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A day before the AFC Championship Game, Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair's toe still hurts.

OK, so McNair said there's no chance he'll miss today's AFC title game with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But he did miss Friday's practice in Nashville and was wearing a boot to protect his turf toe injury at the obligatory final press conference after the Titans arrived in Jacksonville.

"Steve is 100 percent in my eyes and his eyes as well," running back Eddie George said. "Any time you play 20 games in a season, nobody is totally healthy."

And nobody on the Tennessee side seemed particularly concerned about McNair's toe problems, which he's had off and on for at least two years.

In fact, last season, when the Titans -- then the Oilers -- beat the Jaguars here, 16-13, McNair wore a piece of hard plastic over his toes for protection during the game. He ended up scrambling for 81 yards and passing for 232 more.

Jaguars defensive tackle Gary Walker and linebacker Lonnie Marts have a little extra motivation today. Both are former Titans.

Walker signed with the Jaguars as a free agent and collected a career-high 10 sacks. Marts was waived right before training camp and claimed by the Jaguars. Playing middle linebacker for the first time, he was third on the team with 112 tackles.

"We're working twice as hard because we know this team beat us twice (this season)," Marts said.

Jaguars senior vice president Michael Huyghue has watched the salary cap and free agency slowly chip away at the one-time NFL dynasties.

He thinks he has the plan to keep Jacksonville from becoming part of that trend.

Huyghue, the Jaguars salary cap guru, bases his optimism on two things -- good long-term cap management and what the organization perceives as its fair treatment of veteran players.

In each of their last five years, the Jaguars have finished in the top-third of the league in cap room. To close this season, they're fifth, $957,000 below the league limit.

"When San Francisco was building a dynasty, they were doing things like signing Deion Sanders and doing artificial deals," Huyghue said. "We've never done that."

Huyghue believes the Jaguars have treated their players well enough to command loyalty when contracts expire.

Among those who will test that theory are defensive end Tony Brackens and cornerback Aaron Beasley, key players in Jacksonville's surge from 25th to fourth in the league in yardage allowed.

"I'm not looking to move anywhere," said Beasley, a four-year veteran. "I'm just looking for a fair deal."

Huyghue believes Brackens, in his fourth season, will accept $1 million less than the highest bidder to stay in Jacksonville, where the cost of living is relatively low and there is no state income tax. Brackens, who had 12 sacks, is expected to fetch up to $7 million per year.

St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil said free safety Keith Lyle, upgraded from questionable to probable Thursday, definitely will play in today's NFC Championship game.

Lyle, who missed eight games with a bruised nerve in his left shoulder-neck area, practiced and will play in nickel situations.

Kicker Jeff Wilkins didn't test his injured left knee, by design, but is expected to play.

Although the Tampa Bay Buccaneers began the season with high expectations, General Manager Rich McKay is a little surprised the team got to the NFC title game after a slow start.

"If you asked me after we were 3-4, I would say surprised because we were struggling," McKay said. "We still had the hard part of our schedule ahead of us, we still had some mountains to climb and we weren't playing very well."

To a man, the Buccaneers say the Rams' high-powered offense is impressive and poses the biggest challenge of the season for one of the NFL's best defenses. But they stress that their respect for the opposition shouldn't be mistaken for fear.

"I fear no man," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "When they make a man that runs off motor oil and gasoline, then I'll fear him."

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