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Sunday Playbook / By Milt Northrop: Nearly every game has meaning

Divisional titles are clinched by the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos in the AFC, and another playoff berth is locked up in the NFC by the Arizona Cardinals, but the drama is far from over.

Twelve of the 13 games left on the Week 16 NFL schedule potentially will have an impact on division and wild-card playoff races as well as the seeding for postseason play.

The headliner? Take your pick. Is it Denver at Cincinnati? Indianapolis at Dallas? Atlanta at New Orleans? Kansas City at Pittsburgh?

When it’s all over, knowledge of the NFL’s tiebreaker rules may still be necessary.

A capsule look at what’s left of the Week 16 games:

Game of the week

Broncos (11-3) at Bengals (9-4-1)

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

The line: Broncos (-3).

The scoop: If Steelers and Browns lose Sunday, the AFC North title will be Cincinnati’s for the taking. Denver clinches first-round bye with a win. With shot at top seed on line, does Denver give ailing Peyton Manning some time off? ... Cincy’s last two home games were losses to rival Browns and Steelers. The bigger the home game, the worse Bengals seem to play.

Outlook: Bengals have more to play for. Cincinnati, 31-28.

Top attractions

Colts (10-4) at Cowboys (10-4)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Cowboys (-3½).

The scoop: Thanks to Eagles’ loss on Saturday, Dallas can wrap division with one more win. Eagles’ only hope is win at Giants next week and two Dallas losses. Then Philadelphia would get the title base on better record within division. ... Big question is whether NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray (broken hand) plays for Dallas. Murray leads NFL in rushing yards (1,687) and rushing TDs (11) while teammate Dez Bryant leads in receiving TDs (13) and QB Tony Romo is second in passer rating (110.4).

Outlook: Colts’ four-game win streak ends. Dallas, 35-28.

Chiefs (8-6) at Steelers (9-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Steelers (-3).

The scoop: Can’t remember a Pittsburgh team ever leading the NFL in total offense. It happened just once (1979). Ironically, Steelers’ offensive coordinator is Todd Haley, who was fired as KC coach in middle of 2011 season. Effectiveness of offense tells you what huge seasons QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell are having. Big Ben is second in league in passing yards (4,415), Brown leads in receptions (115) and receiving yards (1,498) and Bell leads AFC with 1,278 rushing yards. ... Pittsburgh wraps up playoff berth with a win while loss officially eliminates Chiefs. ... KC still looking for first TD by a wide receiver this season.

Outlook: Bryce Brown’s fumble killed the Bills and kept Kansas City’s season alive. Pittsburgh, 30-21.

Seahawks (10-4) at Cardinals (11-3)

TV: Ch. 2, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Seattle (-7½).

The scoop: Cardinals already in the playoffs, clinch NFC West and home field throughout the NFC playoffs with a win. Arizona down to third-string QB, Ryan Lindley. A win plus loss by Eagles, Lions or Packers puts Seattle in playoffs.

Outlook: Seattle leads league in total defense but Cardinals (14th) have allowed just two more points than Seahawks. Seattle win defensive struggle, 17-13.

Falcons (5-9) at Saints (6-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Saints (-6½).

The scoop: It’s a shame that winner of this game may be headed for playoffs while one of these five – Seahawks, Cowboys, Eagles, Lions or Packers – will stay home. New Orleans can wrap up NFC South with a win plus a loss by Carolina. ... Atlanta came from behind for 37-34 win when teams met in Week One. ... New Orleans coach Sean Payton (12-3) has owned Falcons.

Outlook: Falcons take it down to the wire. Saints, 34-31.

Best of the rest

Bills (8-6) at Raiders (2-12)

TV: Ch. 4, 4:25 p.m.

The line: Bills (-6½).

The scoop: Bills are 4-10 all-time against Raiders in Oakland including 50-21 loss in 1969 when ex-Bill Daryle Lamonica threw for six touchdowns – in the first half. Of course, Bills fans will always have 51-3. ... Raiders rookie Derek Carr has 14 starts at QB under his belt now. Four of his 18 TD passes have been in last two games. ... Home finale for Raiders, who have won their last two (Chiefs and 49ers) there. ... Oakland, last in league in offense, goes against Buffalo’s No. 5 defense but Bills are rather ineffective with the ball, too.

Outlook: Sebastian Janikowski never has kicked a game-winner against Bills. Today might be the day. Oakland, 20-17.

Browns (7-7) at Panthers (5-8-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Panthers (-4).

The scoop: Panthers need win to keep playoff hopes alive. ... Cam Newton is set to start for Carolina after missing last week with injuries from auto wreck. If for some reason he can’t, Derek Anderson will go. ... Johnny Manziel makes second start for Browns after horrific debut last week.

Outlook: Manziel can’t get Browns moving. Carolina, 23-14.

Lions (10-4) at Bears (5-9)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Lions (-8½).

The scoop: The Lions wrapped up a playoff spot because of Philadelphia’s loss to Washington and don’t have to worry about winning at Solidier Field to clinch a spot. ... Lions only 3-3 on road but two of losses were at Arizona and New England. ... Jimmy Clausen starts instead of Jay Cutler at QB for Bears, who have dropped last three, to Lions (34-17), Cowboys and Saints.

Outlook: Things so bad in Chicago, visiting Saints fan took team president’s seat before he was evicted. Rare Windy City victory for Detroit, 27-13.

Ravens (9-5) at Texans (7-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Ravens (-5).

The scoop: Ravens need a win and help to clinch playoff berth. Houston coach Bill O’Brien keeping starter at QB a secret. Psst. It’s Case Keenum, but don’t tell anybody. Bills need a Houston win here. Fat chance.

Outlook: J.J. Watt can work miracles, but there’s a limit. Bad teams don’t score a ton on Ravens. Baltimore, 27-10.

Vikings (6-8) at Dolphins (7-7)

TV: Ch. 29, 1 p.m.

The line: Dolphins (-6).

The scoop: Miami has lost its last two, sending Jim Harbaugh-to-South Beach rumors soaring. Vikings won two in a row at home before two-point loss in heroic effort at Detroit last week. ... Miami was in game for a half at New England last week before Pats exploded for 24 in third quarter.

Outlook: Dolphins can score at home. Miami, 30-20.

Patriots (11-3) at Jets (3-11)

TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Patriots (-10½).

The scoop: Patriots can clinch home field throughout AFC playoffs with a win and Denver loss. A win clinches first-round bye. Four of last seven between AFC East rivals were decided by three points or less. ... Jets edged Pats, 30-27, at MetLife last year and a blocked field goal saved New England in Foxborough in October. RB Chris Johnson, WR Percy Harvin and rookie TE Jace Amaro give Jets some explosiveness.

Outlook: Gang Green lets Rex go (assuming he’s out) with head high in his Meadowlands finale. New England, 30-24.

Packers (10-4) at Bucs (2-12)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Packers (-12).

The scoop: Green Bay needs win plus a loss by Eagles or Cowboys to wrap up playoff spot. ... Lovie Smith was 8-11 versus Green Bay as coach of Chicago Bears.

Outlook: Conventional wisdom is that Packers will be loaded for bear after poor outing against Bills, but Buccaneers and old NFC North foe Lovie hang in. Packers, 27-20.

Dog of the day

Giants (5-9) at Rams (6-8)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Rams (-6½).

The scoop: It’s the only game on the schedule not involving at least one team in playoffs or with some playoff hope. ... Giants have won last five in rivalry and Tom Coughlin is 3-1 against Rams. ... St. Louis has not allowed a touchdown in last three games. Four Arizona field goals defeated Rams in last outing, 12-6. ... Rams have fearsome front four but Giants have more sacks (51-36). ... St. Louis owns wins over Seahawks, 49ers and Broncos in brutal schedule.

Outlook: Rams close home schedule with squeaker. St. Louis, 17-14.

Last week’s results: 11-4 straight up; 8-6-1 versus spread.

Season’s record: 130-76-1 straight up; 92-113-2 versus spread.


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