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NFL teams are making the turn for home in the second half of the regular-season schedule, and there are ties for the lead in two of the eight division races. Just one game separates first and second in three other divisions.

Only Pittsburgh in the AFC North, Philadelphia in the NFC East and Atlanta in the NFC South have more than a one-game cushion.

The division titles and playoff wild-card spots will go to the best closers. Who are they?

Last season, New England (8-0), St. Louis and Philadelphia (7-1), and Green Bay and Tennessee (6-2) had the best records in the second half. All made the playoffs. The Patriots and Eagles have picked up where they left off a year ago, each going 7-1 in the first half of 2004.

St. Louis (4-4), Green Bay (4-4) and Tennessee (3-5), however, have fallen off the pace and face uphill battles to return to the playoffs.

The Rams and Packers will be involved in today's two most crucial games on the schedule. St. Louis will be home to the first-place Seattle Seahawks (5-3) in an NFC West showdown. The second-place Packers will be home against the Minnesota Vikings (5-3) in the NFC Central.

St. Louis can tie for the division lead and gain a head-to-head sweep against Seattle by winning. The Rams erased a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter and won in overtime on a 52-yard Marc Bulger to pass Shaun McDonald at Seattle on Oct. 10.

Green Bay comes into the Minnesota game on a three-game winning roll after that embarrassing, 48-27 prime-time loss at home to Tennessee a month ago. The Vikings have dropped their last two -- at home to the New York Giants and at Indianapolis on Monday night.

The Pack-Vikes rematch in the Metrodome will be Christmas Eve.

The rest of the Week 10 schedule looks drab, but who could have predicted Chicago's shocking win at the Giants or Tampa Bay finding a way to win a shootout with Kansas City last week?

Game of the day

Vikings (5-3) at Packers (4-4)

TV: Ch. 29, 4 p.m.

The line: Packers by 4 points.

The scoop: In addition to having won their last three, the Packers have had two weeks to get ready for the Vikes because they were off last weekend. . . . The all-time series between the teams is even at 42-42-1. . . . Vikings will be without wide receiver Randy Moss (hamstring) again. . . . Packers quarterback Brett Favre is scheduled to make his 198th consecutive start.

Outlook: Everything points to Packer victory, 30-21.

Top attractions

Seahawks (5-3) at Rams (4-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Rams by 1.

The scoop: St. Louis has lost its last two -- at Miami and at home to New England. Rams still have as many offensive weapons as ever, but their defense is giving up almost as many yards (361) as the offense is gaining (371). . . . Seattle is 3-1 on the road after going 2-6 in foreign territory last season. . . . Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander is coming off a 160-yard rushing game against San Francisco.

Outlook: Rams and coach Mike Martz figure to crack tough Seattle defense, 27-20.
Ravens (5-3) at Jets (6-2)
TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Ravens by 1.

The scoop: Jets are wounded and hurting. Not the best time to run into Ray Lewis and the Ravens. . . . Quincy Carter gets start at QB for New York with Chad Pennington (rotator cuff) out. . . . Ed Reed's end zone interception and 106-yard return saved Baltimore from loss against Cleveland. . . . Jets are 4-0 at home. Ravens are 2-2 on the road.

Outlook: Bills burst Jets' bubble last week. Ravens, 23-16.
Steelers (7-1) at Browns (3-5)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Steelers by 3 1/2 .

The scoop: Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger are talk of NFL after consecutive wins over unbeaten Patriots and Eagles. Now they have to guard against a letdown against Browns. Cleveland must get over blowing chance to win at Baltimore last week. . . . Steelers lead the NFL in rushing yards (160.8) and rushing defense (81.0). . . . Browns' Phil Dawson is only NFL kicker not to miss this season. He has kicked a club-record 26 field goals in a row, 16 this season.

Outlook: Steelers just skate by on the road, 20-17.
Texans (4-4) at Colts (5-3)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Colts by 9.

The scoop: Indy is huge favorite, but even though it is 4-0 against Houston it usually doesn't have an easy time. . . . Houston is 2-0 in the AFC South with victories over Tennessee on the road and Jacksonville.

Outlook: Texans make Peyton Manning & Co. work for it. Indy, 27-23.

Best of the rest

Bills (3-5) at Patriots (7-1)
TV: ESPN, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Patriots by 7.

The scoop: Big test of road worthiness of the Bills, who have only 30 points in their three away games (0-3). . . . Buffalo has won all three games Willis McGahee has started.

Outlook: McGahee sets needed tone for toughness on the road. Bills hang in but lose, 24-21.
Eagles (7-1) at Cowboys (3-5)
TV: Ch. 7, Monday, 9 p.m.

The line: Eagles by 6 1/2 .

The scoop: Cowboys had five turnovers (three Vinny Testaverde INTs) in 26-3 loss at Cincinnati last week. Philadelphia managed only 113 yards, second-lowest offensive total for any NFL team this season. . . . Terrell Owens? Averaged a terrific 7.6 yards for seven catches. Eagles ran only nine times for 23 yards. . . . Cowboys' 23-21 win over Eagles was key to their playoff season in 2003.

Outlook: Expect all-out effort by Dallas at home on MNF. Cowboys, 17-13.
Buccaneers (3-5) at Falcons (6-2)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Falcons by 3 1/2 .

The scoop: Bucs have won three of last four. Amazingly, they nearly matched K.C.'s offense last week while winning turnover battle, 3-0. Michael Pittman outgained Priest Holmes and the rest of the Chiefs RBs, 128-80. . . . Atlanta coming off bye week, following upset at Denver.

Outlook: Chucky Gruden's boys are coming on. Tampa Bay, 21-14.
Lions (4-4) at Jaguars (5-3)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Jaguars by 3 1/2 .

The scoop: Lions are last in league in rushing offense, averaging only 75 yards per game. Minimum of turnovers is keeping Detroit from sinking. . . . Third-year QB David Garrard (East Carolina) makes second career start for Jags.

Outlook: Garrard has had two weeks to get ready. Jacksonville, 17-10.
Chiefs (3-5) at Saints (3-5)
TV: 1 p.m.

The line: Chiefs by 3 1/2 .

The scoop: League-worst defense probably will cost Saints coach Jim Haslett his job. New Orleans is giving up 414.9 yards per game. With a healthy Priest Holmes, K.C. might roll up 600 yards. However, Holmes is doubtful with a knee injury. . . . On the other hand, K.C. defense is so bad, media there calls it the "Swiss Chiefs Defense."

Outlook: Saints look like soft touch for potent K.C. attack. Chiefs, 45-28.
Bears (3-5) at Titans (3-5)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Titans by 5 1/2 .

The scoop: Lackluster Bears have won as many games as Bills. Overcoming 14-0 deficit and winning on the road against high-flying Giants last week with rookie Craig Krenzel at QB was truly unbelievable. . . . Titans RB Chris Brown averaging healthy 4.9 yards per carry, and Derrick Mason leads NFL wide receivers with 52 catches. . . . RB Anthony Thomas made first start of season for Bears last week and ran for 110 yards.

Outlook: Bears are gritty but can't do it two weeks in a row. Rested Titans win, 24-10.
Bengals (3-5) at Redskins (3-5)
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Redskins by 3.

The scoop: Teams haven't played in Washington since 1985; last two meetings were in Cincinnati in 1991 and 1988. . . . Bengals QB Carson Palmer showing signs of coming into his own. . . . Bengals TE Matt Schobel, cousin of Bills DE Aaron Schobel, had 76-yard touchdown catch last week against Dallas, longest this season by an NFL tight end. . . . Redskins RB Clinton Portis on pace for club-record 1,620-yard season. . . . Redskins have not scored more than 18 points in any game.

Outlook: Bengals have too much firepower. Cincinnati, 20-10.
Giants (5-3) at Cardinals (3-5)
Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Giants by 2 1/2 .

The scoop: Giants blew winnable game and lost both starting DEs for season last week against Bears. . . . Cardinals have played only two home games (1-1). Emmitt Smith needs 17 yards to pass 18,000 career mark. . . . Giants have won last three on road.

Outlook: Cards playing respectable football. Arizona, 24-21.

Dog game of the day

Panthers (1-7) at 49ers (1-7)
Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: 49ers by 1.

The scoop: Panthers ran for only 37 yards (2.1 average) against Raiders last week. Carolina has lost six since Week Two win at Kansas City. . . . Niners' only win was in OT at home against Cardinals.

Outlook: Panthers have no offense. Niners, 24-9.


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