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NFL Playbook: Four division titles there for the taking

It's Week 14 of the National Football League season it's time for really serious business.

The most attractive schedule of the season includes two NFC matchups that could be playoff previews, divisional showdowns in the AFC West and AFC North and an important interconference clash with playoff ramifications when Seattle makes the long diagonal trip across the country to visit Jacksonville.

New England, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Minnesota can clinch division titles by winning. Jacksonville can make the playoffs with a win and if it gets some help, including a loss by the Bills.

These are the potential postseason matchups: Philadelphia, which lost at Seattle last Sunday night, stayed on the West Coast to face the Los Angeles Rams; Minnesota, the hottest team in the NFC, will play at Carolina. A Rams win and Vikings loss would produce three-way tie for best record in NFC and a home advantage throughout the conference playoffs.

The Raiders and Chiefs, two of the three teams tied atop the AFC West standings, will meet at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Baltimore, which trails Pittsburgh by three games in the AFC North, will try to stall the Steelers' playoff march tonight at Heinz Field.

A capsule look at the Week 14 games:

Game of the day

Eagles (10-2) at Rams (9-3)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.
The line: Rams (-2 1/2).
The scoop: Rams haven't defeated Phila since 2004, losing last four. Eagles QB Carson Wentz, who leads the fans voting for the Pro Bowl, will face Jared Goff, in a duel of the QBs taken at top of 2016 draft. Wentz is just three TD passes shy of Eagles record of 32 by Sonny Jurgensen in 1961. ... Loss at Seattle (24-10) last Sunday night ended Eagles nine-game win streak.
Outlook: The Rams have averaged 36 ppg in their nine wins. Don't see why they can't get more than 30 even though Eagles' defense ranks third in league. Rams, 40-33

Top attractions

Vikings (10-2) at Panthers (8-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Vikings (-3).
The scoop: Until Case Keenum, no Minnesota quarterback had posted a passer rating of 100 or more for four straight weeks. Vikings coming off impressive defensive showing at Atlanta while Panthers were flat in huge loss at New Orleans. ... A loss by Panthers could not only put them at disadvantage in division race but could endanger their hopes of NFC wild card  because Seattle, Atlanta and Dallas are lurking.
Outlook: Vikings' run due to run out. Carolina 24-17.

Seahawks (8-4) at Jaguars (8-4)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.
The line: Jaguars (-3).
The scoop: Jacksonville leads league in defense (282.5 ypg) and has held five opponents to seven points or less. ... Seahawks have huge home game next week against Rams but need this one first. ... Jaguars DE Calais Campbell has franchise record 12.5 sacks. Now he gets chance to chase Russell Wilson around for an afternoon. ... Seattle last won in Jacksonville in 2000 but have played there only once since.
Outlook:  Seahawks inflict damaging loss on Jags in defensive duel. Seattle 13-10.

Ravens (7-5) at Steelers (10-2)

TV: NBC, 8:30 p.m.
The line: Steelers (-5 1/2).
The scoop: This one could make Steelers-Bengals slugfest look like a food fight with marshmallows. Pittsburgh handled Ravens, 26-9, in Baltimore on Oct. 1 and defeated Ravens at home, 31-27, last December. ... What's not impressive about Steelers is their four three-point wins over weak Browns, Colts, Bengals and Packers (minus Rodgers). ... Ravens have three shutouts on their record this season.
Outlook: With next week's battle with Patriots on their minds, Steelers squeak out another, 27-24.

Raiders (6-6) at Chiefs (6-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Chiefs (-4).
The scoop: Oakland's 31-30 win over KC on Oct. 19 ended five-game losing streak against Chiefs. Raiders have not won in KC since 2012. ... Tyreek Hill of Chiefs caught 185 yards worth of passes in loss to Jets last week and Raiders' secondary is vulnerable.
Outlook: First of three-game home stand for Chiefs that could salvage their season. Kansas City, 24-17.

Titans  (8-4) at Cardinals (5-7)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.
The line: Titans (-3).
The scoop: Tennessee makes first visit to Arizona since 2005. Titans face three NFC West opponents in a row then get Jacksonville at home in finale that probably will decide AFC West.
Outlook: Titans are no powerhouse, but should be able to beat Cards team quarterbacked by Blaine Gabbert.

Redskins (5-7) at Chargers (6-6)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.
The line: Chargers (-6).
The scoop: Chargers started 0-4 with losses by 3 and 2 but have gone 6-2 since with a loss at New England and OT defeat at Jacksonville. ... Anthony Lynn has inherited a Chargers team that has a lot of young talent led by old guy QB Philip Rivers, who turned 36 on Friday.
Outlook: Redskins won't stop Chargers' roll. Bolts, 31-20.

Best of the rest

Colts (3-9) at Bills  (6-6)

TV: CBS, 1 p.m.
The line: No line as of Thursday
The scoop: If Tyrod Taylor can hobble out there, Sean McDermott can't afford messing around and not starting him with playoffs still a possibility. ... Easy to underestimate Colts without Andrew Luck. Indy has lost last three but to opponents that are a combined 26-10.
Outlook: Bills tough it out, 20-17.

Packers (6-6) at Browns (0-12)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Packers (-3 1/2).
The scoop: Green Bay started 4-1 and has gone 2-5 since Aaron Rodgers' injury. Packers not out of playoff picture yet assuming they beat winless Brownies and get Rodgers back for tough stretch run at Carolina, home versus Vikings and at Detroit. Also, they need a crash by Seahawks or Panthers, who have both tough closing schedules.
Outlook: Browns keep teasing that they will finally win one, but can't avoid costly errors. Packers and QB Brett Hundley squeak one out, 28-27.

49ers (2-10) at Texans (4-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Texans (-3).
The scoop: Niners have won twice in last three games over Giants, then Bears. Houston feeling losses of defensive stars J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus as much as they miss QB Deshaun Watson.
Outlook: As unattractive a game as Bears-Bengals. Houston, 23-17.

Cowboys (6-6) at Giants (2-10)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Cowboys (-4 1/2).
The scoop: Think Giants' brass realized that three of last four games are at home in front of Big Blue faithful and Eli loyalists when they decided to put Manning back at QB and ax McAdoo and Reese? Hmm. ... When's last time Giants were last in league in defense?
Outlook: Triumphant return for Eli in NFC East rivalry game. Giants, 20-17.

Lions (6-6) at Buccaneers (4-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: No line as of Thursday
The scoop: Question is: Will Matthew Stafford (hand) be able to play. Guess is that he will and operate out of shotgun. ... Only three Detroit opponents scored fewer than 20 points while Tampa Bay has allowed 30 points or more in five games.
Outlook: Two of worst defensive teams in league. Buccaneers 30-24.

Jets (5-7) at Broncos (3-9)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.
The line: Jets (-1 1/2).
The scoop: Denver losing streak has reached eight games, with three of the losses at home.
Outlook: Historically, Jets record in Denver isn't that bad. Broncos only 11-8 versus Titans/Jets in Mile High City over the years. Bills 1-5 there since 1968. Jets 30-27.

Patriots (10-2) at Dolphins (5-7)

TV: ESPN, Monday, 8:30 p.m.
The line: Patriots (-11 1/2).
The scoop: New England has held its last eight opponents to 17 points or less and the offense is clicking when it needs to. ... Miami's 35-9 win over Denver last week ended a five-game losing streak. Fish lost at Foxborough, 35-17, only two weeks ago.
Outlook: Dolphins could be looking ahead to two games remaining with Bills with a chance to kill any Buffalo playoff hopes that may remain. Patriots, 27-10.

Dog of the day

Bears (3-9) at Bengals (5-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Bengals (-6).
The scoop: Bears have lost last five. Six of their losses this season were by six points or less. Despite that and being handicapped by having to play a rookie Mitch Trubisky at QB though he isn't quite ready for the challenge, conventional wisdom says John Fox will get canned as Bears coach after the season.
Outlook: Two lowest ranked offenses in the league meet. Cincinnati, 17-13.

Last week's results: 12-3 outright; 10-4-1 versus spread.

Season's record: 113-64 outright; 85-82-10 versus spread.##

 

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