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The Key Games In The Nfl

November 22, 1996


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

* STORYLINE: In the next five days, the Redskins take on the 49ers and Cowboys, and although they are coming off a victory over Philadelphia, does anyone expect them to still be in first place in the NFC East all by themselves in two weeks? Washington's defense still ranks No. 30, but fortunately gets a San Francisco offense that appears confused: Should it listen to offensive coordinator Marc Trestman or offensive consultant Bill Walsh, who is beginning to have more and more say?

* 49ER UPDATE: Steve Young will start at quarterback after sitting out Sunday's game to recover from a second concussion this season. He may not have much to worry about, since the Redskins have been unable to put much pressure on the opposition's quarterback.

* REDSKIN UPDATE: Washington gets caught in a trap, playing the 49ers a week after an emotional division battle with Philadelphia and just before another emotional showdown with the Cowboys.

* EDGE TO SAN FRANCISCO: The 49ers have the defense to befuddle Washington and the offense to savage the NFL's worst defense.

* THE LINE: San Francisco by 3 1/2.


PITTSBURGH (8-3) at MIAMI (6-5)

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

* STORYLINE: The Dolphins are hanging on for wild-card consideration, although they appear a few years away from having the troops to satisfy Coach Jimmy Johnson. The Steelers are two games behind Denver in the race for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. In the last five meetings, the winner of this game advanced to the playoffs.

* STEELER UPDATE: The defense has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in the last 12 games, and Johnson contends that Miami has to run to win. Running back Jerome Bettis needs 70 yards to move past John Henry Johnson and three Franco Harris seasons into third place on the Steelers' single-season rushing list.

* DOLPHIN UPDATE: Miami's defense ranks third, offering a good test for Bettis, who has topped the 100-yard mark eight times this season. Running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar is second in the AFC with 10 rushing touchdowns.

* EDGE TO PITTSBURGH: Quarterback Mike Tomczak gets to work against Miami's dreadful secondary.

* THE LINE: Miami by 2 1/2.


CAROLINA (7-4) at HOUSTON (6-5)

* KICKOFF: Sunday, 10 a.m.

* STORYLINE: The Panthers are not only in position to make the playoffs in their second year but already have beaten the 49ers and will get another crack at them in three weeks, setting up a battle for first place in the NFC West. The Oilers have been good enough to make it close but not good enough to win and keep the heat on the Steelers.

* PANTHER UPDATE: The play of Anthony Johnson continues to be both a surprise and a boon to Carolina, which expected running back Tshimanga Biakabutuka, out because of a knee injury, to be their top offensive weapon. Johnson has four 100-yard games as Biakabutuka's sub, but takes on a Houston defense that ranks second against the run. Wide receiver Mark Carrier needs one reception to become the 50th person in NFL history with 500.

* OILER UPDATE: Houston plays four of its next five games at home. Is that a plus? Quarterback Chris Chandler's 108.2 rating on third-down plays leads the NFL. Defense ranks second in the AFC in third-down conversions at 32.4%.

* EDGE TO HOUSTON: With kicker Al Del Greco providing the winning points down the stretch.

* THE LINE: Houston by 4 1/2.



* KICKOFF: Sunday, 10 a.m.

* STORYLINE: The Patriots were the hottest team in the league until they were blasted by the Broncos on Sunday. The Colts have won 11 of the last 16 within the AFC East, but season-long injury problems have taken their toll.

* COLT UPDATE: The Jim Harbaugh-led offense now ranks 26th in the league.

* PATRIOT UPDATE: Coach Bill Parcells should have the Patriots fighting mad after last weekend, and New England has gone 8-3 the last three Novembers.

* EDGE TO NEW ENGLAND: The Patriots never recovered from an early fake punt gone sour against Denver.

* THE LINE: New England by 6 1/2.


SAN DIEGO (6-5) at KANSAS CITY (8-3)

* KICKOFF: Sunday, 10 a.m.

* STORYLINE: The Chargers are down to their last gasp after playing dead a week ago against Tampa Bay. The Chiefs are hanging right there just in case Denver falters, and at worst are looking for home-field advantage in the wild-card derby.

* CHARGER UPDATE: Coach Bobby Ross is rumored to be coaching everywhere but in San Diego next year, and both his offensive and defensive coordinators are under heavy fire for poor performances.

* CHIEF UPDATE: The Chiefs are 5-1 at home in the '90s against the Chargers, and overall have won 10 of the last 13 against San Diego.

* EDGE TO KANSAS CITY: San Diego is a team in chaos.

* THE LINE: Kansas City by 5 1/2.


Denver minus 5 1/2 at Minnesota

Detroit plus 3 at Chicago

N.Y. Jets plus 9 1/2 at Buffalo

Atlanta plus 6 at Cincinnati

New Orleans plus 5 1/2 at Tampa Bay

Jacksonville plus 4 at Baltimore

Dallas minus 9 at N.Y. Giants

Oakland plus 2 at Seattle

Philadelphia minus 3 1/2 at Arizona

Green Bay minus 9 1/2 at St. Louis

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