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NFL-WILD-CARD PLAYOFF

NFL post-season begins

UNDATED (AP) — The NFL playoffs kick off today with a pair of wild-card games.

Houston has the home field advantage for its AFC game with Cincinnati, but the Texans have limped into the post-season. At one time, a good bet to be the top seed, the Texans struggled in December, losing three of four games to drop to the third seed.

But Houston is hoping to turn it around with a defense led by defensive end J.J. Watt. He led the NFL with 20 ½ sacks and added 107 tackles including 39 for loses and forced four fumbles.

By contrast, the Bengals head into the playoffs on a roll, winning three in a row and seven of their last eight to reach a second straight post-season for the first time since 1982.

The Bengals defense is led by tackle Geno Adkins and end Michael Johnson, who combined for 24 sacks this season.

The Vikings made it into the playoffs with a season ending win over the Packers last week in Minneapolis. The rematch is set for later today in Green Bay.

The Vikings are banged up with quarterback Christian Ponder and cornerback Antoine Winfield missing practice time this week while nursing injuries. Both are expected to answer the call against the Packers.

Green Bay is getting healthy at just the right time. Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson plan to play against the Vikings giving the Packers all four of their top receivers for the first time in three months.

The teams split their two regular season encounters, but Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson was tough for the Packers to stop in both games. He rushed for 409 yards against Green Bay.

T25-SCHEDULE

Duke heads up busy schedule

UNDATED (AP) — Top-ranked Duke rolled through its non-conference scheduled with a perfect 13-0 record. Now the real test begins with the start of the Blue Devils ACC schedule. First up in Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils are one of only four unbeaten teams left in Division I. Team Demon Deacons head into the showdown with No. 1 with a 7-5 mark, including three straight wins.

Third-ranked Arizona is another of the unbeaten and the Wildcats will try to stay that way at home against Utah. But their 13-0 mark has had its share of scares, starting with an overtime win over Colorado this week, when a last-second basket by the Buffaloes was waived off at the end of regulation. Colorado also missed four of six free throws in the final 95 seconds of regulation.

Arizona also beat Florida by one on a layup at the buzzer and nipped San Diego State by a point thanks to a blocked shot in the closing seconds.

A major Big Ten showdown highlights the top 25 schedule on the first Saturday in January when eighth-ranked Ohio State pays a visit to No. 11 Illinois. The Buckeyes have rolled up an 11-2 mark including a 26-point blowout of Nebraska in their conference opener Wednesday. The Fighting Illini staggered into the game off a road loss to lowly Purdue earlier this week, that dropped their record to 13-2. Illinois is hoping to get back to its usual scoring punch after suffering through a dismal 36 percent shooting effort against the Boilermakers.

No. 22 Oklahoma State visits 25th-ranked Kansas State in a Big 12 affair.

In all there are 14 games involving top 25 teams on today's schedule.

NBA-SCHEDULE

Clippers host Warriors in Pacific showdown

UNDATED (AP) — Surprising Golden State tries to run its winning streak to five-games when the Warriors visit the NBA Pacific Division leading Clippers tonight. Los Angeles tops the division by three games over the Warriors after holding off the Lakers last night behind 30 points and 13 assists from Chris Paul.

That's part of a 10-game Saturday schedule on the pro hard courts.

Indiana will try to pull out of virtual deadlock with Chicago for the NBA Central Division lead when the Pacers host Milwaukee. Indiana is just percentage points behind the Bulls, while Milwaukee is two games back of both after dropping their last three games.

San Antonio is back home tonight to host Philadelphia after having their seven-game winning streak snapped in New York Thursday night. Despite the loss, the Spurs still go into tonight's action with a 3 ½ game lead over Memphis for the Southwest Division lead.

COMPASS BOWL

Pittsburgh takes on Mississippi

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The Compass Bowl provides the college football entertainment today with a pair of 6-6 teams having their seasons extended. Pittsburgh and Mississippi will be trying to provide a successful ending to the season for their first year coaches.

Hugh Freeze has turned around Ole Miss after they went 2-10 last season. Paul Chryst (KRIHST) led Pitt to season ending wins over No. 21 Rutgers and South Florida.

Panthers quarterback Tino Sunseri threw for 3,103 yards 19 touchdowns and only two interceptions this season.

Ole Miss's Donte Moncrief has racked up 334 receiving yards and five touchdowns in the last two games.

PGA-TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS

Start of season opener delayed

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — The winds were so fierce coming off the mountains above Maui yesterday, that golf balls were being blown off the green. The unplayable conditions forced officials to call off the opening round of the season-opening Tournament of Champions. The elite field of 30 golfers will tee it up today with plans to play 36 holes. However, the weather forecast is calling for more windy conditions.

NHL-LABOR

Mediator continues to work toward agreement

NEW YORK (AP) — A federal mediator will be back at work trying to break the impasse that has resulted in the 112-day NHL lockout. Scot Beckenbaugh shuttled back and forth between the league and players association yesterday for 12 hours trying to get the two sides to move toward an agreement. However, they never met face-to-face.

The two sides are inching toward a deadline that could cost them an entire season. Commissioner Gary Bettman says a new agreement has to be in place by Jan. 11 in order to get a minimum 48-game regular-season schedule in.

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