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COLTS VISITING BALTIMORE SYMBOLIZES SIGN OF THE TIMES

Franchise free agency really comes home to Baltimore today, where for the first time the locals will be rooting against the guys with the horseshoes on their helmets.

Yes, it's the first visit in 15 seasons by the Colts to their old home, or since the late Bob Irsay packed up the moving vans and trundled off to Indianapolis. Their opponent is the Baltimore Ravens, the former Cleveland Browns, making this a replay of the 1964 NFL championship game won 27-0 by Jim Brown and Cleveland (now Baltimore) over Don Shula and Baltimore (now Indianapolis).

Yes, there's a lot of history behind the game at Art Modell's new unnamed stadium, even though the teams that will be playing, the Ravens (4-7) and the Colts (2-7), are no big deal now.

"It would be so very hard for me to ever move a team," said Jim Irsay, who became owner of the Colts after his father's death in January 1997. "If anything positive came out of it, it's remembering how not to let that happen."

What makes this even more of a jumble is that the Ravens aren't the Browns, even though they are. Or, at least, once were.

That is, Ravens records are records set in Baltimore, not by Brown and Otto Graham and all those players who left such a deep tradition in Cleveland. The new Browns, who begin play next season as an expansion team, take over those marks.

But the Colts in Indianapolis are still the old Colts, even though the folks in Baltimore would prefer otherwise. That is, John Unitas and Raymond Berry are the career leaders in passing and receiving and a lot of other Baltimore Colts remain on the books.

The big question Sunday is how the fans in Baltimore will greet their old Colts with those distinctive horseshoes that have such significance there.

Irsay himself is considering attending the game incognito.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," Irsay says. "Paul McCartney one time attended a Rolling Stones concert third-row center dressed as a 90-year-old man. Maybe he'll lend me his outfit."

Colts (2-9) at Ravens (4-7)

Line: Ravens by 6.

Last meeting: Colts won, 26-21, at Indianapolis on Oct. 13, 1996.

Key stats: Baltimore's No. 10 rushing defense vs. Indianapolis' No. 26 rushing offense.

Worth watching: Ravens running back Priest Holmes is coming off a 227-yard rushing day vs. the Bengals. But can he play like that against anybody else? Colts rookie Peyton Manning has thrown touchdown passes in eight straight games, most by a rookie since Joe Namath in 1965.

Outlook: This is the Colts' first visit to Baltimore since they left the city in 1984. How will the fans react?

Panthers (2-9) at Jets (7-4)
Today, 1 p.m., Ch. 29

Line: Jets by 8 1/2 .

Last meeting: Panthers won, 26-15, at Carolina on Oct. 15, 1995.

Key stats: Jets are going for their first five-game home winning streak since 1986.

Worth watching: Jets' Keyshawn Johnson is playing like the No. 1 pick in the draft should -- he leads AFC with eight TD catches and has 53 catches for 14.2-yard average. Panthers' Steve Beuerlein leads NFL with 65.7 completion percentage after completing 21 of 26 vs. Rams last week.

Outlook: Bill Parcells has Jets right where he wants them -- atop the AFC East, albeit tied with Miami and Buffalo. Jets have NFL's No. 5 offense and No. 4 defense. Panthers have a high draft pick coming.

Saints (5-6) at Dolphins (7-4)
Today, 4 p.m., Ch. 29

Line: Dolphins by 8.

Last meeting: Saints won, 33-30, at New Orleans on Oct. 15, 1995.

Key stats: Miami is allowing an NFL-best 14.4 points per game.

Worth watching: Dolphins' O.J. McDuffie has 24 catches for 314 yards in the last three games. Saints safety Sammy Knight leads NFC with five interceptions.

Outlook: Miami shares AFC East lead with Buffalo and Jets, and should keep it. Saints have lost the two road games they've played against winning teams (Falcons, Vikings). It would take some big plays out of Kerry Collins to pull off this upset.

Broncos (11-0) at Chargers (5-6)
Tonight, 8:20, ESPN

Line: Broncos by 13.

Last meeting: Broncos won, 27-10, at Denver on Nov. 8, 1998.

Key stats: Denver has won 18 of its last 22 AFC West games. Broncos lead AFC with plus-nine turnover differential; Chargers are minus-12.

Worth watching: Broncos' Terrell Davis continues to lead NFL with 1,492 yards rushing and 17 rushing touchdowns. Chargers have won last two with quarterback Craig Whelihan, who has thrown five touchdown passes and two interceptions.

Outlook: Although Chargers always put up a fight at home -- where they're 4-2 this season -- Denver is unlikely to lose its undefeated season here.

Giants (4-7) at 49ers (8-3)
Monday night, 8:20, Ch. 7

Line: 49ers by 13.

Last meeting: 49ers won, 20-6, at San Francisco on Oct. 1, 1995.

Key stats: San Francisco's No. 1 offense vs. Giants' No. 20 defense.

Worth watching: Garrison Hearst is turning out another solid season for San Francisco, rushing for 939 yards and averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Giants again go with Kent Graham, who completed 10 of 21 for 153 yards in last week's win over Eagles.

Outlook: Steve Young, the NFL's leading passer, and Hearst can pad their stats a bit against the mediocre Giants defense. San Francisco is a game behind Atlanta in the NFC West and needs the win.

Cardinals (6-5) at Chiefs (4-7)

Line: Chiefs by 3 1/2 .

Last meeting: Chiefs won, 24-3, at Arizona.

Key stats: Arizona appears playoff-bound even though it's 19th in offense and defense.

Worth watching: Cardinals need a big pass rush from Simeon Rice, who leads the team with nine sacks. Kansas City needs a big game from whomever starts at quarterback -- Rich Gannon or Elvis Grbac.

Outlook: Kansas City, once a perennial playoff team, has lost six in a row. Arizona's offense has picked up the pace recently and leads the NFL in red-zone efficiency (scored TDs on 25 of 38 trips inside the 20). Cardinals smell the playoffs.

Falcons (9-2) at Rams (3-8)

Line: Falcons by 5.

Last meeting: Falcons won, 37-15, at Atlanta on Nov. 1, 1998.

Key stats: Atlanta has beaten St. Louis three straight.

Worth watching: Atlanta running back Jamal Anderson is averaging 4.2 yards per carry and leads NFC with 10 rushing touchdowns. Amp Lee and ex-Bear Ricky Proehl lead St. Louis in receptions with 40.

Outlook: Both starting quarterbacks -- Atlanta's Chris Chandler and St. Louis' Tony Banks -- are banged up. Falcons have more to lose in that tradeoff, but they still have Anderson.

Jaguars (8-3) at Bengals (2-9)

Line: Jaguars by 7.

Last meeting: Jaguars won, 24-11, at Jacksonville on Nov. 11, 1998.

Key stats: Jacksonville's No. 5 rushing offense vs. Cincinnati's No. 30 rushing defense.

Worth watching: Jaguars rookie Fred Taylor is second in AFC with 10 rushing touchdowns. Corey Dillon is averaging 4.2 yards per carry for Bengals.

Outlook: Jaguars figure to extend their lead over Pittsburgh to two games in AFC Central.

Bucs (4-7) at Bears (3-8)

Line: Buccaneers by 3 1/2 .

Last meeting: Bucs won, 27-15, at Tampa Bay on Sept. 19, 1998.

Key stats: Tampa Bay has allowed only 176 first downs, second only to Green Bay (168) in the NFC.

Worth watching: Bears rookie quarterback Moses Moreno gets his first NFL start. Bucs running back Mike Alstott is getting stronger as the season wears on.

Outlook: The Bears hope Moreno's mobility sparks the offense, which managed just one touchdown in three games under Steve Stenstrom. Moreno opens against one of the NFL's top defenses. Bucs will be without middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson (heart condition), but Tampa's defense should still make the difference as it looks for its first road win.

Oilers (6-5) at Seahawks (5-6)

Line: Seahawks by 3.

Last meeting: Seahawks won, 16-13, at Seattle on Oct. 5, 1997.

Key stats: Seattle is 27th in offense and 25th in defense.

Worth watching: Seattle is giving Jon Kitna his second career start at quarterback (he beat Oakland, 22-21, last season). Oilers' Steve McNair has stunning 111.8 passer rating on third downs in the last six games.

Outlook: With steady McNair (1,025 yards) and Eddie George (4 yards per carry average), the Oilers can move the ball against the Seahawks, 26th in the NFL against the rush. Seattle's benching of Warren Moon in favor of Kitna may be a bit of a panic move.

Eagles (2-9) at Packers (7-4)

Line: Packers by 18 1/2 .

Last meeting: Eagles won, 10-9, at Philadelphia on Sept. 7, 1997.

Key stats: Green Bay's No. 7 defense vs. Philadelphia's No. 30 offense.

Worth watching: Green Bay wide receiver Antonio Freeman leads NFL with 1,003 receiving yards (17-yard average, eight touchdowns). Duce Staley leads Eagles in rushing (601 yards) and receiving (37 catches).

Outlook: With NFC Central title all but lost, Packers want to make sure they have a home wild-card game. They trail 49ers by a game for the honor. Eagles shouldn't pose any problems.

Redskins (2-9) at Raiders (7-4)

Line: Raiders by 7.

Last meeting: Raiders won, 20-8, at Washington on Sept. 10, 1995.

Key stats: Oakland is 4-1 at home, losing only to Denver.

Worth watching: Washington is trying to develop quarterback Trent Green, who has 14 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Raiders tight end Ricky Dudley is becoming a bigger factor, with three touchdown receptions in the last four games.

Outlook: Oakland is safely ensconced in second place in the AFC West, and turns its attention to wrapping up a home wild-card game. Redskins are 0-5 on the road.

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