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The Key Games In The Nfl

November 29, 1996

NEW ENGLAND (8-4) at SAN DIEGO (7-5)

* KICKOFF: 5 p.m.

* STORYLINE: The Patriots went into the tank two weeks ago against Denver, while the Chargers played dead against Tampa Bay. Now both teams are back on the winning track, and the winner not only secures a tie-breaking advantage on its opponent, but remains in position to get a home game in the first round.

* PATRIOT UPDATE: The development of Terry Glenn as a big-time receiver (62 catches) has been essential because of Vincent Brisby's wasted season. Brisby, a prime target for Drew Bledsoe, has been bothered by a hamstring injury, resulting in no receptions this season.

* CHARGER UPDATE: Deems May has filled in adequately for Alfred Pupunu (broken ankle) at tight end.

* EDGE TO NEW ENGLAND: San Diego has no pass rush, and giving time to Bledsoe to select his receivers against a shaky Charger secondary should allow the Patriots to score at will.

* THE LINE: New England plus 1 1/2



* KICKOFF: 10 a.m.

* STORYLINE: The Colts had to deal with serious injuries early on, did so and then crumbled as they became too much to overcome. Now they will be without quarterback Jim Harbaugh (knee). The Bills will probably be without running back Thurman Thomas (leg), and might have to play without quarterback Jim Kelly (hamstring). Is that bad?

* BILL UPDATE: Buffalo has won 11 of its last 14 against Indianapolis.

* COLT UPDATE: Paul Justin will make his second career start at quarterback.

* EDGE TO BUFFALO: It will turn Bruce Smith loose and that should shake up Justin.

* THE LINE: Buffalo minus 4 1/2


* KICKOFF: 10 a.m.

* STORYLINE: Everyone was so impressed with Coach Ray Rhodes, and when the Eagles lost to Buffalo, everyone figured Rhodes would have his charges fired up for Washington. Washington won, and then everyone figured Rhodes would be really mad and take it out on Arizona. Arizona won, and apparently the Eagles are no longer intimidated by their own coach.

* GIANT UPDATE: Philadelphia has beaten the Giants three times in a row, and after upsetting Dallas a week ago, who thinks New York can defy the gods two weeks in a row?

* EAGLE UPDATE: Philadelphia ranks No. 1 in NFC in offense, No. 5 in defense, which gives it more firepower than the undermanned Giants.

* EDGE TO PHILADELPHIA: Even though the Eagles aren't scared of Rhodes, the Giants undoubtedly are.

* THE LINE: N.Y. Giants plus 6 1/2

SEATTLE (5-7) at DENVER (11-1)

* KICKOFF: 1 p.m.

* STORYLINE: Not much of a story here other than the Broncos' relentless drive to defy the odds. Denver continues to court Lady Luck, and although the Broncos have an upcoming game in Green Bay, they appear to be a lock for AFC home-field advantage through the playoffs.

* SEAHAWK UPDATE: Seattle ranks last in the AFC in stopping the run, and the Broncos have prospered because of Terrell Davis' ability to run as he pleases.

* BRONCO UPDATE: The Broncos can wrap up an AFC West Division title for the first time since 1991 with a victory.

* EDGE TO DENVER: Sooner or later the Broncos have to suffer a letdown, but in Mile High? Against the Seahawks? Doesn't compute.

* THE LINE: Seattle plus 10 1/2

ARIZONA (6-6) at MINNESOTA (6-6)

* KICKOFF: 10 a.m.

* STORYLINE: The loser loses out on the playoffs. And if Arizona wins, good luck. The Cardinals must take on all the NFC East contenders down the stretch: Washington, Philadelphia and Dallas.

* CARDINAL UPDATE: Boomer Esiason, who had trouble throwing good enough passes to even be intercepted early in the season, has completed 77 of 128 passes for 1,149 yards and eight touchdowns in the past three games.

* VIKING UPDATE: Warren Moon's sore ankle has disrupted Minnesota's season, and now the Vikings are led by Brad Johnson.

* EDGE TO MINNESOTA: The thought of the Cardinals being over the .500 mark this late in the season is simply too absurd.

* THE LINE: Arizona plus 4 1/2

MIAMI (6-6) at OAKLAND (5-7)

* KICKOFF: 1 p.m.

* STORYLINE: The Raiders' remaining opponents have a combined 30-18 record; doesn't seem fair does it? Oakland's only incentive now is to derail playoff hopefuls like Miami, who cannot afford another slip. If the Dolphins can bounce back from Monday night's loss toPittsburgh, their remaining foes have combined record of 15-21.

* DOLPHIN UPDATE: Coach Jimmy Johnson is not happy with the play of safety Louis Oliver. Based on Johnson's track record, Oliver better start looking for a new home in 1997.

* RAIDER UPDATE: Al Davis is unhappy, said so, and hasn't done a thing about it. More importantly, defensive tackle Chester McGlockton (leg) might not be able to play, which should be a boon for Miami's rookie running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar.

* EDGE TO OAKLAND: The game is on the Raiders' turf, and the only thing scarier than an intense Jimmy Johnson is a bunch of demanding Raider fans.

* THE LINE: Miami plus 2 1/2



Pittsburgh minus 6 at Baltimore

Chicago plus 9 1/2 at Green Bay

Tampa Bay plus 6 1/2 at Carolina

Cincinnati plus 2 1/2 at Jacksonville

St. Louis plus 3 at New Orleans

Houston minus 3 at N.Y. Jets

Monday Night

San Francisco minus 9 1/2 at Atlanta

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