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FIRST-QUARTER STANDINGS REFLECT A SEASON OF SURPRISES

Don't know if it was worth all the effort, but some demented bean-counter went to work using the league's tiebreaker formula and figured out who would qualify for the NFL playoffs if the postseason had begun after last weekend's games.

Here's what he came up with:

NFC: 1. St. Louis; 2. Green Bay; 3. New York Giants; 4. San Francisco; 5. Chicago; 6. New Orleans.

AFC: 1. Oakland; 2. Pittsburgh; 3. New York Jets; 4. Miami; 5. Cincinnati; 6. Seattle.

Notice, no Eagles, Buccaneers or Vikings in the NFC. In the AFC, where are the Colts, Broncos and Titans, not to mention the Super Bowl champion Ravens?

Such a projection this early in the season isn't worth the software needed to plot it all out, but it does underline one point: So far, it's been a season loaded with thrills and surprises.

The most attractive game on this week's schedule is the Monday night NFC East showdown between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.

Of the other 11 games, only four match teams with winning records. One of those battles finds the Chicago Bears (3-1) visiting the Cincinnati Bengals (3-2). Not exactly a stellar stuff.

Here's how the weekend's NFL games shape up:

Game of the Week

Eagles (2-2) at Giants (3-2)

TV: Ch. 7, Monday, 9 p.m.

The line: Giants favored by 3 points

The scoop: New York has won eight straight regular-season games against Philly, plus a playoff triumph last season. Giants QB Kerry Collins never has thrown an interception in five games against them. While Giants faced powerful Rams last week, the Eagles had a bye as they stewed over their loss to Arizona the week before. Eagles QB Donovan McNabb has thrown nine TD passes. Key matchup: DE Michael Strahan of the Giants vs. OT Jon Runyan of the Eagles.

Outlook: Eagles have fresher legs but Giants' defense owns the Birds. Big Blue, 24-10.

Top Attractions

Ravens (3-2) at Browns (3-2)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Ravens by 7 1/2

The scoop: Super Bowl champions got another wake-up call last week in loss at Green Bay. They should be ready for this one. Ravens, second in the AFC in both offense and defense, never have lost to the Browns. Baltimore QB Elvis Grbac will be making his first appearance in his hometown of Cleveland, where he attended St. Ignatius High. That should be worth something. Grbac leads the AFC with 1,206 passing yards.

Outlook: Cleveland fans still hate Art Modell, but Ravens win, 24-10.
Rams (5-0) at Jets (3-2)

TV: Ch. 29, 1 p.m.

The line: Rams by 7

The scoop: St. Louis got a healthy scare in one-point victory over Giants last week, while Jets came from 17-0 to top Miami. New York, which leads AFC East, is just starting to find itself. NFL's leading rusher, Curtis Martin, gives Jets shot at controlling tempo. If defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell can find a way to pressure Rams passer Kurt Warner, New York has a shot at upset.

Outlook: Expect superior effort from Jets in close loss, 28-24.
Packers (4-1) at Vikings (2-3)

TV: Ch. 29, 4:15 p.m.

The line: Packers by 3

The scoop: Vikings are 7-2 at home against Brett Favre and the Packers. Favre threw 12 INTs and only 8 TDs in those nine games. Viking QB Daunte Culpepper usually performs well against Green Bay. Packers are second in the NFL in defense (240 yards per game), but recent Green Bay-Minnesota games were shootouts (average of 49.5 points scored).

Outlook: Look for Packer letdown after supreme effort against Super Bowl-champion Ravens. Home underdogs, Vikings win it outright, 38-31.
Patriots (2-3) at Colts (2-2)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Colts by 10 1/2

The scoop: Indianapolis leads the NFL in total offensive yards (401.3) but is only in third place in its division. Colts may be too cute for their own good with all their offensive tricks. QB Peyton Manning is on pace to throw 36 interceptions. He's had four returned for touchdowns. Patriots upset Indy, 44-13, in QB Tom Brady's first start three weeks ago. New England has won nine of last 11 games in the series but the two losses were in most recent visits to RCA Dome.

Outlook: Another Belichick defensive masterpiece holds Colts to 27-20 victory.

Best of the Rest

Broncos (3-2) at Chargers (3-2)

TV: Ch. 4, 4:05 p.m.

The line: Broncos by 3

The scoop: Broncos scored 30 points or more in four of last five trips to San Diego, but QB Brian Griese (shoulder) is hurting and may be hindered. This will be Doug Flutie's first start against Denver. Flutie is 20-3 in home starts in the NFL, 2-0 this season. Denver has AFC's No. 2 rushing offense (128.0). San Diego is second in the conference in rushing defense (76.4). Rookie RB LaDainian Tomlinson of the Chargers is second in the league with 486 rushing yards.

Outlook: After two straight trips East, Chargers relax at home and surprise Broncos, 31-27.
Falcons (2-3) at Saints (3-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Saints by 7 1/2

The scoop: New Orleans is a solid favorite but Atlanta won five in a row at the Superdome before last year's 23-7 loss. In six starts against the Saints for Atlanta, QB Chris Chandler has a 110.6 passer rating with nine touchdowns and five interceptions. Genealogy note: Saints QB Aaron Brooks and Falcons rookie backup QB Michael Vick are cousins.

Outlook: Falcons haven't met a team as tough as the Saints so it's hard to judge them. Give them benefit of the doubt. Saints work hard for 20-14 win.
Bears (3-1) at Bengals (3-2)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bengals by 1

The scoop: Both teams enjoying rare air. Chicago is off to its best start since 1991, while the Bengals are going for their sixth straight home victory. Dick Jauron's Chicago team has evolved into a solid club which plays tough defense (league-low 43 points allowed in four games) and makes few mistakes on offense. Bears have allowed league-low two sacks and are plus-2 on turnovers. Bengals have won five of last six when Corey Dillon runs for 100 or more.

Outlook: Bengals have gotten to the point where the home-field advantage actually helps. Cincinnati, 17-14.
Steelers (3-1) at Buccaneers (2-2)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Buccaneers by 5

The scoop: Pittsburgh is No. 1 in the NFL in defense. Bucs are fifth in the NFC. Tampa Bay fought back to force overtime in loss at Tennessee last week. Now it faces another physical battle with Steelers.

Outlook: Look who's leading the AFC Central. Tougher-than-you-think Steelers make it close, but Bucs win, 17-13.
Titans (1-3) at Lions (0-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Titans by 6

The scoop: Tennessee will be looking for its ninth straight regular-season victory over the NFC, but Lions are overdue for some breaks. RB James Stewart is averaging 5.2 yards a carry. QB Charlie Batch completed 31 of 41 for 345 yards with no interceptions in loss to Vikes last week.

Outlook: Titans squeak by, 21-20.
Panthers (1-4) at Redskins (0-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Panthers by 3 1/2

The scoop: Carolina is winless in five games against Washington, so this is another chance for the Redskins to notch first 2001 victory. They let Dallas game slip away Monday. If he loses this one, it could be adios for 'Skins coach Marty Schottenheimer.

Outlook: Redskins aren't weak enough to go 0-16. Washington, 27-21.

Dog of the Day

Chiefs (1-4) at Cardinals (1-3)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Chiefs by 2

The scoop: Cards better get to Chiefs early because KC defense has allowed only 33 points in second half. KC is 19-7 (.731) vs. NFC since 1995.

Outlook: Arizona gets steady game from Jake Plummer for 17-10 win.

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