Week 13 Capsules

Times Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA AT CAROLINA

Kickoff: Sunday, 10 a.m.

The line: Panthers by 1 1/2.

Introduction: The Eagles will get a chance to show everyone that they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

Plot: Quarterback Donovan McNabb has been doing a great job of spreading the ball around in the Eagles' offense. In last week's win over New Orleans, McNabb completed 16 passes to 10 receivers. Running back Brian Westbrook has four combined touchdowns rushing and receiving over the last two weeks for the Eagles. The Panthers' Stephen Davis leads the team with 1,143 rushing yards but has not rushed for 100 yards in three games.

Bottom line: The Panthers' once dominant defense has displayed a few cracks, so look for McNabb to exploit Carolina's suspect secondary.

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SAN FRANCISCO AT BALTIMORE

Kickoff: Sunday, 10 a.m.

The line: Ravens by 3.

Introduction: If Baltimore quarterback Anthony Wright can pass like he did in last week's victory over Seattle, the Ravens will be hard to beat.

Plot: The 49ers need a victory to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. San Francisco has not won a road game this season, being outscored, 118-73 in five games. Wideout Terrell Owens is tied for fourth in the NFC in receptions with 61. Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis leads the NFL in rushing with 1,364 yards and is averaging 5.1 yards a carry. Baltimore has the NFL's fourth-best run defense, giving up 101.5 yards a game.

Bottom line: For the Ravens to keep pace with Cincinnati in the AFC North, they have to win home games like this one.

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ARIZONA AT CHICAGO

Kickoff: Sunday, 10 a.m.

The line: Bears by 4 1/2.

Introduction: The quarterback formally known as slash, Kordell Stewart, is back and the Bears are happy to have him.

Plot: Stewart stepped in for injured veteran Chris Chandler and accounted for 76 yards, including a key fourth-down touchdown run in a 19-10 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Chicago has the 31st-ranked passing offense in the league at 143.8 yards a game. The Cardinals are 0-5 on the road. Arizona rookie wide receiver Anquan Boldin has 66 catches for 999 yards. The Cardinals are ranked 30th in the league in defense against the pass at 223.1 yards a game.

Bottom line: The Bears have won three of their last six games, while the Cardinals can't win on the road.

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ATLANTA AT HOUSTON

Kickoff: Sunday, 10 a.m.

The line: Texans by 3.

Introduction: Quarterback Tony Banks has found new life leading the Texan offense while the Falcons can only hope to have Michael Vick back before Christmas.

Plot: With Vick still not ready to return to the lineup, Atlanta will start Doug Johnson. The Falcons will be without injured running back Warrick Dunn, who leads the team in rushing (672 yards) and is second in receiving (37 catches for 336 yards). Atlanta has the NFL's worst defense against the pass, giving up 251.1 yards a game. Rookie wide receiver Andre Johnson leads the Texans in catches with 50 for 748 yards and four touchdowns.

Bottom line: The Falcons and Texans are playing well, but Houston will have an edge playing at home.

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NEW ENGLAND AT INDIANAPOLIS

Kickoff: Sunday, 10 a.m., Ch. 2.

The line: Colts by 4.

Introduction: A matchup of two of the AFC's elite teams features top big-play quarterbacks in the Colts' Peyton Manning and Patriots' Tom Brady, but there may be a twist.

Plot: Manning leads the NFL in passing yards with 3,105 to go with 19 touchdown passes but felt a twinge in his right arm in practice Wednesday. The Patriots had to dig deep to come from behind and defeat Houston in overtime last week. Brady passed for 368 yards and two touchdowns against the Texans. The Patriot defense has given up 13 touchdowns in the 32 times opponents have gotten inside their 20-yard line.

Bottom line: The Patriots have been winning with defense but that will not be enough to defeat the Colts.

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BUFFALO AT N.Y. GIANTS

Kickoff: Sunday, 10 a.m.

The line: Giants by 3.

Introduction: Quarterback Drew Bledsoe and the Bills lost at home to the Colts, while the Giants are trying to finish the season on a strong note.

Plot: Bledsoe has thrown nine interceptions this season and does not have a touchdown pass since Oct. 19 against Washington. Buffalo running back Travis Henry needs to rush for 143 yards to give him 1,000 for a second consecutive season. New York quarterback Kerry Collins leads the NFL with 451 attempts and ranks second with 262 completions. Running back Tiki Barber leads the Giants in rushing and needs 27 more yards to reach 1,000-yard season.

Bottom line: The Giants will give Coach Jim Fassel something to smile about with a home victory.

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CINCINNATI AT PITTSBURGH

Kickoff: Sunday, 10 a.m.

The line: Steelers by 3.

Introduction: The Steelers can really tighten the AFC North race with a victory over the Bengals, who have won three in a row and five of their last six.

Plot: Cincinnati's Jon Kitna is the only quarterback in the league to take every snap this season. Running back Corey Dillon rushed for 108 yards in a win over the Chargers on Sunday, his first 100-yard plus effort of the season. Running back Jerome Bettis rushed for a season-high 93 yards against the Browns. Wide receiver Hines Ward is tied for the AFC lead in catches with 65 for 774 yards and eight touchdowns.

Bottom line: The Steelers know that they cannot lose another game to make the playoffs, which should make this a close game.

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MINNESOTA AT ST. LOUIS

Kickoff: Sunday, 10 a.m., Ch. 11.

The line: Rams by 6.

Introduction: Quarterback Daunte Culpepper and the Vikings will be looking to end the Rams' three-game winning streak.

Plot: St. Louis Coach Mike Martz is sticking with quarterback Marc Bulger even after he committed five turnovers in last week's victory against Arizona. In his last four games, Bulger has thrown four touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. Running back Marshall Faulk has averaged 101.5 yards over his last two games. Culpepper has thrown 16 touchdown passes with only seven interceptions. The Vikings have lost their last two road games.

Bottom line: The Rams are a much better team when Faulk's on his game, and he should be on against the Vikings' weak rushing defense.

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NEW ORLEANS AT WASHINGTON

Kickoff: Sunday, 1 p.m.

The line: Redskins by 1 1/2.

Introduction: Now that Coach Steve Spurrier realizes that the Redskins are not that good a team, you wonder whether they will win again this season.

Plot: New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks has thrown only eight interceptions in 353 attempts, and the Saints lead the league in converting third downs (46.5%). The Saints' Deuce McAllister has 100 yards rushing in a franchise-record eight games in a row. Washington defensive end Bruce Smith has 198 sacks, which ties him with Reggie White for most in NFL history.

Bottom line: McAllister should not have much of a problem running against the Redskins, who give up nearly 130 yards on the ground per game.

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DENVER AT OAKLAND

Kickoff: Sunday 1:15 p.m., Ch. 2.

The line: Broncos by 3.

Introduction: This a huge game for the Broncos, who suffered a bad loss to Chicago last week, while the Raiders have lost six of their last seven games.

Plot: The Broncos have won 13 of their last 17 against the Raiders under Coach Mike Shanahan. Denver quarterback Jake Plummer has completed 12 touchdown passes with only one interception in his last six starts. The Broncos' Shannon Sharpe leads all tight ends in touchdown catches with seven. Oakland quarterback Rick Mirer has completed 62.9% of his passes in four games.

Bottom line: The Broncos have the AFC's No. 1-ranked defense and that should be enough to beat the Raiders and keep Denver's playoff hopes alive.

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KANSAS CITY AT SAN DIEGO

Kickoff: Sunday, 1:15 p.m.

The line: Chiefs by 7.

Introduction: The Chiefs can win the AFC West with a victory and a Denver loss or tie.

Plot: Kansas City quarterback Trent Green ranks second in the AFC with 2,760 passing yards and is tied for fourth with 17 touchdowns. Green, who spent one season with the Chargers in 1993, is 5-1 in six starts against San Diego. Kansas City running back Priest Holmes has rushed for an NFL-best 15 touchdowns this season. No team has rushed for more touchdowns than Holmes (Philadelphia has 15 rushing touchdowns). In three starts this season, San Diego quarterback Doug Flutie has five touchdown passes with only one interception.

Bottom line: The Chiefs better be ready for an inspired Charger effort.

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CLEVELAND AT SEATTLE

Kickoff: Sunday, 1:15 p.m.

The line: Seahawks by 5 1/2.

Introduction: After leading the NFC West for most of the season, the Seahawks find themselves trailing St. Louis by a game.

Plot: Quarterback Kelly Holcomb has thrown nine touchdown passes with nine interceptions this season for the Browns. Cleveland running back James Jackson gained 143 yards from scrimmage in last week's 13-6 loss against Pittsburgh. The Browns had the ball inside the Steelers' 20-yard line four times but failed to score a touchdown. Seattle has a 10-2 record whenever running back Shaun Alexander has rushed for at least 100 yards.

Bottom line: The Seahawk defense against the pass was horrendous last week but that should not be a problem against Holcomb.

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TAMPA BAY AT JACKSONVILLE

Kickoff: Sunday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN.

The line: Buccaneers by 3 1/2.

Introduction: The Buccaneers need to win every game left on their schedule to have a chance to qualify for the playoffs.

Plot: Tampa Bay wide receiver Keenan McCardell has 831 receiving yards and a team-leading eight touchdowns on 58 catches. McCardell, who played six seasons with Jacksonville, will be playing against his former team for the first time. Jacksonville Coach Jack Del Rio will start rookie Byron Leftwich at quarterback although the rookie has thrown 12 interceptions and lost eight fumbles. The Jaguars' Fred Taylor is fourth among AFC running backs in receptions with 38.

Bottom line: Coach Jon Gruden looks like he has the Buccaneers focused to make one final run.

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TENNESSEE AT N.Y. JETS

Kickoff: Monday, 6 p.m., Ch. 7.

The line: Titans by 1.

Introduction: Titan quarterback Steve McNair is listed as questionable after suffering a calf injury last week at Atlanta.

Plot: Without McNair, the Titans will count on Billy Volek, who came off the bench to rally Tennessee from a 21-point deficit to win, 38-31. Tennessee is 28-0 whenever running back Eddie George has 27 or more carries in a game and 12-1 whenever he rushes for more than one touchdown. Running back Curtis Martin leads the Jets in rushing with 802 yards and has gained at least 100 yards in three of his last five games.

Bottom line: Even without McNair, the Titans should be able to make sufficient big plays to win but don't expect the Jets to make things easy for them.

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