1994). John Fox's last game as Carolina coach. Is that Bill Cowher waiting in the wings?

Outlook: Falcons have lost only three games at home last two seasons, two to Saints. Carolina is not New Orleans, however. Falcons, 30-10.

Vikings (6-9) at Lions (5-10)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Lions (-3 1/2 ).

The scoop: Joe Webb (not Jack, TV cop Joe Friday of Dragnet fame) probably will get second straight start for Vikings unless Brett Favre (concussion) gets late clearance and pays his Sterger fine. Detroit working on three-game winning streak. Believe it or not Lions would be in playoff picture if they had won close ones. Detroit lost games by 5, 3, 2, 3, 2 and 4 points. Vikings won first meeting, 24-10, when Favre and dome roof were still in one piece.

Outlook: Shaun Hill directs Lions to first victory over Vikings since 2007, 24-17.

Raiders (7-8) at Chiefs (10-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Chiefs (-3 1/2 )

The scoop: Raiders looking for fifth straight win over Chiefs. That would give Oakland 6-0 record against division opponents but no division title or playoff berth. Raiders won first meeting, 23-20, in OT back when it looked like they had a shot at division title. Rude awakening came in next game at Pittsburgh (35-3). Chiefs have some of best young talent in NFL. Pro Bowl WR Dwayne Bowe leads league with club-record 15 TD catches.

Outlook: Chiefs are excited and exciting. League's No. 1 running attack finishes off Raiders, 28-16.

Dolphins (7-8) at Patriots (13-2)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Patriots (-5)

The scoop: Dolphins shooting for a 7-1 road record, which is supposed to mean easy trip to playoffs. However Miami went 1-7 at home. That and dull offense -- only Carolina and Cleveland have fewer points than the Dolphins' 266 -- may cost Tony Sparano head coaching job.

Outlook: With No. 1 seed firmly in place, Belichick lets up on gas pedal just a bit. Patriots, 24-3.

Chargers (8-7) at Broncos (4-11)

TV: Ch. 4, 4 p.m.

The line: Chargers (-3 1/2 )

The scoop: San Diego's late playoff push fizzled with loss at Cincinnati last week. Chargers QB Philip Rivers needs four TD passes to tie his franchise record of 34. Rookie QB Tim Tebow makes second start for Denver after 308-yard game last week in win over Texans. Denver WR Brandon Lloyd leads league with 1,375 receiving yards and 19.1 average per catch. He has 10 TD catches.

Outlook: Expecting Chargers to be deflated while Tebow excites Broncos and Mile High crowd. Denver, 34-27.

Cowboys (5-10) at Eagles (10-5)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Eagles (-3)

The scoop: Philly fans are still wondering what happened in Tuesday night loss to Vikings. Kevin Kolb probably will see most of QB action for Eagles so Michael Vick can recuperate and get ready for wild-card round game that could have been avoided if Eagles had come to play against Vikings. Cowboys' last five games have been decided by 3, 3, 3, 3 and 1 points. At that rate, Jerry Jones may need another face-lift.

Outlook: Eagles have no choice but to look ahead to playoffs. Dallas just having fun. Cowboys, 27-24.

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>Dog of the day

Cardinals (5-10) at 49ers (5-10)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: 49ers (-6)

The scoop: We'll start to find out if Arizona rookie QB John Skelton (Fordham) is for real or if he is related to old comic Red Skelton. Cards have dropped last six on road after opening with 17-13 win at St. Louis. Jim Tomsula acts as Niners head coach after firing of Mike Singletary. Does that mean Singletary impersonator is off Letterman Show, too?

Outlook: Tomsula ends head coaching career 1-0. Niners, 17-13.

Last week's record: 7-7 outright, 7-7 versus spread.

Season's record: 134-94 outright, 125-112-5 versus spread.

e-mail: mnorthrop@buffnews.com

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