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Nov 19, 2002 8:17 AM

   The NFL continues to be filled with surprises on a weekly basis. The hottest team in the league entering last week, Green Bay, was upset on the road in Minnesota, just further reinforcing the thought that there are no dominant teams.

   Several teams are now challenged by quarterback injuries that occurred last weekend. Three starting quarterbacks on contending teams were knocked out of their games and may be lost for quite some time.

   Pittsburgh lost Tommy Maddox. Denver lost Brian Griese. And perhaps the most significant loss of all occurred in Philadelphia when Donovan McNabb was lost for possibly two months after fracturing his ankle. McNabb actually played most of last week’s game against Arizona with the fracture but the extent of the injury was learned following the contest.

   Philadelphia’s situation is most precarious because of the dropoff from McNabb to his backup, Koy Detmer. Denver’s quarterbacking situation is in capable hands with veteran Steve Beuerlein, who almost replaced Griese earlier this season. Pittsburgh will return to Kordell Stewart, who began the season as the Steelers’ starting signal caller.

   Only four of this week’s 16 games are divisional contests. Here’s a preview.

   Vikings (+7½) at Patriots (47): Minnesota had its usual strong home game last week against Green Bay but still gave up a comfortable lead before scoring the final 10 points. The Patriots return home following a rough three game road trip. The offenses are comparable but New England has a huge edge on defense. NEW ENGLAND.

   Titans (-2) at Ravens (37): Tennessee is in playoff contention tied atop the AFC South while Baltimore needs to win to keep hopes alive for a third straight playoff berth. The Ravens have won three of their last four home games. Tennessee has defensive weaknesses that can be exploited. BALTIMORE.

   Falcons (-3) at Carolina (37½): Atlanta has five wins and a tie in its last six games. Two of their three losses this season were by one and three points. Carolina is showing signs of fatigue. The defense spends too much time on the field due to an ineffective offense. The Falcons are very much a factor in both the divisional and NFC Wild Card races. ATLANTA.

   Lions at Bears (-3½, no total): Detroit continues to struggle defensively as its offense ranks near the bottom of the league. The Lions must get ready to play in just four days on Thanksgiving. Neither Detroit nor Chicago has the kind of offensive consistency to complete drives. UNDER.

   Jaguars (-2½) at Dallas (35½): Jacksonville rarely wins impressively but is 5-5 and has three of its next four games at home. Dallas has struggled all season on offense, scoring more than 17 points just once in 10 games. Jacksonville has more weapons, especially at QB. JACKSONVILLE.

   Chargers (+3) at Dolphins (37): This excellent matchup features two of the top rushing offenses against two of the best run-stoppers. The Chargers are off that overtime win over San Francisco and have home games against Denver and Oakland on deck. These teams could meet again in the playoffs. Defense often controls the game when two very good teams meet. UNDER.

   Browns at Saints (-6, no total): An injury to New Orleans RB Deuce McAllister keeps this game off the boards as the week began. Cleveland got a hard fought win in Cincinnati last week when the defense made some key goal line stands. The Saints were held in check in Atlanta by the underrated Falcons. New Orleans has too much speed for the Browns, which will be accentuated by the artificial surface. NEW ORLEANS.

   Bills (+3) at Jets (47½): This is a rematch of that wild opening day game when the Jets won by returning the opening kickoff in overtime. Both teams are 5-5, one game behind Miami in the AFC East. Each has played better defense in recent weeks. Buffalo seemingly has the edge on offense, although the Jets have been better at running the ball. QB Pennington continues to impress. NY JETS.

   Bengals (+10½) at Steelers (43½): The heart may finally have been taken out of the Bengals last week when they failed to win against Cleveland despite numerous opportunities. Pittsburgh returns to Kordell Stewart at QB and should have success running the ball against the Cincy defense. The Bengals lost at home to Pittsburgh last month, 34-7. A focused effort by Pittsburgh is expected and that means trouble for Cincy. PITTSBURGH.

   Packers (+3) at Bucs (39): Green Bay was due for a flat effort at Minnesota after a fine 8-1 start. The Packers face former division rival Tampa Bay, with both teams standing 8-2. The Bucs have won the last four at home against the Packers and have the league’s best defense. Look for a better effort from Brett Favre and keep an eye on his antics with Tampa Bay’s Warren Sapp. GREEN BAY.

   Chiefs (-3) at Seahawks (45): Kansas City’s defense has allowed just 43 points in its last three games after yielding 230 points in the first seven. But the offense has declined, managing just 50 in those three games. The Chiefs should be able to run the ball against Seattle’s porous rush defense. Seattle’s offense has been a constant concern. UNDER.

   Raiders (-7) at Cards (44): Oakland has played two solid games back to back following a four-game skid. Arizona is heading rapidly in the opposite direction. The Cards are very shallow and injuries are taking a toll. Oakland, though aging, still has big time performers on offense and capable of getting out to a lead. Arizona can’t keep pace with the Raiders. OAKLAND.

   Rams (-5) at Redskins (no total): The Rams had a chance to even their record Monday night against Chicago following a 0-5 start. Despite injuries to QB Kurt Warner and RB Marshall Faulk, St Louis is still a team to be feared. Washington’s defense continues to show improvement each week, while the offense remains inconsistent. Weather may be a factor. UNDER.

   NY Giants (-5½) at Texans (34): The Giants continue to have success moving the ball but struggle inside the opponents’ 20. Houston continues to play hard, especially on defense. The Giants are very much in the playoff race, especially with McNabb out at Philly. NY GIANTS.

   Colts at Broncos (-7, no total): The uncertain status of Denver QB Brian Griese kept this game off the board early. Backup Steve Beuerlein is quite capable. The Indianapolis defense is continuing to improve as Coach Tony Dungy’s overall conservative philosophy takes hold. UNDER.

   Eagles (-7) at Niners (38): The loss of Donovan McNabb should cause the Philadelphia offense to decline and place a greater burden on its fine defense to keep them in games. The 49ers are relying as much on defense and ball control as in their passing game. UNDER 37.

   Last week: 6-9.

   Season: 86-57-2.