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NFL notebook

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 6, 2002

Eagles at Bucs.

Eagles at Bucs.

OF NOTE: A hard game to call because so many starters on both teams will get limited playing time since the game has no playoff implications. Still, the Bucs probably want this game more because they owe the Eagles for last season's 21-3 playoff loss in Philadelphia, and because they need the boost with a playoff game in Philly looming next weekend. Plus, the Bucs have just been tough to beat at home, especially late in the season, and have won the past three regular-season meetings with the Eagles.

FRY'S PROMISE: Bucs 16, Eagles 14

Packers at Giants.

OF NOTE: Packers need this to have a shot at winning the NFC Central and, at the very least, host a wild-card game. The Packers are barely .500 on the road, where they've had trouble scoring at times. The Giants (7-8), who've lost the past two against the Packers, won't lay down. They are fighting to avoid a losing season, which should provide enough motivation to make this one somewhat interesting. In the end, Packers quarterback Brett Favre will see to it his team prevails, but expect an unexpectedly close game.

FRY'S PROMISE: Packers 24, Giants 17

Broncos at Colts.

OF NOTE: The Broncos have owned the Colts, winning seven of their past eight meetings. At 5-10, the Colts probably just want to get this disappointing season in the books and move on. The Broncos are coming off a confidence-boosting win over the Raiders, but haven't won back-to-back games since opening the season 2-0. Denver has one of the league's better defenses and should be able to contain the Colts offense (AFC-best 253.7 passing yards a game) and further frustrate quarterback Peyton Manning.

FRY'S PROMISE: Broncos 27, Colts 24

Cardinals at Redskins.

OF NOTE: Both 7-8 teams want this one to avoid a losing record. Both are coming off impressive wins and are playing some of their best football. The Redskins would seem like the natural pick because they are at home, but they've play much better on the road, where they've won their past four. Cards need big days from quarterback Jake Plummer and receiver David Boston, but the Redskins secondary is solid. The 'Skins defense has held 10 of its past 11 opponents to 20 points or fewer. Make that 11 of 12 after today.

FRY'S PROMISE: Redskins 22, Cardinals 20

Bengals at Titans.

OF NOTE: Sure, the Bengals beat the Steelers last weekend, but don't put a lot of stock in that. Same goes for the Titans' loss to the Browns. The Titans still are the clear pick here. They're at home. They want to finish at least .500. And they've won the past seven against the Bengals. One problem could be Corey Dillon, who usually has decent games against the Titans and has been running well lately. If the Titans hold him to fewer than 100 yards, they'll win easily. If not, it could be a long afternoon for Tennessee, which usually plays Cincy close.

FRY'S PROMISE: Titans 30, Bengals 17

Cowboys at Lions.

OF NOTE: Nothing would help ease a long offseason in Detroit better than a win in regular-season finale. Plus, it would be the perfect ending to the team's final game in the Silverdome. But don't count on it happening. The Lions, who've won five of the past seven meetings, have been getting gashed lately, losing badly to the Steelers and Bears. The Cowboys will come with a heavy dose of running back Emmitt Smith, who is 56 yards from his 11th straight 1,000-yard season. The Lions simply don't have the defense to stop him.

FRY'S PROMISE: Cowboys 19, Lions 9

Patriots at Panthers.

OF NOTE: Poor Carolina. Another loss today would give it the dubious distinction of being the first team to lose 15 straight in a 16-game season. And it likely would get coach George Seifert fired. Patriots need this one to clinch the AFC East title. Despite their awful record, the Panthers can be dangerous, especially at home, although they didn't look it in Sunday's 30-7 loss to the Cardinals. Expect Carolina to pull out all the stops and the Pats to be tentative. If Tom Brady gets picked off a lot, the Pats will be in deep trouble.

FRY'S PROMISE: Patriots 31, Panthers 24

49ers at Saints.

OF NOTE: The Saints have been getting toasted lately, giving up 40, 48 and 34 points in their past three games, all losses. They've come completely unraveled and probably just want to finish the season as quickly as possible. The 49ers, meanwhile, dipped a bit too in losing Sunday to the Cowboys. The 49ers need to win and win big to show they won't be a postseason pushover. Their potent offense ought to rip more holes in the Saints' porous defense. The Saints usually play the Niners tough, but not this time.

FRY'S PROMISE: 49ers 28, Saints 20

Jaguars at Bears.

OF NOTE: The forecast calls for temperatures in the low 30s and overcast skies, which is perfect weather for Bears football. It also is abysmal weather for Jags football. Don't look for quarterback Mark Brunell to be able to ignite much offense in those frosty conditions. And against the NFC's top run defense, the Jags will be forced to pass a lot. The Bears are allowing a league-best 12.7 points a game. The Jags won the last meeting, but the Bears have too much riding on this one to lose to the Jags again.

FRY'S PROMISE: Bears 20, Jaguars 3

Browns at Steelers.

OF NOTE: Hard to imagine the Steelers losing two in a row even if star running back Jerome Bettis sits out again. The Browns won a shootout Sunday against the Titans, but their offense still is suspect, especially matched against arguably the league's best defense. The Steelers don't turn the ball over much (18 turnovers tied for the league-best) and the Browns thrive on interceptions (league-high 30 picks). The Browns defense is talented enough to at least slow the Steelers and make a game of it.

FRY'S PROMISE: Steelers 17, Browns 9

Falcons at Rams.

OF NOTE: The Rams destroyed the Falcons 35-6 in their first meeting this season and figure to do the same today. With homefield advantage throughout the playoffs up for grabs, they won't go easy today against quarterback Michael Vick or Chris Chandler. The Falcons frankly don't stand a chance. Their defense is one of the worst in the league and will look virtually powerless against the Rams' lightning attack. The Falcons' only hope is for turnovers, but the Rams have averaged less than two a game lately.

FRY'S PROMISE: Rams 36, Falcons 19

Bills at Dolphins.

OF NOTE: The Dolphins have won the past three against the Bills. More importantly, the home team has won seven of 10, giving Miami the edge today. Plus, the Fins need to win to have a shot at winning the AFC East crown. But don't give it to Miami just yet even though quarterback Jay Fiedler is 3-0 vs. Buffalo. The Bills played inspired in beating the Jets on Sunday, while the Dolphins are coming off a lackluster effort in a win over the Falcons. If Miami gets off to a good start, it will cruise. Otherwise, the Bills could pull off another shocker.

FRY'S PROMISE: Dolphins 23, Bills 21

Jets at Raiders.

OF NOTE: The Jets have choked down the stretch the past two seasons, barely missing the playoffs both times. They need this one to get in, but it doesn't look good. Granted, the Raiders, who need to win to clinch a first-round bye, have slumped lately, losing three of five. And they've been suspect at home, losing their past two. But the Jets haven't won in Oakland since 1962, going 0-8-1. The key will be league rushing leader Curtis Martin, who needs to exploit the Raiders' run defense, which has been vulnerable in recent weeks.

FRY'S PROMISE: Raiders 26, Jets 21

Chiefs at Seahawks.

OF NOTE: A win coupled with a Jets loss would send the Seahawks into the postseason. They should know for sure by kickoff when quarterback Trent Dilfer goes for his 15th straight win as a starter. The Chiefs have won the past three, but they have little to play for this time. Seattle has to limit K.C. running back Priest Holmes while giving Shaun Alexander (103.4 yards per game) plenty of running room. As usual, it'll be close to the end. Whichever team leads in rushing wins the game. Figure it'll be Seattle.

FRY'S PROMISE: Seahawks 26, Chiefs 19

Vikings at Ravens.

OF NOTE: You'd think this would be a no-brainer because the Ravens are clearly the better team, but the Ravens looked awful in losing last weekend at Tampa Bay. The Vikings at least tested the Packers before bowing out. Still, the Vikes have no motivation while the Ravens are fighting for a playoff spot. Look for Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and Co. to rise to the moment at home and on national television. Hey, if the Ravens can't beat the Vikes at home, they don't deserve to be in the playoffs, right?

FRY'S PROMISE: Ravens 21, Vikings 10

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