NFL Countdown

STEVE COAD -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:32 AM ET

Washington (3-7) at Pittsburgh (9-1)

The line: Steelers by 11

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. The Steelers, in the trustworthy opinion of Associated Press football writer David Mordkoff, are benefiting from the breather Jerome (the Bus) Bettis enjoyed at the beginning of the season when, basically, he was parked on the bench awaiting duty as a basher at the opponent's goal line. Recently, with No. 1 running back Duce Staley on the shelf (hamstring), the Bus, fresh as a daisy, has delivered chunks of yardage all over the field, surpassing 100 yards in each of his last three games. As well, he is tied for the NFL lead with 10 rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Redskins are allowing a less-than-gracious 89.7 yards a game on the ground, third-best in the NFL, and have surrendered just five TDs. With wideout Plaxico Buress out (another hampered hammy), the Steelers will have to lean even more heavily on the run.

Cody's call: Steelers 27-17

Philadelphia (9-1) at N.Y. Giants (5-5)

The line: Eagles by 7

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. Giants rookie quarterback Eli Manning had his share of shining moments in his starting debut Sunday -- a 14-10 loss to the Falcons -- but this week he'll have to contend with the Eagles' stellar pass rush, led by defensive end Jevon Kearse. Philly has 29 sacks, which ties for third in the league. Kearse is a load for sure, already piling up seven sacks. And while Manning was sacked just once last week vs. Atlanta, the Giants have allowed 41 sacks this season, most in the NFL. Giants running back Tiki Barber leads the league with 1,522 yards from scrimmage (1,035 rushing, 487 receiving). By winning, the Eagles will clinch the NFC East.

Cody's call: Eagles 23-14

Tennessee (4-6) at Houston (4-6)

The line: Titans by 1

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. The Titans could shoot their own version of the popular TV show ER. They're that banged up. Tennessee's secondary will do its best to corral Texans receiver Andre Johnson, who leads the NFL with 15 catches of 20 yards or longer and is at his best running after snagging the ball. His 589 receiving yards lead the AFC. Meanwhile, AP football analyst Dave Goldberg suspects Houston's secondary can be exploited, but wonders if Steve McNair will have enough healthy, capable receivers to do it.

Cody's call: Texans 24-21

Cleveland (3-7) at Cincinnati (4-6)

The line: Bengals by 6

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. Bengals running back Rudi Johnson is char-ging toward his first 1,000-yard season and will require special attention from the Browns' 18th-ranked run defence, especially middle linebacker Andra Davis. Johnson is a workhouse, already lugging the ball 222 times this season, fourth most in the NFL. In a 17-10 loss to the Jets on Sunday, the Browns were punished and pushed aside, surrendering 61 rushing yards in the fourth quarter to LaMont Jordan. The Browns have won the last two meetings in Cinci, but they'll be without starting QB Jeff Garcia (sprained right rotator cuff). Kelly Holcomb gets the call.

Cody's call: Bengals 23-21

San Diego (7-3) at Kansas City (3-7)

The line: Chiefs by 2 1/2

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. Why are the Chiefs favoured? K.C. will be without superstar running back Priest Holmes for the third straight week (sprained knee ligaments) and in the words of Monday Night Football analyst John Madden, "Derrick Blaylock is no Priest Holmes." The Chiefs have other problems, too, San Diego's emerging tight end Antonio Gates among them. Gates, a favourite target of Chargers rejuvenated QB Drew Brees, shares the NFL lead with 62 receptions and is tied atop the AFC with nine TDs. K.C. is generous to a fault vs. the pass, allowing 243.2 yards receiving a game and a total of 18 TDs. The Chargers have won four straight and six of seven even with their No. 1 guy, running back LaDainian Tomlinson, hurting (groin).

Cody's call: Chargers 27-24

Tampa Bay (4-6) at Carolina (3-7)

The line: Bucs by 2 1/2

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. The Bucs are just 11-15 since winning the Super Bowl two seasons ago, but they've won three of their last four and are riding the coat-tails of resurgent QB Brian Griese and his 104.4 passer rating (third in the NFC). Key to the outcome is how well Tampa's offensive right tackle Kenyatta Walker handles Panthers left defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers has eight sacks, including three consecutive multi-sack games, on a team that has just 19 in total. The Bucs have allowed 29 sacks, eighth most in the league. The Panthers, defending NFC champions, are hot, too, having won two in a row. Their red zone TD percentage is a lofty 69.2 (18 TDs in 26 trips), third in the NFL.

Cody's call: Bucs 16-13

Jacksonville (6-4) at Minnesota (6-4)

The line: Vikings by 6

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. Byron Leftwich (knee) is listed as questionable but he has already been named the Jaguars starting quarterback vs. the Vikes. Randy Moss (hamstring) is down as doubtful so his participation is a definite maybe. Minus Leftwich, the Jags have passed for just 299 yards in their last two games. His per game average is 237 passing yards. Despite not dressing for the Vikings' last three games, Moss is still tied for third in the NFL with eight TD receptions. Vikes QB Daunte Culpepper is second in the loop with 2,945 passing yards, 27 TD passes and a 113.8 passer rating.

Cody's call: Jaguars 21-20

New Orleans (4-6) at Atlanta (8-2)

The line: Falcons by 9 1/2

The skinny: Sunday, 1 p.m. The Falcons are an oh-so quiet 8-2, ranking 20th overall on both offence and defence. But Falcons offensive co-ordinator Greg Knapp has a variety of weapons with which to attack the defenceless Saints: quarterback Mike Vick (Atlanta's leading rusher with 640 yards), running back Warrick Dunn (seven TDs) and tight end Alge Crumpler (39 receptions), among others. The Saints rank dead last in the NFL in total defence, rushing defence, passing defence, yards allowed a play and most first downs a play.

Cody's call: Falcons 31-23

Baltimore (7-3) at New England (9-1)

The line: Patriots by 7

The skinny: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. The Ravens won't have star running back Jamal Lewis, which will make things difficult. Still, the outcome is likely to turn on the battle between the Ravens' opportunistic defence and Patriots' rock-solid offence. Baltimore has surrendered a league-low 140 points. The Brady Bunch is averaging 32 points a game since their 21-game winning streak ended Oct. 21. The Ravens are 5-0 this season when their defence scores a TD and just 2-3 when relying on offence and special teams for all their points. The Patriots have scored first in their last 15 games, tying the NFL record (Miami, 1978).

Cody's call: Patriots 23-14

Buffalo (4-6) at Seattle (6-4)

The line: Seahawks by 5 1/2

The skinny: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. The Bills are winless in their last six road games, including all four games away from Ralph Wilson Stadium this season. The Seahawks regained the lead in the NFC West Sunday but were less than impressive in doing so (unless, of course, you're impressed by a last-minute 24-17 victory over the Dolphins). Jerry Rice will replace Koren Robinson (suspended four games for violating the NFL substance-abuse policy) at wide receiver for Seahawks. Seattle running back Shaun Alexander is on fire, racking up 627 yards in his last four games, and leads the NFL with 1,151 yards.

Cody's call: Seahawks 24-17

N.Y. Jets (7-3) at Arizona (4-6)

The line: Jets by 3

The skinny: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. While they won't run into one another, the big attraction in this game will (hopefully) be the combined presence of Curtis Martin (probable despite a knee problem) of the Jets and Emmitt Smith (questionable, ankle) of the Cardinals, two of the greatest running backs ever to play. Never in NFL history have two backs faced one another with as many combined rushing yards (30,817). And they're still doing the job beautifully. Smith, the league's all-time rushing leader with 18,076, is third in the NFC with eight TDs. Martin is third in NFL rushing with 1,072 yards rushing this season, and sixth all time with 12,741 yards. Jets defensive end John Abraham tops the NFL with 9 1/2 sacks.

Cody's call: Jets 24-20

Miami (1-9) at San Francisco (1-9)

The line: None offered

The skinny: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. Ugh. The Dolphins have won the last five meetings, including the Super Bowl at the end of the 1984 season. Miami's 26 turnovers are the most in the league but they're in danger of surrendering this dubious distinction to the 49ers, who have delivered the ball to the opposition 25 times. Knock the Dolphins all you want, but they're No. 1 in the NFL against the pass and No. 7 in overall defence. Miami has not allowed a 300-yard passer in 24 games, the NFL's longest active streak.

Cody's call: Dolphins 20-14

Oakland (3-7) at Denver (7-3)

The line: Broncos by 11

The skinny: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. (TSN). The Raiders' front seven needs to get after Broncos running back Reuben Droughns, who gobbled up 176 yards (and a TD) on 38 carries in Denver's 31-3 win Oct. 17 in Oakland. In his last six games, Droughns has rushed for 110 yards five times. The Raiders allow 125.8 rushing yards per game, but hold opposing running backs to 3.7 yards per carry. Droughns averages 4.9 a carry, fourth-best in the NFL among backs with at least 100 carries. Broncos QB Jake Plummer is second in the AFC with 21 TD passes. Once head coach of the Raiders, Mike Shanahan is 15-4 vs. his former team.

Cody call: Broncos 33-20

St. Louis (5-5) at Green Bay (6-4)

The line: Packers by 6

The skinny: Monday, 9 p.m. (ABC). Strangely, both of these teams are tied for their division leads -- Packers in the NFC North and Rams in the NFC West -- with dreadful turnover differentials. St. Louis is minus-11, Green Bay minus-13. But the Packers are on a five-game winning streak and as AP football writer Barry Wilner points out, when it comes to Brett Favre, "they're willing to accept some giveaways knowing he is going to make more big plays." Meanwhile, the Rams are brutal on special teams: 30th in the NFL in punt returns, 31st in kickoff returns and, on the other side of the ball, 31st in covering both punts and kickoffs. The Rams' kick coverage is so shoddy that kicker Jeff Wilkins has made five tackles.

Cody's call: Packers 28-24

Season record

Straight up

Yesterday: 2-0. Overall: 104-58

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Yesterday: 2-0. Overall: 71-76


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