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SPORTS WEEKEND

Game Of The Week

The Key Games In The Nfl

September 27, 1996

KANSAS CITY (4-0) at SAN DIEGO (3-1)

* KICKOFF: Channel 4, 1 p.m.

* STORYLINE: It's make-or-break time for the Chargers. They either defeat the Chiefs at home or fall back with the pack in the AFC West and start calculating wild-card options. Kansas City quarterback Steve Bono, while lacking a full corps of sound receivers, has thrown seven touchdown passes with only one interception and will be matched against the NFL's worst-ranked pass defense.

* CHIEF UPDATE: Wide receiver Lake Dawson is lost for the season after knee surgery, which means greater contributions are necessary from Chris Penn and Danan Hughes.

* CHARGER UPDATE: Cornerback Dwayne Harper, vital to the team's pass defense, is expected back from a hamstring injury. The Chiefs can be hurt by a strong rushing attack, but the tandem of Leonard Russell and Aaron Hayden has yet to make like Natrone Means.

* EDGE TO CHARGERS: They have desperation on their side and are still smarting from their last "big game" showing, a 42-10 loss two weeks ago in Green Bay.

* THE LINE: San Diego by 2.

KEY GAMES

HOUSTON (2-1) at PITTSBURGH (2-1)

* KICKOFF: 10 a.m.

* STORYLINE: Are the upstart Oilers for real? More than that, just how good a coach is Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher, who continues to keep his team winning despite annual crippling injuries and numerous free-agent desertions? The Steelers have the fourth-best defense, and that's without linebacker Greg Lloyd, who has an injured knee, and linebacker Kevin Greene, who signed in the off-season with Carolina.

* OILER UPDATE: Safety Blaine Bishop and linebacker Barron Wortham will try to return after recent knee surgeries. Quarterback Chris Chandler, who was supposed to give way to Steve McNair at some point, has solidified his standing by ranking No. 3 among all NFL quarterbacks.

* STEELER UPDATE: Shayne Edge will replace injured punter Josh Miller, who has a hernia. Edge, a 25-year-old rookie from Florida, played for the Barcelona Dragons in the World League earlier this year and averaged a net of 33.2 yards on 40 punts.

* EDGE TO PITTSBURGH: The Steelers have a four-game winning streak over Houston.

* THE LINE: Pittsburgh by 5.

*

ATLANTA (0-3) at SAN FRANCISCO (2-1)

* KICKOFF: Channel 11, 1 p.m.

* STORYLINE: Falcon Coach June Jones has handed the team's future to quarterback Bobby Hebert, while suspending Jeff George.

* FALCON UPDATE: Atlanta signed Browning Nagle to lend support to Hebert.

* 49ER UPDATE: Steve Young (groin injury) will be replaced by Elvis Grbac this week. Running back Derek Loville will start, but Terry Kirby will take over in the second quarter.

* EDGE TO SAN FRANCISCO: The Falcons' defense has been atrocious and now the offense, which was geared to George's skills, will have to adjust to Hebert.

* THE LINE: San Francisco by 13.

*

CAROLINA (3-0) at JACKSONVILLE (1-3)

* KICKOFF: 10 a.m.

* STORYLINE: The Panthers continue to break with NFL tradition for expansion disaster by winning 10 of their last 14 games.

* PANTHER UPDATE: Steve Beuerlein replaced Kerry Collins, who had an injured knee, at quarterback and ripped the NFL's No. 1 defense in San Francisco with two touchdowns and 290 yards passing. Beuerlein will start again.

* JAGUAR UPDATE: Middle linebacker Bryan Schwartz, the team's leading tackler, is out for the season (knee injury).

* EDGE TO JACKSONVILLE: Carolina can't win every game--can it?

* THE LINE: Carolina by 2.

*

DALLAS (1-3) at PHILADELPHIA (3-1)

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

* STORYLINE: The Eagles might not be that good, but they are in position to deal the Cowboys a death blow. Dallas running back Emmitt Smith has bruised ribs, a sore neck, a sore knee and a sore ankle and is averaging only 3.3 yards a carry. The Cowboys still don't have wide receiver Michael Irvin because of a drug suspension, tight end Jay Novacek because of a sore back, and they will now be without wide receiver Kevin Williams, who has an injured ankle. Can the Cowboys score enough to win?

* COWBOY UPDATE: Running back Sherman Williams might be called on to relieve Smith, and Kelvin Martin will have to assume Williams' duties as starting wide receiver and special teams' primary returner.

* EAGLE UPDATE: Philadelphia not only has the Monday night home-field advantage, but the revenge motive in Dallas Coach Barry Switzer's boasts after a 30-11 playoff victory over the Eagles last season.

* EDGE TO PHILADELPHIA: Switzer has shown no inclination to be a miracle worker.

* THE LINE: Philadelphia by 2 1/2.

THE LINE ON THE REST

Chicago 1 1/2 over Oakland

Baltimore 5 1/2 over New Orleans

Minnesota 5 1/2 over N.Y. Giants

Denver 3 over Cincinnati

Detroit 6 1/2 over Tampa Bay

Arizona 1 1/2 over St. Louis

Green Bay 9 1/2 over Seattle

Washington 8 1/2 over N.Y. Jets

Open date: Buffalo, Indianapolis,

Miami and New England

Home teams in bold

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