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Postseason scramble is a tribute to parity

The NFL marked the 10th anniversary of the death of former Commissioner Pete Rozelle in the past week. If there's one word associated with Rozelle's tenure as commissioner, it's "parity." Pete must be smiling now with what he's seeing this season.

There's really not a lot of suspense left in the eight NFL divisional races, but the wild-card picture is truly wild. More than half the league has dreams of getting to the playoffs. After 14 weeks, only seven (Cleveland, Houston, Oakland, Washington, Detroit, Tampa Bay and Arizona) of the 32 teams had been mathematically eliminated from the postseason picture.

Consider this: 12 of the teams have either 7-6 or 6-7 records. At the 13-game mark a year ago, there were only two teams at 7-6 or 6-7. There is more parity than ever, it seems.

All 14 games on the schedule today and Monday night involve at least one team with some kind of playoff shot.

New England in the AFC East, Baltimore in the AFC North, Indianapolis in the AFC South and New Orleans in the NFC South can all clinch divisional titles this week.

The NFC East will not be decided this week.

Pete Rozelle would have loved it.

>Game of the day

Bengals (8-5) at Colts (10-3)

TV: ESPN, Monday, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Colts (-3)

The scoop: Should be most entertaining game of the weekend, and perhaps the entire season, and also will be meaningful. Colts have lost last two and are in danger of losing opening-round playoff bye. Bengals lead AFC wild-card race but have rough schedule -- Broncos on road next week and division rival Steelers at home the week after. Colts outlasted Bengals, 45-37, when they met last season in Cincinnati.

Outlook: Time for Colts to show some toughness. Indy, 49-45.

***

>Top attractions

Eagles (7-6) at Giants (7-6)

TV: Ch. 29, 4 p.m.

The line: Giants (-5 1/2 )

The scoop: Cowboys' loss to Saints revived divisional title hopes for both Giants and Eagles. Today's winner could still be in the NFC East race. . . . Giants won first meeting in OT, 30-24.

Outlook: Giants pull it out, 20-17.

*

Chiefs (7-6) at Chargers (11-2)

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

The line: Chargers (-8 1/2 )

The scoop: K.C. season went down the tubes after OT loss at Cleveland. Condition of owner Lamar Hunt added to gloomy atmosphere. Truth is Chiefs performed better with backup Damon Huard at QB. . . . Baltimore pass rush hounded Green last week. Shawne Merriman and Co. are just as relentless.

Outlook: Chargers keep rolling along, 33-17.

*

Jaguars (8-5) at Titans (6-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Jaguars (-3 1/2 )

The scoop: Titans' OT win at Houston last week on 39-yard Vince Young run was their fourth straight. Maybe Jeff Fisher should be AFC Coach of Year.

Outlook: Titans won't go easily. Jacksonville, 23-20.

*

Dolphins (6-7) at Bills (6-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bills (-1)

The scoop: Did Nick Saban spend the week listening to old J.P. Losman tapes? . . . Bills have won four of last five over 'Phins and the one they lost they gave away, blowing 23-3 fourth-quarter lead last year in Miami. . . . Bills have won four of last six with losses to Colts by one and Chargers by three.

Outlook: Welcome to our winter wonderland, Dolphins. Bills, 17-14.

*

Steelers (6-7) at Panthers (6-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Steelers (-3)

The scoop: Pittsburgh has won 10 of last 11 versus NFC. . . . Willie Parker was little-known third stringer when he helped Steelers beat the Bills in '04. He ran for 223 yards (a Steeler record) against Browns and needs just three more TDs to become franchise's all-time single-season leader. . . . Panthers, this season's most disappointing team, hoping QB Jake Delhomme (thumb) is able to play this week.

Outlook: Nobody circles the wagons like a Bill Cowher Pittsburgh team. Steelers, 20-10.

***

>Best of the rest

Jets (7-6) at Vikings (6-7)

TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Vikings (-3 1/2 )

The scoop: Vikings lead NFL in rushing defense and Jets have limited running game. Vikes have allowed 54 rushing yards a game. NFL record is 47.1 by 1942 Bears.

Outlook: Vikings think they have playoff shot and will shut down Jets' runs. Minnesota, 26-17.

*

Redskins (4-9) at Saints (9-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Saints (-9 1/2 )

The scoop: Containing Drew Brees, Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush becomes the problem for Washington defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to solve this week.

Outlook: Redskins have nothing to play for. Unless the Saints are still giddy after Dallas win, they have too many weapons. New Orleans, 27-14.

*

Broncos (7-6) at Cardinals (5-8)

Kickoff: 4 p.m.

The line: Broncos (-2 1/2 )

The scoop: Broncos have lost last four. First four-game losing streak since they started 1999 season 0-4. . . . Denver is 6-0-1 in all-time series against Cards. . . . Arizona rookie QB Matt Leinart has passed for 200 yards or more in seven of nine starts.

Outlook: Arizona has scored 87 points in last three. Cards, 31-24.

*

Browns (4-9) at Ravens (10-3)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Ravens (-11 1/2 )

The scoop: Ravens whupped Chiefs at Arrowhead last week. That's impressive. Baltimore, which has won six of last seven, may be AFC's best. They own victory over San Diego and have a shot at home-field advantage throughout playoffs.

Outlook: Romeo Crennel trying to keep things together in Cleveland. Ravens grind out 24-10 win.

*

Rams (5-8) at Raiders (2-11)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Raiders (-3)

The scoop: Raiders are favored. Huh? . . . Oakland averaging only 243.3 ypg total offense, just 146.2 passing.

Outlook: Raiders' defense is sixth in the league, but offense hasn't scored more than 14 points in last six games. Rams, 24-10.

*

Lions (2-11) at Green Bay (5-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Packers (-5)

The scoop: Brett Favre is 14-0 in his career versus Lions at Lambeau. He passed for 340 yards and three TDs when teams met at Ford Field in September. . . . Lions lost RB Kevin Jones with serious foot injury.

Outlook: Lions are hopeless. Packers, 31-17.

*

Texans (4-9) at Patriots (9-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Patriots (-11)

The scoop: New England lost two straight, both at home, last month, but it won't happen again. Expect Pats to come off the ropes after 21-0 embarrassment at Miami.

Outlook: Pats get riled up. New England, 31-7.

***

>Dog of the day

Buccaneers (3-10) at Bears (11-2)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bears (-13 1/2 )

The scoop: Bucs haven't scored a TD in last 11 quarters, have just 19 points total in last three games and have six games in which they failed to produce an offensive score.

Outlook: Chicago, 24-3.

e-mail: mnorthrop@buffnews.com

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