PITTSBURGH (10-5) at CAROLINA (11-4)

* KICKOFF: Sunday, 10 a.m.

* STORYLINE: The greatest expansion story ever told continues. With a victory, the Panthers will clinch the NFC West Division title in only their second year. Fans lined up all night for a chance to buy a few remaining tickets for this game, but then what else is there to do in Charlotte? The Panthers are 7-0 at home, and if successful against the Steelers they will draw a first-round playoff bye and then begin postseason play at home.

* STEELER UPDATE: If New England defeats the Giants on Saturday, the Steelers have no incentive in Carolina, which would provide them with the opportunity to rest Jerome Bettis' sore ankle. A Giants' upset would force Pittsburgh to win to secure the home-field advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

* PANTHER UPDATE: Carolina has won six in a row, and while most fans have become familiar with its effective defense, the offense has begun to hold its own with a developing Kerry Collins at quarterback.

* EDGE TO CAROLINA: The Panthers have been promised three days off--including Christmas Day--if they can defeat Pittsburgh.

* THE LINE: Carolina by 5 1/2.




* KICKOFF: Sunday, 10 a.m.

* STORYLINE: To guarantee a playoff berth, the Colts have to defeat the Bengals, who are 6-2 under Coach Bruce Coslet. Like the Bills and Chiefs, the Colts advance if Jacksonville loses.

* COLT UPDATE: As it did a year ago, Indianapolis has saved its best football to make a stretch run. Last year the Colts advanced to the AFC championship game.

* BENGAL UPDATE: Coslet has signed up to coach the Bengals for the next four years, but he already has informed several assistant coaches they will be coaching their last game for Cincinnati on Sunday.

* EDGE TO INDIANAPOLIS: The Colts have been in this position before, and the Bengals will have their own morale problems now that several of their position coaches have been informed they have been fired.

* THE LINE: Pick 'em.


at GREEN BAY (12-3)

* KICKOFF: Sunday, 10 a.m., Channel 11

* STORYLINE: Both teams are in the playoffs, but the Packers must pay attention long enough not to lose by more than 18 points in order to beat out Carolina for the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

* VIKING UPDATE: Brad Johnson, who has replaced Warren Moon as the starting quarterback, is expected to agree to terms today on a four-year, $14-million contract.

* PACKER UPDATE: Green Bay has not given up a touchdown in the last two games.

* EDGE TO GREEN BAY: The Packers could win by 18, but probably will have to fight hard enough to win by a field goal.

* THE LINE: Green Bay by 11.

ATLANTA (3-12)


* KICKOFF: Sunday, 10 a.m.

* STORYLINE: The Jaguars need to win to put two expansion teams into the playoffs. A Jaguar victory, as long as Buffalo and Kansas City don't tie, extends their season.

* FALCON UPDATE: Defensive end Chuck Smith was suspended after suggesting Coach June Jones should be fired. Smith leads the Falcons with six sacks.

* JAGUAR UPDATE: Jacksonville has won four in a row and has the second-ranked offense and sixth-ranked defense in the AFC.

* EDGE TO JACKSONVILLE: Are you kidding?

* THE LINE: Jacksonville by 9.


at BUFFALO (9-6)

* KICKOFF: Sunday, 10 a.m.. Channel 4.

* STORYLINE: The Chiefs, who have disappeared from the teams-to-beat list in recent weeks, must defeat the Bills to make the playoffs, or root for Atlanta to beat Jacksonville. Suggestion: Don't count on Atlanta to save the day. Buffalo is 6-1 at home, and also must win to guarantee its postseason position.

* CHIEF UPDATE: Steve Bono, banished to the bench, must now relieve Rich Gannon, who has an injured hamstring, at quarterback.

* BILL UPDATE: Buffalo's three-game losing streak not only vaulted New England to an AFC East Division title but has left the Bills wondering if the glory days of Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith are over. Speaking of Thomas, he has gained 990 yards this season, so chances are he will join Barry Sanders as the only backs to gain 1,000 yards rushing eight consecutive seasons.

* EDGE TO BUFFALO: There was a good reason Bono was sent to the bench--he can't play in big games. He's not very good in meaningless games either.

* THE LINE: Buffalo by 5.


New England minus 9

at N.Y. Giants

New Orleans plus 5 at St. Louis

Miami minus 3 1/2 at N.Y. Jets

Houston plus 3 at Baltimore

Arizona plus 5 1/2 at Philadelphia

Chicago plus 2 1/2 at Tampa Bay

Dallas plus 2 at Washington

Seattle plus 3 1/2 at Oakland

Denver minus 1 1/2 at San Diego

Detroit plus 12 1/2 at San Francisco

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