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Winners, losers and more: Breathing room

James C Black
Yahoo Sports

You want suspense and drama? Go pick up a book or catch one of Russell Crowe's recent releases because at this pace, all of the divisional races will be decided well before folks open their Christmas gifts.

In each of the eight divisions, the leader has at least a two-game advantage over the second-place team. Given that four of the teams have at least three-game leads, don't anticipate much flip-flopping atop the divisions between now and the season finales on Dec. 30.

The only real drama figures to be the wild-card races, especially in the NFC where three teams are tied at 6-6 for the last spot, while five others are just a game back at 5-7. Just imagine all the tiebreakers that will be needed to decide both playoff and NFL draft positioning if this holds up.

But there are many more pressing issues to explore than playoff seeds on a day when the Washington Redskins played their first game without Sean Taylor:

WINNERS

One of those teams with a two-game divisional lead is the Indianapolis Colts, who again were without Marvin Harrison and watched Reggie Wayne limp around at times during the second half. Through it all, though, the Colts were able to hold-off the Jacksonville Jaguars for a 28-25 win and inch closer to a fifth straight AFC South title.

Perhaps the best part of the New York Giants' 21-16 come-from-behind victory over the Chicago Bears is that a trivia question was answered. Every time the G-Men go in a funk – basically, the second half of each season – comes the query, "When was the last time Eli Manning brought them back and won a game?" After a shaky outing in which he threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, Manning regrouped in the fourth quarter and engineered a pair of touchdown drives in the final seven minutes.

Fans in Charlotte and St. Louis no longer have to worry about their teams going 0-for-2007 at home. The Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams picked on franchises even more unfortunate than them Sunday. For the Panthers, the day truly was an aberration, as they registered six sacks against the San Francisco 49ers' Trent Dilfer. Carolina had only 10 sacks in the previous 11 games.

What a day in the McCown family. As Josh McCown guided the Oakland Raiders to their second straight victory, a 34-20 win over the Denver Broncos, younger brother Luke was involved in a back-and-forth battle with the New Orleans Saints. Luke, who made a few crucial mistakes – including a pick-six in the third quarter – capped an eight-play drive with a four-yard scoring pass to Jerramy Stevens with 14 seconds left during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 27-23 victory. Tampa Bay now is three games up on the Saints and Panthers.

Dick Jauron will not win coach of the year honors, but has anyone won more with less this season? The Buffalo Bills have overcome tragedy, injuries and instability at quarterback and are still in the playoff mix – in the AFC.

Clearly, Maurice Jones-Drew's flattening of Shawne Merriman in Week 11 woke up "Lights out." The linebacker had a season-high three sacks and recovered a fumble as the San Diego Chargers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 24-10 to take a two-game lead over Denver in the AFC West.

LOSERS

Joe Gibbs had a tough day, and not exclusively because he had to get his players up for their first game following the murder of Taylor. Gibbs, whose return to coaching has been marred by questionable and conservative game-calling as well as untimely decisions and bad clock management, committed a glaring gaffe that contributed to Washington's 17-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Gibbs' second timeout to freeze Rian Lindell, which led to a penalty and 36-yard field goal attempt instead of a 51-yarder, will be the most memorable moment of a deflating loss – Washington's fourth straight.

Anyone rooting for the New England Patriots to go undefeated just so Don Shula's '72 clan can stop raising the bubbly probably got immense pleasure seeing that these Miami Dolphins couldn't even beat the lowly New York Jets at home. Even with just one team with a winning record remaining on its schedule, Miami probably has more of a chance to go winless than the Patriots do of going undefeated. Too bad the teams play in Week 16 instead of the season finale.

The Cleveland Browns got the short end of the stick with the Kellen Winslow play on the game's final play. Winslow certainly was forced out of bounds. And not that this would have necessarily affected the play-calling, by why did the Browns try for a Hail Mary on the play before: on third-and-10 from the Arizona Cardinals' 37-yard line with 15 seconds left? That certainly seemed like an opportunity to pick up 8-10 yards and attempt a shorter pass on the final play.

JUST WONDERING …

Will the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson (15-116, two TDs in Sunday's win over the Detroit Lions) break Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing mark (1,808) despite not starting early and missing 2½ games?

Should the Lions have taken Peterson instead of Calvin Johnson with the No. 2 pick in April's draft, given the non-existent ground attack in three of their last four losses (minus-18 against Cardinals, 25 against Giants, 23 against Vikings)?

Whether Maurice Morris (5-64 yards, one TD in win over the Philadelphia Eagles) will get a chance to be the lead back for the Seattle Seahawks next year.

Does any wide receiver other than Joey Galloway (7-159) really factor into the Buccaneers' passing plans?

Whether the Raiders and Broncos switched personalities. Two of Oakland's touchdown drives were kept alive when Denver committed penalties on third and fourth down.

If that was live action or NFL Films footage when Atlanta Falcons quarterback Chris Redman threw two touchdowns against the Rams and Tim Dwight caught one for the Raiders.

When quarterbacks and ball carriers will learn to better protect the rock around Chicago Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye. He has now forced fumbles in four straight games.

The last time, if ever, Colts coach Tony Dungy has won two challenges in one game, nevertheless two in the opening quarter. Both reversals led to Indianapolis touchdown drives.

Was that just a special package or were the Chiefs looking for an upgrade at wide receiver when they successfully converted the fade route for a touchdown to defensive end Jared Allen?

Whether Jon Kitna will go out on a limb and say that the Detroit Lions will win their final four games to reach the 10 he guaranteed before the season.

Where are all these points coming from for the Minnesota Vikings (112 the past three games) and can they keep them coming?

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