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THE NICKEL PACKAGE

5 Big-play Defensive Backs

Times staff writer Sam Farmer breaks down five areas worth watching in this weekend's NFL matchups

December 10, 2006

Most combined sacks, interceptions, passes defended and forced fumbles this season:

Kerry Rhodes

New York Jets

* 19: He might be only the second Jets safety to make the Pro Bowl, joining Erik McMillan of the late 1980s.

Charles Woodson

Green Bay

* 19: Nine-year veteran has five interceptions, the most since his rookie year with the Raiders.

Walt Harris

San Francisco

* 18: With four games to go, he already has a career-high six picks.

Lito Sheppard

Philadelphia

* 18: He returned one of his five interceptions 102 yards for a touchdown.

Rashean Mathis

Jacksonville

* 18: His numbers tie him on this list with New England's Asante Samuel, another rising star.

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5 WORST GOAL-LINE OFFENSES

Lowest touchdown percentage this season in goal-to-go situations:

* Atlanta -- eight touchdowns in 17 series: Falcons score from long distance; NFL-high 22 runs of 20-plus yards.

* Miami -- 10 in 21: Dolphins have only six rushing touchdowns this season.

* Minnesota -- eight in 16: But Vikings defense has scored on three fumble recoveries and two interceptions.

* New Orleans -- 13 in 26: Saints are still third in NFC scoring, averaging 25.8 points a game.

* Carolina -- nine in 18: The Panthers are missing the type of power back they had in Stephen Davis.

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5 TOP RETURN MEN

Most total kick- and punt-return yards since 2004:

* Dante Hall, Kansas City -- 4,836 yards: In 2003, he looked like the greatest returner in history. By far.

* Wes Welker, Miami -- 4,735: Lots of long returns but only one for a touchdown.

* B.J. Sams, Baltimore -- 4,304: He was injured last week, and the Ravens are sure to miss him.

* Terrence McGee, Buffalo -- 3,888: In the last three seasons, he has 18 kickoff returns of 40-plus yards.

* Eddie Drummond, Detroit -- 3,818: Everything is a comedown after his spectacular performance in 2004.

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5 TOUGHEST REMAINING SCHEDULES

* Miami -- .646: Dolphins have won four of five, but their stretch run could be a reality check.

* Jacksonville -- .646: Tennessee was supposed to be the breather in the final four. Uh-oh.

* Arizona -- .625: Hard to build momentum for next season when you play your finale at San Diego.

* Kansas City -- .583: At least Chiefs should have a Merry Christmas; they play at Oakland on Dec. 23.

* Tampa Bay -- .583: With Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland and Seattle on deck, bad season could get worse.

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5 LOCKS

* Cincinnati over Oakland -- Bengals defense is finally starting to shut down opponents.

* Minnesota over Detroit -- Vikings will sweep the season series for the fifth straight year.

* Seattle over Arizona -- Seahawks can almost taste their third consecutive division title.

* San Francisco over Green Bay -- 49ers should be able to get to a hobbling Brett Favre.

* Chicago over St. Louis -- Rams have won their last five Monday night games at home. That ends this week.

* Last week: 3-2.

* Season: 47-18.

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Source: STATS LLC

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