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NFL | Playoff bar lowered for Skins and Titans

Under normal circumstances, the Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins would face tough tasks Sunday against division winners Indianapolis and Dallas, both 13-2.

Under normal circumstances, the Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins would face tough tasks Sunday against division winners Indianapolis and Dallas, both 13-2.

Instead, the Redskins and Titans seem to be in good shape to clinch the final playoff spots in their conferences against playoff-bound teams that have nothing to gain and will likely rest starters.

So when the Colts host Tennessee (9-6) on Sunday night in the final regular-season game, Jim Sorgi is likely to be at quarterback instead of Peyton Manning for much of the game. That will make it easier for the Titans, who need a win to make the playoffs.

However, eight-time Pro Bowl receiver Marvin Harrison, who has missed 10 Colts games because of an injured left knee, went through a full practice yesterday and might see limited action in the game.

Dallas, which has clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, will be without receiver Terrell Owens, who sprained an ankle Saturday against Carolina.

It would be a surprise if coach Wade Phillips played a lot of people for the entire game against the archrival Redskins (8-7), who have won their last two to get to within a win of the playoffs.

Washington moved into this spot by breaking Minnesota's five-game winning streak Sunday night to earn the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Vikings (8-7).

Tennessee moved to the brink by beating the New York Jets, 10-6, after Cleveland (9-6) was upset by Cincinnati. A win Sunday would give the Titans the tiebreaker over the Browns because they have a better record against common opponents.

But if Tennessee loses, Cleveland gets in even with a home loss against San Francisco because the Browns will have a better record against AFC teams.

TV and history.

Three local TV stations thought they had one of the NFL's biggest games all to themselves. When tomorrow's potentially historic Patriots-Giants matchup landed on their competitors, too, they accused the league of violating their contracts.

The NFL and the stations were "working through contractual issues," league spokesman Greg Aiello said.

WCVB in Boston and WMUR in Manchester, N.H., both owned by the same company, and New York station WWOR had won bidding for the right to simulcast NFL Network games involving local teams. All games on the NFL Network and ESPN also are shown on free TV in the clubs' home markets.

On Wednesday, the NFL said the matchup also would be aired on CBS and NBC. The game will not be blacked out on those networks in the Boston and New York areas.

The Patriots will be the first team in NFL history to go 16-0 in the regular season if they beat the Giants.


Bill Parcells, 66, reported to his new job and was on the field for yesterday's workout by Miami (1-14) and a firsthand look at the NFL's worst team. He signed a four-year contract last week to become executive vice president of football operations.

Parcells' first big decision will be whether to retain Cameron and general manager Randy Mueller, and a major roster shake-up is likely.

"I have to evaluate all the things that are here first of all, and attempt to do that as expeditiously as possible, and see where we go from there," he said.

The Dolphins, who lost their first 13 games under Cameron, will play Sunday's finale against Cincinnati, which will end the worst season in franchise history.


Buffalo safety Donte Whitner, third on the team with 102 tackles this season, missed his second consecutive practice because of the flu. His status for Sunday's game against the Eagles is uncertain.

No. 2 receiver Josh Reed missed his second straight day because of a sore back.


The NFL fined defensive tackle Warren Sapp $75,000 for the confrontation with game officials that led to his ejection Sunday in Oakland's 49-11 loss at Jacksonville. He avoided a suspension, however.

The league said it had punished Sapp for "physical and verbal actions toward game officials that drew an unprecedented three unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties and ejection from last Sunday's game."

Defensive end Derrick Burgess, a former Eagle, was fined $25,000 for verbally abusing an official during the sequence.


Dallas wide receiver Patrick Crayton signed a four-year deal with the Cowboys that's worth up to $14 million, his agent, Frederick Lyles, said. . . . Kansas City quarterback Brodie Croyle, who bruised his throwing hand Sunday against Detroit, was able to throw. He probably will start Sunday at the New York Jets when the Chiefs try to end an eight-game skid. . . . Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is likely to rest a sprained right ankle and not play Sunday against Baltimore. . . . The San Diego Chargers auditioned four kickers and could sign one for kickoff duties because Nate Kaeding has a bruised lower left leg.