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Wild-card contenders off to the races

The wild-card races in the NFL probably will go down to the final day, but the eight division championships seem all but over going into today's games in Week 14.

The Chicago Bears already have clinched the NFC North and New England, Indianapolis and San Diego in the AFC and Seattle in the NFC can wrap up their divisions today.

The AFC wild-card races mainly involve five teams with 7-5 records -- the New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos.

In the NFC, the wild-card leaders are the four teams with 6-6 records -- the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons.

Game of the day

Saints (8-4) at Cowboys (8-4)

TV: Ch. 2, 8:15 p.m.

The line: Cowboys (-6 1/2 )

The scoop: You might say that the two brightest new faces in the NFL this season are Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and Saints running back Reggie Bush. Romo has led Dallas to five victories in six career starts. Bush is coming off a four-TD game against San Francisco, the first time the former Southern Cal star has really broken loose as a pro. . . . The Saints have won the last four games against Dallas. . . . The Saints lead the NFL in total offense (400.2 ypg). The Cowboys are allowing only 288.8.

Outlook: Romo and Dallas "D" combine to ground the Saints, 27-13.

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Top attractions

Broncos (7-5) at Chargers (10-2)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Chargers (-7 1/2 )

The scoop: If rookie Jay Cutler were not the starter for Denver, this would be the day's top matchup. In his first start against Seattle last Sunday night, Cutler clearly did not look ready to lead a Broncos playoff push. . . . San Diego can clinch the AFC West title with a win and a Kansas City loss.

Outlook: Bolts' pass rush will rattle Cutler. Chargers, 24-13.

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Giants (6-6) at Panthers (6-6)

TV: Ch. 29, 1 p.m.

The line: Panthers (-3)

The scoop: Each is trying to stay alive in playoff race after losses last week. Giants, who have dropped last four, have never beaten Carolina in three tries, including postseason. New York has not played in Charlotte since 1996, when Kerry Collins led Panthers to win.

Outlook: Bonehead plays and penalties have cost Giants last two weeks. They wake up today and pull out 17-14 win.

*

Colts (10-2) at Jaguars (7-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Colts (-1 1/2 )

The scoop: Colts can wrap up division with win, but usually have difficulty with Jags, who come off road win at Miami. Colts were upset at Tennessee last week and need a push to keep home-field advantage and first-round bye. . . . RB Fred Taylor of the Jaguars needs 48 yards for his sixth 1,000-yard season.

Outlook: Indy getting pushed. Colts, 28-17.

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Ravens (9-3) at Chiefs (7-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Chiefs (-3)

The scoop: OT loss at Cleveland slowed Chiefs' momentum. . . . K.C. RB Larry Johnson, who is second in league with 1,312 rushing yards, faces league's top-ranked defense (267.4, 75.8 versus run). . . . Johnson has 13 rushing TDs, second to Tomlinson's 23.

Outlook: Arrowhead noise helps Chiefs to 13-10 victory.

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Best of the rest

Bills (5-7) at Jets (7-5)

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

The line: Jets (-3 1/2 )

The scoop: Eric Mangini performing miracles with Jets team. Staying injury-free has helped. . . . New York took apart a Green Bay team last week that has mailed it in.

Outlook: Derailing Jets at Giants Stadium could make Bills' season. Buffalo, 20-17.

***

Raiders (2-10) at Bengals (7-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bengals (-10 1/2 )

The scoop: Raiders allowing only 275.8 ypg but offense is gaining only 245 ypg. . . . Bengals have won last three games and are still chasing Ravens in division.

Outlook: Raiders can keep it close with most anybody. Cincinnati, 17-7.

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Titans (5-7) at Texans (4-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Texans (-1)

The scoop: Surprising Tennessee looking for fourth win in row. Titans took 28-22 victory at home against Texans in first meeting. . . . Houston QB David Carr leads league with 69.1 completion percentage.

Outlook: Vince Young has big day in homecoming. Titans, 27-10.

*

Patriots (9-3) at Dolphins (5-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Patriots (-3 1/2 )

The scoop: Pats can clinch division with a win and Jets loss. . . . New England won first meeting between teams, 20-10, on Oct. 8. . . . Miami had four-game win streak snapped at home by Jaguars last week.

Outlook: 'Phins make it a fight. New England, 24-21.

*

Falcons (6-6) at Buccaneers (3-9)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Falcons (-3)

The scoop: Win at Washington kept Falcons alive for playoff spot. They own 17-6 home win over Bucs on Sept. 17. . . . Atlanta QB Michael Vick needs 40 yards to break Bobby Douglass' record for rushing yards by a quarterback (968).

Outlook: Bucs (254 ypg) have no offense. Atlanta, 17-6.

*

Eagles (6-6) at Redskins (4-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Eagles (-1)

The scoop: QB Jeff Garcia revived Eagles with his second-half performance in comeback win over Carolina on Monday night. Now Birds face the Deadskins, who have been in-and-out all season, mostly out. . . . Redskins QB Jason Campbell has five TD passes in first three NFL starts.

Outlook: Determined Eagles still know how to win. Philly, 31-21.

*

Seahawks (8-4) at Cardinals (3-9)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Seahawks (-3)

The scoop: A Seattle win and a San Francisco loss or tie gives NFC West title to the Seahawks. . . . Cards coming off upset at St. Louis and another strong game by rookie QB Matt Leinart. Arizona backup RB Marcel Shipp had only 21 yards in seven carries in win at St. Louis, but had three rushing TDs.

Outlook: Cards making late-season rally, but Seahawks won't be denied. Seattle, 30-17.

*

Packers (4-8) at 49ers (5-7)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: 49ers (-4 1/2 )

The scoop: Packers have had some shameful performances, particularly against Patriots and Jets at home, losing by combined 73-10. . . . Niners came up flat at New Orleans last week, ending their playoff push.

Outlook: Packers' hearts just not in it. Niners, 27-21.

*

Bears (10-2) at Rams (5-7)

TV: ESPN, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Bears (-6)

The scoop: Bears QB Rex Grossman and his 1.3 passer rating (6 of 19 for 34 yards, no TDs, 3 INTs) was talk of league despite victory over Vikings to clinch division title. . . . Bears coasted despite only 107 yards net total offense.

Outlook: Bears beat 'em up, 27-10.

***

Dog of the day

Vikings (5-7) at Lions (2-10)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Lions (-1 1/2 )

The scoop: Can't get any doggier than this NFC North matchup. . . . How bad are the Lions? They've lost 15 of last 17 against Minny-haha. . . . Brad Johnson looked so bad at Chicago last week (four INTs) that third-string rookie Tarvaris Jackson may get a start.

Outlook: Lions due. Detroit, 24-7.

e-mail: mnorthrop@buffnews.com

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