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Baltimore (11-5) at Miami (11-5)
These are the two AFC teams that aren't playoff repeaters; they were a combined 6-26 last season. In fact, Miami's one win in 2007 was in overtime over the Ravens after the usually reliable Matt Stover missed a 44-yard field goal attempt that could have won it for Baltimore -- and possibly sent the Dolphins to an 0-16 season.
But Bill Parcells took over the Dolphins, hired Tony Sparano as the coach and was lucky to get Chad Pennington to play QB when the Jets released him after trading for Brett Favre. Miami also benefited from New England's problems after Tom Brady's injury and from some imagination (the "Wildcat" offense) to win the AFC East.
The Ravens, as usual, are staunch on defense. They also got stout performances from rookie QB Joe Flacco and second-year running back Le'Ron McClain. That made them an offensive threat for one of the first times since they moved to Baltimore in 1995, and they finished by winning nine of their last 11.
Like the other visitors, the Ravens are favored, perhaps because the Dolphins seem to be one of those "just glad to be here" teams. Baltimore won 27-13 in Miami in the regular season and, like Indy, is a wild-card team that could be a threat to win it all.
Philadelphia (9-6-1) at Minnesota (10-6)
The Eagles, a very up-and-down team, got in last week by routing Dallas 44-6 after Tampa Bay and Chicago lost to give them a shot. This is a team that seemed out of it after being tied by lowly Cincinnati, then getting routed in Baltimore in a game in which Andy Reid pulled Donovan McNabb at halftime.
McNabb came back the next week and the Eagles seemed rejuvenated. They beat two division winners, the Giants and Cardinals, and blew out Dallas, although they threw in a clunker in the next-to-last week by losing 10-3 in Washington.
"For people to just put us out for dead, road kill, for that door to just open up just one more time for us, you never want to give a team another opportunity," McNabb says, "because when that team gets in, it could be that team that you talk about that you don't want to play. The way that we're feeling in this locker room, we can be that team."
The Vikings hope they can get back Pat Williams, the run-stopping defensive tackle who has missed the last two games with a broken shoulder. Minnesota was unimpressive in its finale, a game it went in knowing it needed to win, then barely getting by a Giants team playing backups.
One advantage for Minnesota: Brad Childress, its coach, is a former offensive coordinator for the Eagles, so he knows Philly well.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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