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The Nickel Package

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

January 01, 2006

* Donnie Edwards, San Diego, LB -- Always steady; is the league's fourth-leading tackler.

* Todd Heap, Baltimore, TE -- With Gates and Gonzalez in AFC, tight end is a real squeeze.



* Joey Galloway, Tampa Bay, WR -- He's 34, but this season he played 10 years younger.

* Robert Mathis, Indianapolis, DE -- His big numbers: 11 1/2 sacks, eight forced fumbles.

* Alex Brown, Chicago, DE -- Should have made it ahead of Carolina's Julius Peppers.




* * * * * Houston -- Texans want him badly, and they'll draft him No. 1 if they lose in San Francisco today.

* * * * New Orleans -- Should Houston win, the Saints could one day bring Bush back to Los Angeles.

* * * New York Jets -- Bush would be Curtis Martin-plus for Jets, who'd need help to get him.

* * Green Bay -- If they had the top pick, Packers could reach for Matt Leinart instead of Bush.

* San Francisco -- With the way tiebreakers go, the 49ers' chances are slimmer than Ken Dorsey.




* Tony Dungy, Indianapolis -- His defense has finally come around and the Colts are a complete team.

* Bill Belichick, New England -- Overcame lots of obstacles and his Patriots look to be peaking.

* Lovie Smith, Chicago -- He lost his starting quarterback just before the season started, remember?

* Mike Shanahan, Denver -- Is this the season the Broncos return to form in the playoffs?

* Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati -- He did a masterful job of bringing along Carson Palmer slowly.


*--* 5 LOCKS


* Dallas over St. Louis -- Hapless Rams couldn't even beat the 49ers last week.

* Indianapolis over Arizona -- Colts don't want to head into the playoffs on a three-game slide.

* Pittsburgh over Detroit -- Lions are 0-9 against teams that have winning records.

* Tampa Bay over New Orleans -- After a too-long season, the Saints are spent.

* Washington over Philadelphia -- Playoffs are within reach and the Redskins can smell them.




* The Cardinals still have not broken the 100-yard rushing mark this season. No team since 1970 has gone an entire season without rushing for 100 yards in a game.

* Although Carolina has won seven of its last nine road games within the division, the Panthers are 1-9 in Atlanta with seven consecutive losses there.

* The Bengals, who play at Kansas City, have allowed 29.8 points per game and 13 passing touchdowns in the last six contests.

* The Saints have only one rushing touchdown in their last 12 games against the Buccaneers.

* The Texans have been outscored, 140-45, in the fourth quarter this season, including 90-22 in the last eight games.


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