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Week 17 in the NFL

The Nickel Package

December 31, 2006|Sam Farmer | Times staff writer Sam Farmer breaks down five areas worth watching in this week's NFL matchups

5 BIGGEST RISK-TAKERS

Total of fake field goals, fake punts, onside kicks and going for it on fourth down.

* Minnesota, 25 -- Vikings have attempted two fake field goals, more than any other team.

* New Orleans, 24 -- Saints and Rams are tied with a league-high four onside kicks.

* St. Louis, 23 -- Only the Rams and Kansas City have tried a fake punt and fake kick.

* Detroit, Pittsburgh, 21 -- These teams have gone for it on fourth down a combined 42 times.

* Atlanta, Dallas, New England, 20 -- Risks paid off for the Patriots and Cowboys, but not Falcons.

Source: STATS LLC

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5 CLUTCH RUNNERS

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Number of third- or fourth-down runs resulting in a first down or touchdown.

* Larry Johnson, Kansas City, 24 -- He enters final weekend second in rushing to San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson.

* Thomas Jones, Chicago, 21 -- He doesn't have many long runs or touchdowns, but he's a steady performer.

* Vince Young, Tennessee, 19 -- Already, Young has established a rushing record for a rookie quarterback, 523 yards.

* Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia, 16 -- Tied for second in the NFC with eight runs of 20-plus yards.

* Marion Barber, Dallas, 16 -- Julius Jones gets the ball more, but Barber has rushed for 13 touchdowns, most in the NFC.

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5 LOCKS

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Cincinnati over Pittsburgh -- The Steelers play well in Cincinnati, but Bengals have more reason to win.

* Dallas over Detroit -- The Lions haven't rushed for 100 yards or more in last seven games.

* New York Jets over Oakland -- A wild-card spot is within reach, and Jets won't stumble here.

* Baltimore over Buffalo -- Bills are out of it; Ravens can guarantee themselves a first-round playoff bye.

* San Diego over Arizona -- Appeal of home-field advantage is too strong for LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers to ease up.

* Last week: 3-2.

* Season: 57-23.

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LAST 5 SCORING-DEFENSE LEADERS

Baltimore is giving up a league-low 12.9 points per game.

* Chicago, 2005, 12.6 points -- Bears couldn't contain Steve Smith in the playoffs and lost to Carolina in a divisional game.

* Pittsburgh, 2004, 15.7 -- New England's defense was the better one in a bitter-cold AFC championship game at Heinz Field.

* New England, 2003, 14.9 -- Patriots surrendered 14 each to Titans and Colts before beating Carolina in the Super Bowl.

* Tampa Bay, 2002, 12.3 -- This Super Bowl-winning defense was compared to the great ones in Pittsburgh, Chicago and Baltimore.

* Chicago, 2001, 12.7 -- Outstanding during the regular season, these Bears were shredded by Philadelphia in a divisional game.

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5 STRONG RUNNERS

Most yards after contact per rush, minimum 6.25 carries per game.

* Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville, 3.29 yards -- The former UCLA standout is a pinball wizard for the Jaguars.

* Frank Gore, San Francisco, 3.04 -- NFC's leading rusher has upstaged better-known backs from Miami.

* Travis Henry, Tennessee, 2.94 -- Titans workhorse has quietly put together a very respectable season.

* Ladell Betts, Washington, 2.51 -- And to think the Redskins felt they needed T.J. Duckett to fill the bruiser role.

* Laurence Maroney, New England, 2.50 -- Rookie has bounced back from torn rib cartilage and looks ready to roll in playoffs.

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