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Questions abound in key week

Who’s in, who’s out, who cares and where are they playing? These are the questions we’re trying to answer in Week 15 of the NFL.

In a bizarre set of circumstances, the Sunday and Monday night games did not have lines on the wagering board for most of the week because of quarterback injuries and the condition of the snow-covered Metrodome in Minnesota.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is sidelined for today’s game at New England, and his status was one of the week’s biggest mysteries. Rodgers was listed as doubtful after suffering his second concussion of the season, but he was ruled out Saturday morning.

The Packers, with their playoff hopes hanging in the balance, are 14-point underdogs. Matt Flynn will make his first career start opposite Tom Brady and the powerful Patriots.

The Chicago Bears’ visit to Minnesota on Monday has been switched to TCF Bank Stadium, home of the Golden Gophers.

The winner of today’s Philadelphia Eagles-New York Giants game seizes control of the NFC East. The loser will be a dangerous team that is in danger of missing the playoffs.

The Giants, 3-point favorites, are starting to get their ground game untracked, but quarterback Eli Manning has been inconsistent. The key to this game will be Manning protecting the football.

In a pivotal game, the host Indianapolis Colts are 5-point favorites over the Jaguars with first place in the AFC South at stake. Jacksonville has been the more consistent team, but Peyton Manning knows how to kick it up a notch in big games.

The Chiefs and Rams meet in St. Louis, with both surprise teams atop their divisions. The Rams are 2½-point favorites, and the winner takes a big step toward landing in the postseason.

Kansas City hopes to get quarterback Matt Cassel back in the lineup, a week removed from an appendectomy. Brodie Croyle didn’t thrill anyone in the Chiefs’ embarrassing loss at San Diego last week, and the Chargers remain in hot pursuit in the AFC West after beating San Francisco on Thursday.

The Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets are each sitting on a two-game cushion in the AFC wild-card race, but both teams face difficult foes today. Baltimore is a 1½-point home favorite over New Orleans, while the Jets are 5½-point underdogs at Pittsburgh.

The Ravens dodged a major pitfall Monday at Houston, winning 34-28 in overtime, but they can’t count on Drew Brees to gift wrap one.

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has been foundering, and his prospects of rebounding aren’t good against the Steelers’ defense. Now that the Jets don’t have to pay their strength and conditioning coach, they should hire a shrink to get mentally tougher for the home stretch.

First-place teams do battle in Seattle, where the Seahawks are 6-point underdogs to the Atlanta Falcons. The line tells you what you need to know about the big picture. The Falcons (11-2) are racing toward home-field advantage in the NFC, while the Seahawks (6-7) are in the playoff hunt only because they reside in the weak NFC West.

The Packers and Bears continue to struggle for the NFC North title. It looks like advantage Chicago this week.

The Bears opened as 3-point favorites over the Vikings, and the line is up to 6. Minnesota has issues at quarterback and will start rookie third-stringer Joe Webb as Brett Favre seemingly fades into retirement.

Brian Blessing, host of Sportsbook Radio on ESPN (1100 AM, 98.9 FM), can be reached at blessproductions@yahoo.com.

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