Times Staff Writer

GAME OF THE DAY Denver (8-3-1) at Seattle (7-5), 5 p.m. TV: ESPN.

The sinking Seahawks will be left to grovel for a wild-card playoff spot should they lose their third straight. Unfortunately for the Broncos, they aren't equipped to exploit the Seahawks' weak defense against the rush, though John Elway could improvise a lot. Elway will be without his best receiver, Vance Johnson, who dislocated a shoulder last week. Bronco Coach Dan Reeves has warned linebacker Ricky Hunley that he'll be benched if his play doesn't improve. If Seahawk quarterback Dave Krieg doesn't snap out of his latest slump, Jeff Kemp may play in relief. The Seahawks haven't lost two straight in the Kingdome since 1981.

OTHER AFC GAMES Buffalo (6-6) at Indianapolis (7-5), 10 a.m.

The Colts, leading the AFC East by one game, can dispose of another rival, although the Bills' regulars haven't lost two in a row this season. In contrasting offensive schemes, the Colts will try to do it with Eric Dickerson's feet running behind their excellent offensive line, while the Bills attack with Jim Kelly's lively arm. Colt quarterback Jack Trudeau, subbing again for the injured Gary Hogeboom, hasn't thrown an interception in four consecutive starts. Bill rookie linebacker Cornelius Bennett can show the Hoosier Dome folks what they missed when the Colts signed Dickerson instead of him.

Cincinnati (4-8) at Cleveland (7-5), 10 a.m.

In only two weeks, the Browns have been reduced from Super Bowl contenders to fighting for their lives in the AFC Central. Their defense is still sound but their kicking is unreliable and their running game has disappeared, so Bernie Kosar needs to produce at quarterback. The Bengals' season is shot but their offense is having fun, out-gaining every non-strike opponent.

New York Jets (6-6) at New England (5-7), 10 a.m.

The Patriots are out of it, and the beat-up Jets aren't far behind. Steve Grogan returns at quarterback for the Patriots and can't wait to get at the Jets' third-string defensive backs.

Pittsburgh (7-5) at San Diego (8-4), 1 p.m.

Steeler veteran Todd Shell says: "We've got that feeling back." Actually, they have grabbed a share of the AFC Central lead while merely alternating wins and losses every week since the strike. This is their week to lose, but it might be a tall order against the tailspinning Chargers. San Diego hasn't just lost three straight, they've been blown out, with battered Dan Fouts struggling to carry the load and the defense falling apart. It may not matter that the Steelers have the league's worst passing game. They figure to run the ball down the Chargers' throats.

NFC GAMES Minnesota (7-5) vs. Green Bay (4-7-1) at Milwaukee, 10 a.m.

The Vikings need only one more win to clinch a wild-card berth, but the Packers may catch them down after the heartbreaking loss to the Bears. Quarterback Wade Wilson is producing better in relief than Tommy Kramer is as the starter, but Kramer's shoulder is OK and he'll start again--although it's almost a cinch that Wilson will reappear when Kramer has trouble against the tough Packer pass defense.

Dallas (5-7) at Washington (9-3), 10 a.m. TV: Channels 2 and 8.

Redskin defensive end Dexter Manley defends beleaguered Cowboy Coach Tom Landry but is happy that Mikhail S. Gorbachev has gotten "the hell out of town, (since) the Redskins-Cowboys game is bigger than . . . the summit." As for the struggling Cowboys, Manley says, "Kick 'em while they're down." Danny White returns as the Cowboys' quarterback because Steve Pelluer hurt a knee last week. Linebacker Eugene Lockhart has a broken leg. Redskin receiver Art Monk, with a knee injury, also is gone.

Detroit (2-10) at Tampa Bay (4-8), 1 p.m.

The Lions, who have lost four in a row, could be the first in line for the top pick in the NFL draft if they lose again and the Chiefs can upset the Raiders. New Buccaneer quarterback Vinny Testaverde has his first chance to show off at home and end his team's five-game losing streak.

N.Y. Giants (4-8) at St. Louis (5-7), 1 p.m.

This is the Cardinals' last home game of the season--their last ever in Busch Stadium if they follow through on plans to move. Neil Lomax hopes to make it a high-scoring farewell. Although the Giants' ground game is off, they are expected to pound on the Cards' weary defenders.

INTERCONFERENCE GAMES Houston (7-5) at New Orleans (9-3), 10 a.m.

The Saints show no signs of letting up in their startling season. They can tie for the NFC West lead if the Bears beat the 49ers Monday night. The Saints, who have won six in a row--the league's longest streak this season--figure to win this one because of their low-risk ground game and tight defense. The Oilers' most serious threat is the throwing of Warren Moon, who has a sore shoulder and will face a full rush.

Miami (6-6) at Philadelphia (5-7), 10 a.m.

Dan Marino may have snapped out of his slump last Monday night and gets to pick on the Eagles' last-ranked pass defense today. Dwight Stephenson, the Dolphins' All-Pro center, is out with a knee injury, but the Eagles' tough rush--38 sacks--now must respect a Dolphin running threat in rookie Troy Stradford.

MONDAY NIGHT Chicago (10-2) at San Francisco (10-2), 6 p.m. TV: Channels 3, 7, 10, 42

Mike Tomczak is scheduled to start at quarterback for the Bears because of Jim McMahon's torn hamstring. McMahon threw a little but didn't run the offense this week in practice. However, defensive standouts Dan Hampton and Otis Wilson will return. With the title in the NFC Central wrapped up, all the Bears have to lose is the home-field advantage for the playoffs. The 49ers are fighting for that and the NFC West title, and got a big boost in promised bonuses from owner Eddie DeBartolo. Nobody has been able to stop the Joe Montana-Jerry Rice combo, but ball control might work. Rice would equal a league record with a touchdown reception in his 11th straight game. The 49ers can be run against, and the Bears have the runners.

NOTE: All times PST. Statistical references exclude the three strike games.

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