Share this article

print logo

JAGUARS FACE TENNESSEE, MAY NEED NEXT WEEK'S GAME AGAINST BENGALS MORE

Today's game in Nashville looks huge for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who still need to wrap up home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs and want to prove their 13-1 record isn't the result of a weak schedule.

Yes, if the Jaguars beat the Titans, it will be their first victory over a team with a winning record, although it's not their fault the Jets, 49ers, Falcons and Broncos all collapsed this season.

But the most important game -- win or lose against the Titans -- might be their regular-season finale in Jacksonville on Jan. 2 against 4-11 Cincinnati.

Here's why:

The Jaguars lead Tennessee by two games in the AFC Central and would have to lose to the Titans and then to Cincinnati to squander that lead. But they lead Indianapolis (12-2) in the race for home field throughout the AFC playoffs by just one game.

If Jacksonville loses today to Tennessee (11-3) and beats the Bengals, the tiebreaker -- if Indianapolis also finishes 14-2 -- is point differential in the AFC, and the Jags currently hold a 49-point advantage.

But if the Jaguars beat the Titans and lose to the Bengals, and the Colts win their last two games, the tiebreaker becomes common opponents. A loss to Cincinnati would make the Jags 4-1 and the Colts 4-0 in that category, and the Colts would get the home field.

The Titans, who have clinched a wild-card spot, don't win big. Six of their games have been decided in the final two minutes, and five have been comeback wins.

"It's all about going out every Sunday and finding a way to win," said 38-year-old guard Bruce Matthews, who was chosen for his 12th Pro Bowl this week. "That's what I like about this team. It hasn't been the best or the prettiest football, but we found a way to win 11 times."

Jacksonville, on the other hand, seems to get nervous whenever it doesn't blow out its opponent. Coach Tom Coughlin was seriously disappointed after the 24-14 win in Cleveland last week.

Now he's trying to build incentive to beat the Titans.

"What we're trying to accomplish is to come out like a team that's hot, on fire, getting it going," said linebacker Lonnie Marts said. "It's got to start somewhere. We wanted it to start against Cleveland and it didn't."

Maybe they'll start against Tennessee. They just have to keep it going against Cincinnati.

Jaguars (13-1) at Titans (11-3)

Line: Jaguars by 3.

Last meeting: Tennessee won 20-19 at Jacksonville on Sept. 26.

Key stats: Jacksonville has won 11 straight since losing to the Titans.

Worth watching: Two of the game's top pass-rushers. Tennessee's Jevon Kearse has set NFL rookie record with AFC-leading 13 1/2 sacks. Jacksonville's Tony Brackens has 12.

Outlook: A few weeks ago this looked like a showdown for the AFC Central title and a first-round bye. But the Titans messed up by losing to the Ravens three weeks ago. Jacksonville can wrap up the division with a win. Tennessee needs to win this one, win at Pittsburgh next week and hope Jacksonville loses at home next week to Cincinnati to win division. Since they last met, the Jaguars have rediscovered their offense.

Vikings (8-6) at Giants (7-7), 1 p.m. Ch. 29

Line: Vikings by 2 1/2 .

Last meeting: Giants won 15-10 at New York on Sept. 29, 1996.

Key stats: Giants are 9-1 in December under head coach Jim Fassel.

Worth watching: Joe Montgomery, playing a larger role recently, is averaging 3.1 yards per carry for the Giants. Robert Smith averaging 4.2 for Vikings.

Outlook: The Vikings are 3-4 on the road this season and face a Giants team that won two in a row before losing to St. Louis this week. New York is vulnerable in the secondary, but Vikings are likely to go without injured Cris Carter.

Packers (7-7) at Bucs (9-5), 4 p.m., Ch. 29

Line: Bucs by 4.

Last meeting: Packers won 26-23 in Green Bay on Oct. 10.

Key stats: Packers have won seven of the last eight against Bucs.

Worth watching: Can Brett Favre come up with a big game in what has been, for him, an off-year? Back in the comfort of Tampa Stadium, can rookie Shaun King bounce back after defeat at Oakland?

Outlook: Bucs defense was embarrassed in 45-0 loss to Raiders last week, but has plenty of incentive to bounce back. Bucs can win NFC Central with a victory and losses or ties by Minnesota and Detroit. Packers must find a way to block Warren Sapp (12 1/2 sacks).

Redskins (8-6) at 49ers (4-10), 8:15, ESPN

Line: Redskins by 7.

Last meeting: 49ers won 45-10 at Washington on Sept. 14, 1998.

Key stats: It's Washington's No. 2 defense vs. San Francisco's No. 26 offense.

Worth watching: Washington cornerback Champ Bailey leads all rookies with five interceptions. San Francisco tackle Bryant Young has eight sacks in the last six games.

Outlook: This one may turn out to be tough for Washington if ankle injury keeps Stephen Davis, the NFL's leading rusher, out of the game. Redskins clinging to one-game lead over Cowboys and Giants in NFC East. San Francisco quarterback Jeff Garcia is improving.

Jets (6-8) at Dolphins (9-5), Mon., 9 p.m., Ch. 7

Line: Dolphins by 4.

Last meeting: Jets won 28-20 at New York on Dec. 12.

Key stats: Dolphins have won four of last five home games vs. Jets.

Worth watching: Jets are 4-3 in games started by quarterback Ray Lucas. Miami's Dan Marino has 147 wins, one short of John Elway's NFL record.

Outlook: Jets get another chance to damage an opponent's playoff dreams -- just like they have done to the Cowboys, Bills, Patriots and, two weeks ago, the Dolphins.

Chiefs (9-5) at Seahawks (8-6)

Line: Seahawks by 3.

Last meeting: Seahawks won 31-19 at Kansas City on Nov. 21.

Key stats: Chiefs have won three of their last four in Seattle.

Worth watching: Kansas City's Pro Bowl tight end, Tony Gonzalez, has six touchdown receptions in the last four games. In his last two games against Chiefs, Seattle's Ricky Watters has rushed for 212 yards and five touchdowns.

Outlook: Since they last met the Seahawks have lost four straight and the Chiefs have won four straight. Kansas City can win the West and No. 3 seed in the AFC. Opportunistic Chiefs (they lead NFL with turnover differential of plus-23).

Colts (12-2) at Browns (2-13)

Line: Colts by 13 1/2 .

Last meeting: Browns won 21-14 at Indianapolis in 1994.

Key stats: Indianapolis is going for its 11th straight win, which would tie franchise record set in 1975-76.

Worth watching: Ex-Bear John Thierry leads Cleveland with seven sacks from his left defensive end spot. Colts' Mike Vanderjagt has made 21 straight field goals.

Outlook: Indianapolis trying to keep playoff momentum going. Colts have locked up No. 2 seed in AFC playoffs and need to keep winning to have a shot at No. 1 if Jacksonville slips up.

Panthers (7-7) at Steelers (5-9)

Line: Panthers by 3 1/2 .

Last meeting: Panthers beat Steelers 18-14 on Dec. 22, 1996.

Key stats: Steelers are 1-5 at home.

Worth watching: Carolina's Muhsin Muhammad leads NFC with 86 receptions. Rookie Troy Edwards leads Steelers with 55 catches, five for touchdowns.

Outlook: The Panthers have won four of their last five to give themselves a slim shot at the playoffs. And since they close the season at New Orleans, they know they have a good opportunity..

Cardinals (6-8) at Falcons (3-11)

Line: Falcons by 2.

Last meeting: Cardinals won 29-26 at Arizona on Dec. 21, 1997.

Key stats: Atlanta's offense is 27th; Arizona's is 30th.

Worth watching: Arizona defensive end Simeon Rice is second in NFL with 14 1/2 sacks, but wasn't voted to the Pro Bowl. Defensive end Chuck Smith leads Atlanta with nine.

Outlook: Cardinals are still mathematically alive for playoffs, but they need more help than they can realistically get. They've lost two in a row, and now face Falcons, who expect to have a healthy Chris Chandler.

Bears (6-8) at Rams (12-2)

Line: Rams by 10.

Last meeting: Rams won 20-12 at Soldier Field on Nov. 8, 1998.

Key stats: It's Rams' No. 1 offense vs. Bears' No. 29 defense.

Worth watching: Rams' Kurt Warner leads NFL in passing and has 36 touchdown passes -- only Dan Marino has thrown 40 in a season. Bears rookie Cade McNown looks for an encore of his four-TD pass performance last week -- not likely against this defense.

Outlook: St. Louis has clinched homefield advantage through NFC playoffs, and is just trying to stay sharp for its first playoff game the weekend of Jan. 15-16. Rams starters not likely to play the whole game, giving the Bears a shot.

Bengals (4-10) at Ravens (7-7)

Line: Ravens by 7.

Last meeting: Ravens won 34-31 at Cincinnati on Nov. 21.

Key stats: Cincinnati is 9-4 in December under coach Bruce Coslet.

Worth watching: In the last three games, Bengals' Corey Dillon has rushed for 445 yards (5.9 avg.) and three touchdowns. Ravens quarterback Tony Banks has thrown 14 touchdown passes in last five games.

Outlook: These teams aren't heading for the playoffs but they're finishing strong -- they've both won three straight. Bengals have scored 44 points in each of their last two games, but Baltimore's defense won't let that happen.

Raiders (7-7) at Chargers (6-8)

Line: Raiders by 3.

Last meeting: Raiders won 28-9 at Oakland on Nov. 14.

Key stats: Raiders have beaten Chargers five of last six.

Worth watching: Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon has thrown 12 touchdown passes vs. five interceptions in the last six games. Tight end Freddie Jones leads Chargers with 50 receptions.

Outlook: Oakland likely to wind up being one of the best teams not in the playoffs. Raiders' No. 8 defense should have little problem with Chargers.

There are no comments - be the first to comment