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SPORTS WEEKEND | THE KEY GAMES IN NFL

Game Of The Week

September 13, 1996

SAN DIEGO (2-0) at GREEN BAY (2-0)

* KICKOFF: Sunday, 10 a.m., Channel 4.

* STORY LINE: The Chargers knocked off upstarts Cincinnati and Seattle, but now take on the big boys in the Packers' backyard. Green Bay shoved Philadelphia aside, but will they suffer the kind of Monday night TV letdown the Bears experienced a week ago in Washington? The high-powered Packer attack has piled up more than 400 yards in offense in each game to date, but the Chargers' strength is defense.

* CHARGER UPDATE: The emergence of Leonard Russell at running back has made up for Aaron Hayden's inability to become the offense's workhorse a la Natrone Means.

* PACKER UPDATE: Running back Edgar Bennett is bothered by a thigh bruise and may be relieved by Dorsey Levens.

* EDGE TO GREEN BAY: Is this a Super Bowl preview? No. The Packers have the defense to choke the Charger offense, and the quarterback to shred San Diego's secondary.

* THE LINE: Green Bay by 9.

KEY GAMES

INDIANAPOLIS (2-0) at DALLAS (1-1)

* KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m.

* STORY LINE: Jim Harbaugh remains the game's best success story and continues to keep the Colts among the league's best teams, although a rash of injuries has come at the wrong time. The Cowboys are back on top after manhandling the Giants, but the Colt defense could make Dallas sweat it out.

* COLT UPDATE: Running back Marshall Faulk is doubtful because of a sore big toe and if he can't go will be replaced by Lamont Warren. Warren ran 22 times for 90 yards and caught six passes for 67 yards in place of Faulk in last year's season finale, a 10-7 victory over New England.

* COWBOY UPDATE: Tight end Jay Novacek remains sidelined, and now there's mounting speculation he will be lost for the season because of a back problem, deeding his spot in the starting lineup to Eric Bjornson.

* EDGE TO DALLAS: Quarterback Troy Aikman went 21 for 28 in his only appearance against the Colts and Emmitt Smith ran for 104 yards. Game, set, match.

* THE LINE: Dallas by 10.

MINNESOTA (2-0) at CHICAGO (1-1)

* KICKOFF: Sunday, 10 a.m.

* STORY LINE: The Vikings, off to their best start since 1987, have a chance to go 3-0 for the first time since 1975. Minnesota has fought through quarterback Warren Moon's injuries and Coach Dennis Green's travails off the field and now get another test in Chicago. The Bears have beaten Minnesota three consecutive times.

* VIKING UPDATE: Moon returns as the starter after backup Brad Johnson led the team to two victories.

* BEAR UPDATE: Running back Rashaan Salaam remains doubtful because of a knee injury, but the emergence of Robert Green, who doesn't have the fumble woes of Salaam, picks up the slack.

* EDGE TO CHICAGO: Bears received a wake-up call in Washington. It's time for Erik Kramer to play to last year's form.

* THE LINE: Chicago by 3 1/2.

JACKSONVILLE (1-1) at OAKLAND (0-2)

* KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m., Channel 4.

* STORY LINE: The Raiders are desperate for a victory, and will be playing at home for the first time, with quarterback Jeff Hostetler making his 1996 debut. But how sturdy is Hostetler's injured knee? Coach Mike White said fans shouldn't expect too much, but what else do the Raiders have going for them? The Jaguars gave up only 187 yards in beating Pittsburgh, then were rocked for 402 in a loss to Houston. Which team shows up this week?

* JAGUAR UPDATE: Can a combination of Natrone Means and James Stewart batter the Raiders' defensive line, thereby giving Mark Brunell time to carve up the Raider secondary?

* RAIDER UPDATE: Darren Carrington, who has been bothered by a sore wrist, starts in place of Eddie Anderson at safety, who will be out until November because of an arm injury.

* EDGE TO OAKLAND: The Raiders win, or Joe Bugel is coaching the team next week.

* THE LINE: Oakland by 6 1/2.

MONDAY NIGHT

BUFFALO (2-0) at PITTSBURGH (1-1)

* KICKOFF: 6 p.m., Channel 7.

* STORY LINE: The Bills have eked out two victories and face a crippled Steeler team, although quarterback Mike Tomczak came on like a seasoned Terry Bradshaw last week. The emergence of running back Jerome Bettis gives the Steelers the weapon to control the ball and keep their battered defense off the field. If the Bills get the opportunity to roll with their no-huddle attack, it could be a blowout.

* BILL UPDATE: Five starters are hurting, among them wide receiver Andre Reed, who hasn't missed a step after being sidelined much of last season because of a knee injury.

* STEELER UPDATE: Injuries prompted Pittsburgh to use a "31" defense, featuring seven defensive backs, three linebackers and one defensive lineman. That defense limited the Ravens to a field goal in the second half.

* EDGE TO BUFFALO: The Steelers will have the atmosphere on their side, but the Billsare not novices when it comes to surviving in tough conditions.

THE LINE ON THE REST

* THE LINE: Pittsburgh by 3.

** Miami 13 over New York Jets

** Houston 3 1/2 over Baltimore

** Philadelphia 1 over Detroit

** New England 10 over Arizona

** Cincinnati 3 over New Orleans

Kansas City 3 1/2 over Seattle**

Washington 1 1/2 over N.Y. Giants**

**Denver 13 1/2 over Tampa Bay

** Indicates home team

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