If the New England Patriots played the New York Giants a few weeks ago, it might be one of the few games the Pats had an outside chance of losing.
Not Saturday night as New England goes for a 16-0 season at the Meadowlands.
That's because any team heading for the playoffs, as New York is, has to take care of itself. That means resting any starter who's hurting and playing others for just a smidgen of the game. Tampa Bay, who the Giants play in a wild-card game next weekend, is doing just that.
In fact, this could be more like the final game of the exhibition season, which these teams played in Foxborough on Aug. 31. Bill Belichick didn't even dress most of his starters, the Giants played theirs for one series and New England won 27-20 in a game played largely by guys who were cut a day or two later.
That won't happen this time.
Tom Brady and Randy Moss, chasing records for touchdown passes and catches in a season, will start. So will the rest of the New England regulars because Belichick doesn't want Brady facing the team that leads the NFL in sacks with backup offensive linemen.
The Giants, who would have only an outside chance to beat the Patriots anyway, have no such obligation.
Coach Tom Coughlin has been more obtuse than usual when pressed about who might rest. ``I really don't like that type of a scenario even to sit and ponder and think about,'' he says.
Still, it makes little sense for the Giants to play anyone who's been playing hurt: WR Plaxico Burress, RB Brandon Jacobs, S Gibril Wilson and a few others. Michael Strahan, who is 36, has had a good season, but has been wearing down and probably could use a week off.
The oddsmakers seem confused, too, as they are in almost all games this final week.
The Patriots opened as 13-point favorites, lower than most of the recent spreads. Bettors raised it to 14 1/2.
If Coughlin sits people, that's a conservative spread. Figure New England to jump off to something like a 24-3 lead, then start selective substitution to keep people healthy.
PATRIOTS, 31-10.

Dallas (plus 7 1/2) at Washington
This spread assumes the Cowboys will sit a lot of starters. Washington won't because it makes the playoffs with a win.

Tennessee (minus 2 1/2) at Indianapolis
A 9-point swing: the Colts opened as 6 1/2-point favorites. Then Tony Dungy announced he won't play Peyton Manning more than a half. Tennessee makes the playoffs.
TITANS, 20-7

Minnesota (minus 3) at Denver
The Vikings probably blew their chance last week.
VIKINGS, 24-20

Pittsburgh (minus 6) at Baltimore
Incentive is getting the third seed in the AFC to avoid Jacksonvile.

San Diego (minus 8) at Oakland
The Chargers started sitting people in the second half Monday night. The starters will play long enough to secure that third seed.

San Francisco (plus 10) at Cleveland
The Browns are in contention, but it doesn't matter if they win or lose. If the Titans win, they get in. Otherwise Cleveland makes it.
BROWNS, 24-20

New Orleans (minus 3) at Chicago
The Saints can get in if they win and Minnesota and Washington lose. To avenge the 39-14 loss in last season's NFC title game ...
SAINTS, 39-14

Seattle (plus 3) at Atlanta
A 6-point jump here: the Seahawks were 3-point favorites to start.

St. Louis (plus 6) at Arizona
Arizona can finish 8-8, which would be just the third non-losing season for the franchise since 1984.

Jacksonville (plus 6 1/2) at Houston
Jacksonville has clinched the fifth seed in the AFC.
TEXANS, 19-3

Detroit (plus 3) at Green Bay
The Lions try for a .500 season. The Packers need to atone for last week's mistakes.

Buffalo (plus 7 1/2) at Philadelphia
Two teams playing for .500 seasons.
EAGLES, 23-13

Carolina (minus 3) at Tampa Bay
Jon Gruden will rest folks.

Cincinnati (minus 3) at Miami
The Dolphins try to convince Tuna to keep Cam Cameron as coach.

Kansas City (plus 6 1/2) at New York Jets
The Jets are the best 3-12 team in the league, whatever that means.
JETS, 16-10

LAST WEEK: 8-8 (spread); 14-2 (straight up)
SEASON: 118-114-8 (spread); 158-82 (straight up)

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