NFL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

(All times are Eastern Standard)

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* The National Football League's four regular-season division champions - the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the San Diego Chargers - swing into playoff action this week. They host the winners of last weekend's wildcard games in Stage II of the postseason. Winners of these games will meet Jan. 15; the finalists will compete in Super Bowl XXIX on Jan. 29. * SATURDAY, Jan. 7

Cleveland at Pittsburgh, 12:30 p.m. ***

The sound and the fury of this game will be fed by geographic proximity (no other playoff opponents are so close) and by a fierce division rivalry. Cleveland quarterback Vinny Testaverde was interception-prone in two regular-season losses to the Steelers, but in his first-ever playoff game last week against New England, he was relaxed and error-free. If the old Vinny shows up, Pittsburgh's mastery of the Browns should continue.

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Chicago at San Francisco, 4 p.m. *

The Bears were impressive in eliminating Minnesota from the playoffs, 35-18, but they are no match for the mighty Niners. Besides having the NFL's best 1994 record (13-3), San Francisco also owns the best pass-catch combo in quarterback Steve Young and receiver Jerry Rice, the game's all-time touchdown leader. * SUNDAY, JAN. 8

Green Bay at Dallas, 12:30 p.m. ***

Many observers say Dallas is vulnerable and could see its bid to win an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl end here. Some of the old confidence may be gone, but playoff seasoning is in the Cowboys' favor. Dallas won its Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Packers, 42-31, and that was without injured quarterback Troy Aikman, who has returned to action.

Miami at San Diego, 4 p.m. **

Miami's Don Shula is a big-game coach who knows the playoffs inside and out. He'll find a way to bottle up wide-body Charger running back Natrone Means, and venerable Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino will do the rest. The Chargers, however, won't go down easily. Ratings key

*** The game to watch if you're only watching one.

** Suspenseful possibilities.

* One-sided clinic.

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