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THIS SEASON'S NFL SPORTS THAT RETRO LOOK

Who turned back the clock?

Take a look at the National Football League standings and you'd thing that pro football is in a time warp. Judging by who's leading most of the divisions, you'd think you're back in the '70s or '80s.

The Steelers are in first place at 4-1? Followed by the Browns? The Steel Curtain and Otto Graham? What happened to Baltimore, Tennessee and Jacksonville?

The Bears are 4-1 and leading the NFC Central getting ready for a showdown with the 4-1 49ers. Just like those old Ditka-Walsh matchups.

Oakland sits atop the AFC West, getting ready for a big game against the NFC East leading Eagles. A rematch of Super Bowl XV?

This NFL season gets wackier and wackier. Supposed AFC Super Bowl contenders Denver, Indianapolis and Tennessee are a combined 7-9. Defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore is 3-3 with two of the losses coming within the division.

There are 11 weeks left in the regular season, so things could get back to normal before it's over. Don't count on it, though.

Game of the Day

Saints (3-2) at Rams (6-0)
TV: Ch. 29, 1 p.m.

The line: Rams favored by 12 1/2 points.

The scoop: It's too early to talk about 16-0, but only the Saints (3-2) and 49ers (4-1) have winning records of the seven opponents the Rams have left on their schedule. New Orleans was the last team to defeat the Rams in the Dome at America's Center, 31-24 last Nov. 26. St. Louis defeated the Saints, 26-21, in New Orleans the final week of the regular season but the Saints upset St. Louis, 31-28, in the NFC wild-card round the next week. Trung Canidate, who had a big day against the Jets last week, figures to start at RB again in place of Marshall Faulk.

Outlook: Rams are rolling but the Saints have the power to keep it close. St. Louis, 35-27.

Top Attractions

49ers (4-1) at Bears (4-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bears by 2.

The scoop: Who knew? Who could have forecast that these teams would meet in a midseason showdown? The Niners are third in the NFL in total offense. Defense and rookie RB Anthony Thomas are carrying Chicago. The Bears have allowed the fewest points (43). There's a lot of emotion on Bears' side. The Monsters of the Midway were embarrassed by Terrell Owens' 20-catch game against them last December in San Francisco in a 17-0 49ers win. Chicago is 2-0 at home and 5-1 in the last six. SF is 2-0 on the road this season.

Outlook: Niners, No. 2 in the league in offense, can move the ball on anybody. San Francisco, 17-14.
Raiders (4-1) at Eagles (3-2)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Raiders by 2.

The scoop: Raiders are coming off a bye week. Eagles are coming off an emotional Monday Night victory over arch-rival Giants. Doesn't seem fair. QB Rich Gannon of Oakland returns to his hometown (St. Joseph's Prep) as the top-ranked passer in the AFC (95.8). He will be facing the fourth-ranked defense in the league.

Outlook: Although you must beware of a home underdog, Eagles may be a bit too spent to hold off the visiting Raiders. Oakland, 21-17.
Titans (2-3) at Steelers (4-1)
Kickoff: Ch. 7, Monday, 9 p.m. The line: Steelers by 3 The scoop: Nobody has much respect for the Steelers, but they've won their last four and may not go away in the AFC Central race. Tennessee has won the last seven games in the series, but last year's games were decided by three points, then two points in the last 1:25. RB Jerome Bettis and backup Amos Zeroue are 1-2 in the league in rushing average (5.9 and 5.7). Outlook Steelers' "Bus" is rolling. Pittsburgh 17-10.

Best of the Rest

Bills (1-4) at Chargers (4-2)

TV: Ch. 4, 4 p.m.

The line: Chargers by 7.

The scoop: Bills have beaten the Bolts only three times (1980, 1981, 2000) in 14 games since the 1965 AFL championship game.

Outlook: With history and Doug Flutie against them, Bills have an uphill fight. San Diego, 24-21.

Dolphins (3-2) Seahawks (3-2)
Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Dolphins by 2.

The scoop: Both teams coming off a bye week. Dolphins still trying shake off second-half collapse at the Jets. Seahawks have won last two with Trent Dilfer at the controls. Seattle's No. 4 run defense faces Miami's

See Playbook Page C13
Playbook: Seahawks' defense can keep Dolphins on the run
Continued from Page C11
No. 7 rushing offense.

Outlook: Last time Dolphins visited the Pacific Northwest in the regular season (1992), they pulled out a 19-17 win on a Dan Marino-to-Freddie Banks pass. Both are gone. Seahawks, 17-10.
Jets (3-3) at Panthers (1-5)
TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Jets by 2 1/2

The scoop: Where would the Jets be without a plus-16 turnover ratio? Ted Cottrell's defensive unit ranks an embarrassing 31st out of 31 teams. Carolina has lost last five.

Outlook: Tough to figure. Jets are up and down. Carolina is weak on both sides of the ball. Panthers in an ugly 31-27 game.
Jaguars (2-3) at Ravens (3-3)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Ravens by 7 1/2

The scoop: Jaguars were exposed by the Bills last week and now they run into an angry Ravens team. Baltimore shooting for a seventh straight home victory.

Outlook: Even if Elvis Grbac does not play, Ravens will shut down the Jags, 17-3.
Vikings (3-3) at Buccaneers (2-3)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Buccaneers by 3

The scoop: Last time teams met in Tampa, Bucs routed previously unbeaten Vikings, 41-13, as Shaun King (remember him?) threw four TD passes. Loser of this one might bow out of a realistic shot at NFC Central title and perhaps the wild-card race, too.

Outlook: Bucs are one of the season's big disappointments. Vikings may be coming back to life. Minnesota, 28-21.
Patriots (3-3) at Broncos (3-3)
Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Broncos by 7

The scoop: Patriots won at Mile High last year, their first win in Denver since 1968, and are coming off a road rout of the overrated Colts. Broncos back home after road losses at Seattle and San Diego. Pats QB phenom Tom Brady hasn't thrown an interception in 134 passing attempts. Denver DB Deltha O'Neal picked off four in one game a few weeks ago.

Outlook: Improving New England hangs tough but bows, 31-24.
Cardinals (2-3) at Cowboys (1-4)
Kickoff: 1:05 p.m.

The line: Cardinals by 3

The scoop: Cardinals haven't won in the regular season at Texas Stadium since 1989. Eight players have scored touchdowns for Arizona. Dallas RB Emmitt Smith needs 7 rushing yards to go over 2,000 against Cardinals. That's a career in itself.

Outlook: Believe it or not, Cards are improving. Arizona, 19-16.
Giants (3-3) at Redskins (1-5)
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Giants by 7 1/2

The scoop: Defending NFC champion New York Giants are 3-3 after one-point losses to the Rams and Eagles. The Giants' offense looks sick, 22nd in the league.

Outlook: Redskins come up with best effort against flat Giants. New York, 14-10.

Dog of the Day

Bengals (3-3) at Lions (0-5)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Lions by 3

The scoop: Rookie head coach Marty Mornhinweg is still winless, but there's nothing wrong with his West Coast offense. Lions have rolled up 820 yards in offense in their two most recent losses while quarterback-by-default Charlie Batch posted a 111.7 rating (67.5 completion rate, 6 TDs, 1 INT).

Outlook: Lions break through for 35-21 victory.
e-mail: mnorthrop@buffnews.com