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It's November, so it's must-win time

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Posted: Thursday November 05, 1998 09:27 AM


It's that time of year when you know the NFL season is getting serious -- say good-bye to the bye week. No more three-day weekends for players. No more trying to figure out who's not playing each week. Last weekend, the Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers had the last of the NFL holidays.

Just think -- next year with 31 teams, there will be one team off each weekend. How screwed up is that? For this year at least, the byes are done for the final two months of the season. The playoffs are coming up fast, and if you can't take a week off on the schedule anymore, you certainly can't take one off on the field.

This weekend all 30 teams strap it up for battle. We throw around the term "must-win" all too often. 49ers coach Steve Mariucci put up this smokescreen before the 49ers' most recent visit (and loss) to the Packers at Lambeau Field: "Must-wins are playoff games or games that get you into the playoffs."

I always thought every game should be considered a must-win. If you lose, then you must win the next one or at least give it the old college try. You know, win one for the Gipper! Well, here are four games this week that need to won for the Gipper.

Atlanta (6-2) at New England (5-3): Chris Chandler vs. Drew Bledsoe. The Patriots secondary is one of the league's elite. Edge Bledsoe. On the other hand, the Patriots receiving corps comes in on one leg with injuries to Terry Glenn, Troy Brown and Vincent Brisby. Last week, the Pats looked to the ageless one Henry Ellard (actually, he's 37). Call it even on the QBs. This game also features two stud runners with Atlanta's Jamal Anderson and Patriots rookie Robert Edwards. Atlanta's team quickness is better suited for the climate controlled Georgia Dome. I like the Pats in this must-win game.

New Orleans (4-4) at Minnesota (7-1): The Saints play good defense and play merry-go-round at QB. It was to be Kerry Collins' turn soon until he had too many rounds a few nights ago in Charlotte. The Vikes now are only one game ahead of the Packers and must win to get back on track for an all-expense-paid trip to Super Bowl XXXIII.

Buffalo (5-3) at New York Jets (5-3): Flutie plays every game likes it's a must win. I only wish I had paid more attention to Doug while he was in Canada. The Bills and Jets are both solid on defense. Can New York's Bill Belichick find a way to stop a QB who does the best imitation of Fran Tarkenton I've seen in years?

Kansas City (4-4) at Seattle (4-4): 4-5 makes it tough to chase that playoff dream. There is a big, giant clock ticking as Warren Moon turns 42 on November 18. The only thing sharp about Chiefs QB Elvis Grbac has been his tongue.

For all of these teams, this week is a must-win situation. But if they don't win, there's always another must-win next week.

James Lofton, one of 76 nominees this year for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is an NFL analyst for CNN/SI. His weekly column appears every Thursday exclusively on  

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