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All eyes this weekend will be focused on the sidelines

Only the final week of the regular season is more about who is not playing than who is playing.

The Cowboys play the Redskins, the Titans play the Colts, and all eyes, especially those in Minnesota and Cleveland, will be on the benches, to the players resting for their team's opening playoff game.

Dallas has been quiet about its intentions, but the Cowboys are giving serious thought to playing running back Marion Barber sparingly, if they even play him at all.

Now that the Cowboys have lost wide receiver Terrell Owens to a high ankle sprain and have quarterback Tony Romo battling a nagging thumb injury, the last thing Dallas wants to see is its Pro Bowl running back banged up for its divisional playoff game against either the Buccaneers or the Giants.

Dallas will be extremely cautious with Barber, which allows a window into its thinking with the rest of some of its players.

Cornerback Terence Newman injured his knee Saturday night at Carolina and could be given two weeks to rest and prepare for the playoff opener. Dallas also is not likely to rush back Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode, who missed Saturday night's win at Carolina with a knee injury.

Just as Dallas has earned the right to do what it feels is best for its team -– but not for the Vikings, who need the Cowboys to beat the Redskins on Sunday to have a chance to make the playoffs -– Indianapolis will do the same Sunday night, much to the disappointment of the Browns.

Colts backup quarterback Jim Sorgi will play at least a half, Tony Dungy confirmed this week. It's entirely possible that, if quarterback Peyton Manning were able to put together a successful opening drive, he might be pulled immediately afterwards. Cleveland will be rooting for Manning to remain in the game, however the Browns could have more disappointment a week after they suffered the start of it in Cincinnati.

Dungy also is expected to rest a handful of other players battling injuries, including defensive tackle Raheem Brock (rib), tight end Ben Utecht (shoulder), cornerback Tim Jennings (concussion) and offensive tackle Ryan Diem.

Eleven Colts, including wide receiver Marvin Harrison, did not practice Wedneday, setting a tone for the week. Like the Cowboys, the Colts are doing what is best for them. They will be more concerned for getting ready for the Jaguars, Steelers or Chargers than the Titans.


Cue the Jaws music, only toned down some. The Tuna arrives in Miami on Thursday for his first up-close and personal look at the team he agreed to be in charge of one week ago.

The football world is waiting on Parcells' plans for the Dolphins head coach and general manager. The feeling around the league is that Dolphins coach Cam Cameron has a better chance of returning to Miami next season than general manager Randy Mueller. Cameron is friendly with former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight, one of Parcells' closest friends. But that friendship is not enough to assure a return.

Before any decisions are made, Parcells wants to go on a fact-finding mission, talk with people in the building, watch how they conduct themselves and then begin to shape the Dolphins for years to come.


When the season started, the Giants' Tom Coughlin and the Panthers' John Fox sat on seats that were warming by the moment. But since then, both have cooled considerably, to the point where it would be a considerable upset if neither coach returned to his team next season.

Coughlin has led his team to the playoffs despite losing three key players to fractured fibulas in the past five weeks. After hosting the New England Patriots on Saturday night, the Giants will begin to prepare for a wild-card weekend matchup at Tampa against the Buccaneers. It is important for Giants ownership to maintain continuity and consistency and it recognizes that Coughlin provides them that opportunity.

In Carolina, the Panthers have declined to confirm a report by NFL Network last Saturday night that Fox would be returning next season. But do not confuse their silence with indecision. The decision has been made. There no longer is a question. Fox, who has three years remaining on his contract after this season, will be patrolling Carolina's sideline next season.

In stitches

Here's a story that will leave people in stitches.

After San Francisco cornerback Nate Clements returned an interception 62 yards during Sunday's win over Tampa Bay, 49ers vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan got so excited, he put his fist through a glass window in the press box.

"I always thought it was plexiglass," McCloughan said Wednesday.

But he learned the hard way. And it was a costly lesson as McCloughan needed four stiches in his right wrist. Others got it worse. San Francisco's secondary coach, Johnnie Lynn, needed stiches and staples in his head, as did 49ers defensive quality control coach Jason Tarver.

"It really could have been a lot worse," McCloughan said.

Then he paused and added, "I guess that tells you a little bit about how into my job I am. But we won the game, so it was all right."

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