Today's playoff games

December 28, 1997

AFC wild card

Miami (9-7) at New England (10-6)

Time: 12: 30 p.m., chs. 11, 4.

Line: Patriots by 5.

Vs. spread: Dolphins 7-6; Patriots 7-9.

Last week: Patriots beat Dolphins, 14-12, to clinch AFC East title and home-field edge in this game.

Series: Dolphins lead 38-26.

Streak: Patriots have won four of the past five meetings.

Outlook: New England has beaten Miami twice this season, and therein lies a problem. It is difficult to beat any team in any sport on any level three times in one season, and it is extremely difficult to do so with a Super Bowl shot on the line. That leads to the second problem for the Patriots: Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson. His 7-1 postseason record is best among active coaches, and he has has won his past six playoff games.

For each piece of history, though, there is always another one to counter it. The Dolphins have not won a road playoff game since 1972. That's what you call history. The Boston area last week got a half-foot of snow, and it's going to be cold at game time. That's what you call imposing.

One more thing to look for: Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino has had career lows this season with an 80.2 rating, 58.7 completion percentage and 16 touchdowns. He can still get the job done, but the fact that his team has been unable to run the ball has hurt him and will continue to do so against the Patriots. Look for New England to overcome a lot of negatives and squeak by.

Notable: Marino has thrown a TD pass in an NFL playoff-record 13 straight games. Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe had a career-high 28 TD passes and 87.7 passer rating.

Injuries:

DOLPHINS: Questionable: WR Charles Jordan (groin). Probable: DE Trace Armstrong (knee); CB Terrell Buckley (quadriceps); WR Brett Perriman (hip); RB Lawrence Phillips (neck).

PATRIOTS: Questionable: WR Terry Glenn (hamstring); RB Curtis Martin (shoulder); DT Mark Wheeler (hamstring).

NFC wild card

Detroit (9-7) at Tampa Bay (10-6)

Time: 4 p.m., chs. 45, 5.

Line: Bucs by 2 1/2 .

Vs. spread: Lions 8-6; Bucs 9-7.

Last week: Lions beat Jets, 13-10. Bucs beat Bears, 31-15.

Series: Lions lead 22-18.

Last meeting: Lions won, 27-9, in Week 7 this season at Tampa Bay.

Streak: Lions have won six of the past seven meetings in the series.

Outlook: Though they would never admit this, the Lions must understandably be exhausted from one of the most emotional days a team can go through.

Last week against the Jets, Barry Sanders became only the third player in league history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season. In the same game, linebacker Reggie Brown suffered a severe spinal injury. Emotions don't get more topsy-turvy than that.

This is also tough situation for Detroit because Tampa Bay is playing well and the Lions have been inconsistent. Sanders will get his 100 yards -- he has an NFL record 14-straight 100 yard games -- but Tampa Bay's defensive line -- anchor of the NFL's third-ranked rushing defense -- will keep him from exploding.

Tampa Bay also has a top-notch running game. Running back Warrick Dunn (978 yards) and fullback Mike Alstott (665) combined for 1,643 rushing yards this season and 17 touchdowns. They are a formidable duo.

The Lions are a good team, and with Bobby Ross coaching they always have a chance. But this is the year of the Bucs. They are primed to shock some teams in the postseason -- and not to get upended in the opening round.

Notable: Lions led the NFL with 87 points scored in the final two minutes of both halves. Bucs had an NFL-low 77 penalties.

Injuries:

LIONS: Out: T Tony Ramirez (knee). Doubtful: DL Shane Bonham (toe). Probable: DT Marc Spindler (calf); DT Marc Spindler (calf).

BUCS: Probable: RB Mike Alstott (flu); G Jorge Diaz (shoulder); QB Trent Dilfer (ankle); TE Jackie Harris (hernia); CB Tyrone Legette (knee).

Pub Date: 12/28/97

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