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SPORTS WEEKEND : THE KEY GAMES IN THE NFL

September 20, 1996

GAME OF THE WEEK

MIAMI (3-0) at INDIANAPOLIS (3-0)

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

* STORYLINE: The Comeback Kids, who overcame a 24-3 deficit a year ago to topple Miami, get a prime-time assignment against Jimmy Johnson. Johnson's Dolphins, as much a surprise as the Colts' continued climb to prominence, will be making an NFL-record 52nd appearance on "Monday Night Football." The Colts, however, have four consecutive victories over the Dolphins, a streak the Colts haven't accomplished since they won five in a row over the Dolphins from 1975-77.

* DOLPHIN UPDATE: Rookie running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar, who has two 100-yard games in his first three NFL outings, takes on the NFL's eighth-best rushing defense.

* COLT UPDATE: On top of all the injuries to the team's starters, including running back Marshall Falk and defensive end Tony Bennett, the Colts must now contend with kicker Cary Blanchard's kidney stone problem.

* EDGE TO INDIANAPOLIS: Miami might be better, but the emotional victory over Dallas a week ago coupled with the Colts' first Monday night TV appearance since 1993 before a sellout crowd should be too much magic for Johnson to overcome.

* THE LINE: Indianapolis by 2 1/2.

KEY GAMES

DENVER (3-0) at KANSAS CITY (3-0)

* KICKOFF: 10 a.m.

* STORYLINE: Are the Broncos, now relying more on defense and running back Terrell Davis than John Elway's arm, for real? Can the Chiefs and Coach Marty Schottenheimer, who have been victimized in the past by Elway, prove to the country they have the true grit to be the AFC's premier team?

* BRONCO UPDATE: Davis, who has 320 yards in 69 carries and two rushing touchdowns, has been stressed by migraine headaches but has been cleared to play.

* CHIEF UPDATE: Steve Bono, considered the weak link in the Chiefs' desire to make it to the Super Bowl, is the only quarterback in the AFC without an interception this season.

* EDGE TO KANSAS CITY: Kansas City has won its last 11 games against AFC West opponents.

* THE LINE: Kansas City by 5.

*

GREEN BAY (3-0) at MINNESOTA (3-0)

* KICKOFF: 10 a.m.

* STORYLINE: The Packers look as if they cannot be beaten; the Vikings continue to baffle the experts who predicted a down year for aging Warren Moon and controversial Coach Dennis Green.

* PACKER UPDATE: Green Bay has not had a 4-0 start since 1966.

* VIKING UPDATE: Minnesota has won four in a row at home against the Packers, the last three coming on field goals either in the final seconds or in overtime.

* EDGE TO GREEN BAY: After outscoring their opponents, 115-26, how can you pick against Packers?

* THE LINE: Green Bay by 7.

*

DALLAS (1-2) at BUFFALO (2-1)

* KICKOFF: 1 p.m., Channel 11.

* STORYLINE: The loser suffers a serious blow. The Cowboys appear desperate for the return of Michael Irvin; the Bills, who have yet to generate a serious offensive attack, face an even bigger challenge since quarterback Jim Kelly will probably sit out the game because of a hamstring injury suffered in practice. Second-year quarterback Todd Collins would replace him.

* COWBOY UPDATE: Emmitt Smith, who was supposed to pick up the slack for a missing Irvin, has one touchdown this season.

* BILL UPDATE: The offense ranks No. 23 in passing.

* EDGE TO DALLAS: The Cowboys have the better defense.

* THE LINE: Dallas by 3.

*

SAN FRANCISCO (2-0) at CAROLINA (2-0)

* KICKOFF: 10 a.m., Channel 11.

* STORYLINE: The 49ers will have Steve Young, who suffered a groin injury on Sept. 8, but the Panthers will start Steve Beuerlein in place of Kerry Collins (knee) at quarterback. The Panthers have ridden kicker John Kasay's leg with a league-leading 33 points.

* 49ER UPDATE: San Francisco has the No. 1 defense.

* PANTHER UPDATE: Carolina, an expansion franchise, is 9-4 in its last 13 games.

* EDGE TO SAN FRANCISCO: Anything else is just too ridiculous to consider.

* THE LINE: San Francisco by 9 1/2.

*

NEW YORK GIANTS (0-3) at NEW YORK JETS (0-3)

* KICKOFF: 10 a.m.

* STORYLINE: The Peyton Manning Bowl with all of New York poised to heap a ton of ridicule on the loser. The winner won't fare much better. Jet Coach Rich Kotite is taking it very seriously, saying, "There are a few must-win games throughout any season. This one is as important as any game I've coached in recently. Everyone understands how big a game like thisis."

* GIANT UPDATE: The 29th-rated offense and the 30th-ranked defense. Quarterback Dave Brown is struggling behind an overhauled line in an offense that has produced one touchdown in its last 32 possessions. The woeful Giants are 39-44 since winning their second Super Bowl in 1990, including 5-11 last season, and the calls are increasing for Coach Dan Reeves' firing after a tumultuous tenure.

* JET UPDATE: The 29th-ranked defense and Neil O'Donnell at quarterback in an offense that has $73.3 million in new acquisitions, but is ranked only 23rd in the league. O'Donnell has been intercepted five times in 103 attempts after being picked off only seven times in 416 attempts last year with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

* EDGE TO: Those who stay home to watch the Broncos and Chiefs.

* THE LINE: Jets by 2.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

THE LINE ON THE REST

Oakland 3 over San Diego

St. Louis 1 1/2 over Washington

New Orleans 7 1/2 over Arizona

Seattle 2 over Tampa Bay

N.England 7 1/2 over Jacksonville

Detroit 4 1/2 over Chicago

Atlanta 2 over Philadelphia

Bold indicates home team

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