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Seven division races have top spot up for grabs

They say December is when champions are made in the National Football League, and eight of the 15 games left on the Week 15 schedule could have a bearing on first place in seven of the eight divisions.

The only division lead that could not be affected by today's outcomes is in the AFC East, where New England owns a two-game margin over the New York Jets.

There definitely will be a new leader in the NFC East, depending on the result of Philadelphia's game at the New York Giants in New Meadowlands Stadium.

In all the other divisions, there is the potential for a first-place tie depending on the outcomes.

Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Kansas City in the AFC and Chicago and Atlanta in the NFC will be trying to protect slim leads. St. Louis and Seattle are knotted in the NFC West and that tie could be broken or the teams could fall to 6-8 and still be in first place.

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>Game of the day

Eagles (9-4) at Giants (9-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Giants (-3).

The scoop: Outcome will break the tie for first in NFC East. Eagles won first game, 27-17, when LeSean McCoy broke away on 50-yard run for decisive points. McCoy is coming off career-high 149-yard day in win over Cowboys last week. Eagles have taken NFL lead in total offense (402.8) while Giants are second to San Diego in total defense (281.1). Giants are first and Eagles second in rushing in NFC. Giants have won last three since loss in Philadelphia while Eagles were going 2-1.

Outlook: Giants' power versus Eagles' speed. In cold and wind of Meadowlands, power wins. Giants, 27-21.

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>Top attractions

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

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Colts (-5).

The scoop: Win by Jaguars would clinch division since they would own 2-0 sweep of Colts. Jacksonville took first game, 31-28, at home. Peyton Manning of Colts leads league in passing yards (4,028), but has 15 INTs. Suspect Indy run defense must deal with RB Maurice Jones-Drew of Jaguars, who is second in league in rushing (1,278) and is looking for seventh 100-yard game in a row.

Outlook: Six of Colts' games decided by three or fewer points (2-4). Jaguars, 34-31.

Jets (9-4) at Steelers (10-3)

TV: Ch. 4, 4 p.m.

The line: Steelers (-5 1/2 ).

The scoop: Jets have never won in Pittsburgh. Never. Steelers lead all-time series, 16-3, including postseason (1-0). Jets haven't scored an offensive touchdown since Thanksgiving. Only Steelers' TDs against Bengals last week came on interception returns.

Outlook: Does this bunch of Jets look like it has the gumption for breakthrough win in Pittsburgh? Answer seems obvious, but they should make it a defensive struggle. Steelers, 15-10.

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

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Ravens (-1 1/2 ).

The scoop: Must game for Saints. They will probably need it to stay within a game of first-place Falcons in NFC South with game at Atlanta coming up next Sunday. Ravens are chasing Pittsburgh in AFC North and need this and lots of help to take division. Ravens blew another fourth-quarter lead at Houston last Monday night but won on interception return in OT.

Outlook: Celebrated Baltimore defense (No. 10 in league) has not stood up well against top offenses, and New Orleans has a top-flight offense. Saints, 30-21.

Chiefs (8-5) at Rams (6-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Rams (-3).

The scoop: Chiefs have home games against Titans and Raiders but need to get past this cross-state road test to protect one-game lead over Chargers in AFC West. K.C. has almost no chance of winning unless QB Matt Cassel returns from appendectomy. Chiefs' attack failed completely at San Diego last week with Brodie Croyle at QB. Rams have chance to take NFC West lead because Seattle, also 6-7, has home game against tough Falcons.

Outlook: Rams aren't bad defensively (13th). St. Louis, 20-17.

Packers (8-5) at Patriots (11-2)

TV: Ch. 2, 8:20 p.m.

The line: Patriots (-14).

The scoop: Green Bay will be without QB Aaron Rodgers (concussion), meaning Matt Flynn will start. Patriots are averaging 39 ppg for five games since shocking loss at Cleveland. With Rodgers sidelined for second half, Packers could not produce a touchdown in 7-3 loss at Detroit. Loss could endanger Green Bay playoff hopes with home games against Giants and Bears left. Patriots already have clinched playoff spot and would clinch division with a win and Jets loss.

Outlook: Pats looking more and more like '07 team. New England rolls up points against stingiest (points) NFL team. Pats, 31-14.

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>Best of the rest

Lions (3-10) at Buccaneers (8-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Buccaneers (-4 1/2 ).

The scoop: Bucs need win to stay in thick of NFC wild-card race. They may have opportunity to move in front of Green Bay and tie Giants-Eagles loser for final wild-card slot. Lions coming off 7-3 upset of Packers. Bucs are 5-3 in last eight but played tough in losses to Falcons (twice) and Ravens.

Outlook: Bucs are gritty. So are Lions. Tampa Bay, 17-13.

Falcons (11-2) at Seahawks (6-7)

TV: Ch. 29, 4 p.m.

The line: Falcons (-6).

The scoop: Atlanta makes long trip to Northwest and may be walking into trouble against unpredictable Seahawks. Seattle is tied for lead in NFC West despite record. Falcons must avoid looking ahead to Saints next week.

Outlook: Seven Atlanta wins by six or fewer. Falcons survive another close one, 28-24.

Broncos (3-10) at Raiders (6-7)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Raiders (-7 1/2 ).

The scoop: Denver has given up 376 points, most in league. Tough loss at Jacksonville just about ended Oakland's chances of winning AFC West.

Outlook: Raiders can put up the points (five games 28 or more). Oakland, 38-17.

Bears (9-4) at Vikings (5-8)

TV: ESPN, Monday, 7:30 p.m.

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bears (-7 1/2 ).

The scoop: Game will be played outdoors at new University of Minnesota stadium. Bears could blow it all down the stretch with Vikings, Jets and Packers left on schedule. Chicago was embarrassed by Tom Brady and Patriots in 36-7 loss last week. Rookie QB Joe Webb headed for first career start for Vikes with Tarvaris Jackson on IR and Brett Favre injured.

Outlook: Only Panthers and Dolphins have scored fewer points than Vikes, the NFL's No. 1 underachievers. Bears haven't won in Minny since 2006. Chicago, 20-13.

Browns (5-8) at Bengals (2-11)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bengals (-1).

The scoop: It was only a matter of time before T.O. got things stirred up in Cincinnati, but he didn't say anything thousands of others haven't already said about Bengals situation since Paul Brown died. Browns may get a lift with Colt McCoy back at QB again. Seven-point loss to Bills was Cleveland's largest margin of defeat since 28-10 setback in Pittsburgh on Oct. 17. Bengals' last win was at Carolina (20-7) on Sept. 26. Their 23-20 loss to Browns in first meeting started 10-game slide.

Outlook: Bengals only 1-5 at home. Browns haven't quit. Cleveland, 21-17.

Redskins (5-8) at Cowboys (4-9)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Cowboys (-7).

The scoop: Redskins won first meeting, 13-7. Cowboys are 3-2 since interim coach Jason Garrett replaced Wade Phillips, with losses to Saints and Eagles, both 30-27. Redskins' Donovan McNabb has been benched.

Outlook: 'Boys are better than trouble-laden, undermanned Redskins. Cowboys, 24-14.

Bills (3-10) at Dolphins (7-6)

TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Dolphins (-5 1/2 ).

The scoop: Miami is supposed to be running team with Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown. Actually, Bills (114.4 per game, 4.4 per attempt) have better run stats than Fish (106.2, 3.7).

Outlook: Wake disrupts Bills passing game. Miami, 20-17.

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

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Titans (-1 1/2 ).

The scoop: Two last-place teams in AFC South meet. Texans won first meeting, 20-0. Each team coming off a close loss -- Titans by two against Colts, Texans by six in OT against Ravens. Arian Foster of Texans leads NFL with 1,330 rushing yards.

Outlook: High-powered Texans erased 28-7 fourth-quarter deficit before losing in OT last week. Titans' attack can't keep up. Houston, 31-17.

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>Dog of the day

Cardinals (4-9) at Panthers (1-12)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Panthers (-2 1/2 ).

The scoop: Consider this: Carolina has scored just 15 touchdowns, 37 fewer than Patriots. Rookie John Skelton (Fordham) makes second start at QB for Cards. Rookie Jimmy Clausen will start for Carolina.

Outlook: Last best chance for Panthers to end their seven-game losing streak. Carolina, 17-10.

Last week's record: 7-8 (outright), 7-8 (versus spread).

Season record: 121-78 (outright), 108-95-5 (versus spread).

e-mail: mnorthrop@buffnews.com

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