Jam up!

Dec 23, 2003 7:12 AM

Heading to the final week of the regular season in the NFL, we know nine of the dozen teams making the playoffs.

New England, Kansas City, Denver, Indianapolis and Tennessee have already clinched playoff spots in the AFC. Only the winner of the AFC North (Baltimore or Cincinnati) has still to be decided. The Patriots and Chiefs each wrapped up opening round byes.

St. Louis, Philadelphia, Dallas and Carolina are in from the NFC. The winner of the NFC North between Minnesota and Green Bay will be determined this weekend. The runner up in the division is in contention with Seattle for a wild card berth. The Rams own a first round bye and a win this week gives them the top overall NFC seed. The winner of the NFC East (Philadelphia or Dallas) will earn the other first-round bye.

It’s possible that four teams can finish with perfect 8-0 home records. Seattle and St. Louis have already completed their home schedules while New England and Kansas City are both expected to finish unbeaten at home this week.

On the road, Detroit and Arizona have already completed winless seasons. Jacksonville and Oakland can make it a quartet with losses at Atlanta and San Diego respectively. San Francisco was just 1-7. Chicago and Seattle can match the 49ers this week.

Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco will each wind up with at least six home wins and six road losses. Is this parity or mediocrity?

The final week features three Saturday games in addition to 13 on Sunday. There is no Monday night contest.

Bills (+8½) at Patriots (34): Buffalo was absolutely miserable in favorable conditions last week in the home finale against Miami. The Bills have been hideous on offense and have little to play for. New England is looking for its 12th straight win. Buffalo won the season opener, 31-0. Revenge will be sweet. PATRIOTS.

Seahawks (NL) at 49ers: San Francisco showed character last week in an overtime win at Philadelphia but lost WR Terrell Owens. Seattle’s only road win came in Arizona in September. With a wild card spot at stake the Seahawks should play with greater intensity than the Niners. The 49ers are better than their record, but this still is a disappointing season. SEAHAWKS.

Eagles (—7) at Redskins (41): Washington showed surprising spunk in losing at the gun last week in Chicago. Philadelphia’s nine game win streak ended against San Francisco, making this a must win to clinch the NFC East. The Philly defense continues to be torched by opposing runners but Washington does not have a strong ground game. This series is known for closely decided games. Philly won earlier this year by 2. REDSKINS.

Rams (—10) at Lions (46): The Rams have won 14 in a row at home. Detroit’s cover at Carolina last week is misleading, needing a punt return and fumble recovery and scoring run for the only points. The offense has been anemic and the fast surface will be a plus for the Rams. Although the Lions may play with some intensity, the Rams are playing for larger stakes. RAMS.

Browns (+7½) at Bengals (41): The Bengals need a win and a Baltimore loss Sunday night to win the AFC North and make the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. Two weeks ago Cleveland put forth a strong effort in their OT loss at Denver. Last week the defense was riddled by the running of Baltimore’s Jamal Lewis. Now they must contend with Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson. BENGALS.

Bucs (+6½) at Titans (41): Tennessee staged a last minute rally to win at Houston last week behind QB Steve McNair and clinched a playoff spot. Tampa Bay blew any slim chances they had for the playoffs in last week’s loss to Atlanta. The Titans may rest regulars with the Colts likely winners at Houston. Tampa Bay’s inefficiency on offense keeps this low scoring. UNDER.

Jaguars (+3) at Falcons (43½): The Jaguars survived one of the most amazing plays in NFL history last week against New Orleans to get their fifth win of the season, all at home. Atlanta played with surprising intensity in winning at Tampa Bay even as new GM Rich McKay begins the search for a new head coach. There is reason to believe the Falcons will want to build momentum for next season and leave a positive impression on the new GM. FALCONS.

Jets (+4) at Dolphins (37½): The Fish have played much better on the road than at home. Miami cannot make the playoffs so this figures to be coach Dave Wannstedt’s final game. The Jets arguably outplayed New England in last week’s home loss but five interceptions tossed by QB Chad Pennington was their undoing. Wannstedt has been popular with his players who figure to be highly motivated to play well in his last game. Defense has been the Jets strength. UNDER.

Cowboys (—2½) at Saints (39): Dallas could win the NFC East with a win and a Philadelphia loss. New Orleans has missed the playoffs and this could be coach Jim Haslett’s final game. If Philadelphia wins Saturday, the Cowboys likely would rest the regulars and gear for hosting a wild card game next week. Expect another solid effort from Dallas’ league leading defense. UNDER.

Bears (+10) at Chiefs (45): Kansas City has already clinched an opening bye and depending on what New England did on Saturday could still gain the top overall AFC seed. That bye is much needed given the weakened state of the defense. We are likely to see the starters play at least the first half. Chicago was tested in its win over Washington last week. A victory assures an 8-8 season. KC’s porous defense likely keeps the Bears in this contest. OVER.

Colts (—7) at Texans (44½): The Colts need to win here, or hope for Tennessee to lose at Tampa Bay to win the AFC North. Expect the Colts to be motivated to get out to an early lead and perhaps rest their starters in the second half. Houston continues to play hard but just falls short. The Texans will be loose, which could turn this game into a shootout. OVER.

Panthers (NL) at Giants: This will be Giants’ coach Jim Fassel’s final game and we can expect the players to try and send him out a winner. Carolina, despite the 10-5 record, has actually scored only eight points more than its defense has allowed. The Panthers seem to win ugly, so it’s likely they will rest their regulars with a wild card home game on deck next week. GIANTS.

Vikings (—7½) at Cards (45): Arizona coach Dave McGinniss is rumored to be out following this game. Minnesota had a big win last week and has a reason to play. Arizona has played very good football at home following a bad loss in the home opener. Expect an inspired effort here playing with nothing on the line. ARIZONA.

Broncos (NL) at Packers: Denver’s win at Indianapolis on Sunday night clinched a wild card berth. The game has meaning for Green Bay with Minnesota playing simultaneously. The Packers are likely to give the better effort, although both offenses are likely to play it conservatively. UNDER.

Raiders (NL) at Chargers: Both teams have had disappointing seasons after being pegged for making the playoffs back in August. Oakland has relied on a third string QB much of the season but the problems have persisted since Week 1. San Diego has been victimized by a rebuilding defense that never gelled following major personnel losses from last season. San Diego’s stronger running game should be the difference. CHARGERS.

Steelers (+7) at Ravens (39): Pittsburgh put much energy into last week’s win over San Diego and will just be playing out the season. Baltimore has won four of the last five. The line is likely to be adjusted based on the Cincinnati result. Regardless of whether or not this game has meaning for the Ravens, you can expect the defense to pay hard. Figures to be a rushing game. UNDER.