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This Week's Best Games

December 18, 2004|Mike Penner


* Kickoff: 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Indianapolis.


* The line: Indianapolis by 8.

* Baltimore update: The Ravens hold the sixth and final AFC playoff spot, but it's a precarious grip. They have the same record as Denver but own the tiebreaker over the Broncos, and are one game ahead of Jacksonville and Buffalo.

* Indianapolis update: Having clinched the AFC South title, the Colts will set about getting Peyton Manning his touchdown-pass record and earning a higher playoff seeding than their current No. 4 position. Manning needs two touchdown passes to tie Dan Marino's single-season record of 48.

* Story line: Manning goes for the record against one of the NFL's best pass defenses. The Ravens have allowed 10 touchdown passes.

* The pick: Indianapolis. The Colts are at home, Manning will be on prime-time national television, Marino's record falls at last.



* Kickoff: 1:15 p.m. Sunday at Green Bay.

* TV: None.

* The line: Green Bay by 3 1/2 .

* Jacksonville update: It will probably take at least 10 victories to earn a wild-card berth in the top-heavy AFC, meaning the Jaguars probably need to win out to qualify. Jacksonville ended a three-game losing streak last Sunday against Chicago and closes with winnable games against Houston and Oakland.

* Green Bay update: After a 1-4 start, the Packers are back atop the NFC North, the result of two undeniable forces of nature: the chilling of the weather in November and December, and the second-half collapse of the Minnesota Vikings.


* Story line: Weather. The Jaguars are 1-4 in games played at temperatures lower than 30 degrees. Packer quarterback Brett Favre is 38-1 at home in temperatures below 34.

* The pick: Green Bay. Favre plus Lambeau plus December is simply too much math for Jacksonville to handle.



* Kickoff: 10 a.m. Sunday at East Rutherford, N.J.

* TV: Channel 11.

* The line: Jets by 6 1/2 .

* Seattle update: Expected to run away with the NFC West after a 3-0 start, the Seahawks have done a sensational job of prolonging the suspense. Since September, they have won consecutive games only once and are coming off a 27-23 triumph over Minnesota -- their only victory against a team with a winning record.

* New York update: The Jets have lost four straight against teams with winning records and need that to change if they are to clinch an AFC wild-card berth. Chad Pennington, with only four interceptions in his first nine games, threw three in last Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh.

* Story line: Pennington tries to bounce back against Seattle's shaky pass defense, which ranks 23rd in the league.

* The pick: The Jets. Seattle sustains its bid to win the NFC West with an 8-8 record.

-- Mike Penner

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