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The Key Games In The Nfl

November 15, 1996

GREEN BAY (8-2) at DALLAS (6-4)

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

* STORYLINE: A repeat of last year's NFC championship game, this is the game of the year: the Packers' opportunity to graduate to the big time, the Cowboys' last hurrah. Green Bay has lost six consecutive games at Dallas, and although the Packers had a fourth-quarter lead in last year's title game, running back Emmitt Smith rushed for two touchdowns to key a 38-27 victory.

* PACKER UPDATE: Green Bay had no running game and got away with it as long as Robert Brooks, Antonio Freeman and Mark Chmura were sound, but now all three receivers will be out of uniform, leaving quarterback Brett Favre to fake it with Edgar Bennett at running back and Don Beebe and Keith Jackson as his primary receivers.

* COWBOY UPDATE: Smith doesn't look the same, lacking the explosion he has shown in piling up more than 8,000 yards in the last six seasons. In four previous games against the Packers, Smith has averaged 108 yards and scored five touchdowns.

* EDGE TO DALLAS: The Packers, who seemingly have the NFC Central title locked up, don't have the game-breakers on offense to contend with the Cowboys' defense.

* THE LINE: Dallas by 4.


DENVER (9-1) at NEW ENGLAND (7-3)

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

* STORYLINE: The Patriots, tied for first in the AFC East, will need a victory to gain home-field advantage in the playoffs with Denver, should the Broncos falter again down the stretch. Two of the game's most dynamic quarterbacks in Drew Bledsoe and John Elway will be matched against each other. In a career comparison for the first 54 games in each of their careers, Bledsoe has thrown for 71 touchdowns and 66 interceptions with 10 fourth-quarter comebacks for victories. Elway, who is 7-0 against New England, had 60 touchdowns and 61 interceptions with 11 fourth-quarter rallies for victories.

* BRONCO UPDATE: Denver is already without cornerback Lionel Washington and now will probably play without his replacement, Randy Hilliard.

* PATRIOT UPDATE: New England has scored 255 points in its last eight games and has the running back in Curtis Martin, who leads the AFC with 14 touchdowns, to hog the ball and keep it away from Elway.

* EDGE TO NEW ENGLAND: The Patriots catch the Broncos at the right time. The Patriots' passing game should expose Denver's worst weakness--coverage problems in the secondary.

* THE LINE: New England by 2 1/2.



* KICKOFF: Sunday, 10 a.m.

* STORYLINE: Just how bad a coach was David Shula? Bruce Coslet has the chance to become the first coach in Bengal history to win his first three games, and although it probably won't happen, Coslet has energized an offense that is loaded with prime-time offensive players.

* BENGAL UPDATE: Cincinnati offense is beginning to wake up; wide receiver Carl Pickens had his first 100-yard receiving day of the season.

* BILL UPDATE: Quarterback Jim Kelly, in danger of losing his job to Todd Collins a few weeks ago, has returned to form and put the Bills in a first-place tie with New England.

* EDGE TO BUFFALO: It's November, and the Bills are 29-17 in the month of November since 1986.

* THE LINE: Buffalo by 7.


MIAMI (5-5) at HOUSTON (6-4)

* KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m.

* STORYLINE: Both teams are trying to hang on for wild-card consideration. The Dolphins probably lack the overall firepower, but the Oilers will finish the season against four teams that do not now have a winning record.

* DOLPHIN UPDATE: Two of the top running backs compete, with Miami's Karim Abdul-Jabbar going against Houston's Eddie George. Abdul-Jabbar has gained 634 yards and averages 3.5 yards per carry; George has 899 yards and a 4.2-yard average.

* OILER UPDATE: Chris Chandler, who sat out a week because of a groin injury, returned to throw three touchdown passes against New Orleans.

* EDGE TO HOUSTON: If Chandler opts to take on the Dolphins' suspect secondary.

* THE LINE: Houston by 3 1/2.



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

* STORYLINE: The Redskins' death march continues. Washington has lost two in a row, and after playing in Philadelphia, the Redskins get San Francisco at home before playing at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. This remains the battle for first place in the NFC East, but surely the Eagles are more concerned with the Cowboys than the Redskins. Philadelphia has a one-game lead on the Cowboys and does not have to play them again this season.

* REDSKIN UPDATE: Defensive coordinator Ron Lynn has come under fire after his defense surrendered 75 points in the last two games. In a previous game against Philadelphia this season, the Redskins lost, 17-14, when starting cornerback Tom Carter was beaten badly for a pair of scores. Scoring hasn't been a problem for the Redskins, who have the NFC's third-ranked offense and top-rated rushing attack, led by Terry Allen, who has rushed for an NFL-high 17 touchdowns.

* EAGLE UPDATE: Ricky Watters wants the ball more, but the team wants to change the pace and get it more to speedy Charlie Garner. Watters gained only 51 yards in 19 carries in last week's 24-17 loss to Buffalo.

* EDGE TO PHILADELPHIA: Quarterback Ty Detmer has been surprisingly effective and Watters is ready to shred a defense that gave up more than 600 yards a week ago to Arizona.

* THE LINE: Philadelphia by 6.


Chicago plus 8 1/2 at Kansas City

New Orleans plus 4 at Atlanta

Seattle plus 4 1/2 at Detroit

N.Y. Jets plus 6 at Indianapolis

Jacksonville plus 11 at Pittsburgh

Carolina minus 3 at St. Louis

Baltimore plus 12 at San Francisco

Tampa Bay plus 7 at San Diego

N.Y. Giants plus 1 1/2 at Arizona

Minnesota plus 6 1/2 at Oakland

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