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November 16, 1986|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

GAME OF THE DAY Kansas City (7-3) at Denver (8-2), 1 p.m. For first place in the AFC West. The Chiefs haven't looked this good this late in the season for 15 years, when they last reached the playoffs. Remember Hank Stram and "the offense of the '70s"? They're still using it. OK, they've won four straight since Bill Kenney took over at quarterback, but look who they've played: Tampa Bay, Seattle and San Diego twice. The Broncos play far better defense than any of those. The Chargers proved the Broncos mortal at Mile High, and quarterback John Elway will have to regenerate an offense against the Chiefs' active secondary, which has 19 interceptions. Coach Dan Reeves has cooled the extra-curricular stuff like videos and commercials.

OTHER AFC GAMES Houston (2-8) at Pittsburgh (3-7), 10 a.m. For last place in the AFC Central. It's questionable whether quarterback Warren Moon and the Oiler offense that outscored Cincinnati with 32 and 28 point-games, can string together a second strong effort in a row--especially in Three Rivers, where the uncontrolled environment will be much colder than the Astrodome's 70 degrees. The Steelers will rub runners Walter Abercrombie and Earnest Jackson together to keep warm.

Seattle (5-5) at Cincinnati (6-4), 10 a.m. The Bengals, counting on the Raiders to handle Cleveland, can slip right back into a first-place tie in the AFC Central if quarterback Boomer Esiason can ignore his differences with Coach Sam Wyche, avoid another sideline tantrum and just work on the Seahawks' sloppy secondary. The Seahawks, with nothing to lose after three straight defeats, will switch back to quarterback Dave Krieg.

Indianapolis (0-10) at New York Jets (9-1), 1 p.m. A club-record eight straight wins have left the Jets in position to rest their wounded and coast to the AFC East title, especially if the Rams help by knocking off New England. Should be little more than a workout for the NFL's hottest quarterback, Ken O'Brien. The Jets' Al Toon, the NFL's top receiver, was hospitalized with the flu early in the week but will play.

Miami (4-6) at Buffalo (3-7), 10 a.m. For the Dolphins, the temperature will plunge about 65 degrees, like their fading fortunes. The weather could kill their single strength--Dan Marino's passing--and their daunted defense should be easy pickings for the Bills' fired-up offense, now freed from Hank Bullough's bondage.

NFC GAMES Chicago (8-2) at Atlanta (5-4-1), 10 a.m. The Falcons, a reeling 1-4-1 since a 4-0 start, can only count on the Bears' internal squabbling to give them an opening. Chicago Coach Mike Ditka is talking about dumping his malcontents, with the exception, of course, of the No. 1 malcontent, quarterback Jim McMahon. McMahon's shoulder is still too sore for him to play, but the Bears can run the ball all day at the Falcons and, with linebacker Mike Singletary back, have little to fear from the Falcons' Ram-like offense. The Bears have a big kicking edge, with Kevin Butler hitting 16 field goals in a row, while the Falcons have just lost Mick Luckhurst (back injury).

New York Giants (8-2) at Minnesota (6-4), 10 a.m. It's the start of a four-game grind--three on the road--against playoff contenders that will test the Giants' credentials. If pass-happy Minnesota quarterback Tommy Kramer can avoid linebacker Lawrence Taylor, the Vikings could pester the Giants' solid defense. Joe Morris is carrying the Giants' offense.

New Orleans (5-5) at St. Louis (2-8), 10 a.m. Is St. Louis ready for the "Benson Boogie"? The Saints' "sneak attack on the NFC West," as cornerback Dave Waymer calls it, may lose some steam heading up the Mississippi. They haven't yielded a touchdown in six quarters, but how much emotion they or their owner will be able to muster in Busch Stadium after rousing wins over the 49ers and Rams in the comfort of the Superdome is questionable. They haven't proved they can win on the road.

Detroit (3-7) at Philadelphia (3-7), 10 a.m. With quarterback Ron Jaworski out for the season with a finger injury, Buddy Ryan is committed to the erratic, electric Randall Cunningham. The Eagles can only get better. Their defense already has, rising from 23rd to 13th in the league in only the last three weeks. Lion quarterback Eric Hipple has a sore elbow, but it may be time for a change, anyway. Rookie Chuck Long and veteran Joe Ferguson got equal work in practice, but Coach Darryl Rogers wasn't talking.

Tampa Bay (2-8) vs. Green Bay (1-9) at Milwaukee, 10 a.m. The battered Buccaneers may be distracted by a single thought in this sub-freezing fiasco: getting back to Florida afterward. Climate is all the Packers have going for them these days.

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