The Oakland Raiders should beat the Minnesota Vikings and the four-point spread Sunday in Super Bowl XI.
That does not mean they will do what they should do. Oakland is infamous for not playing to expectations.
For years I have avoided risking too much in any game where the Raiders are involved. Their team character still traces to the days of Darryl (the Mad Bomber) Lamonica. One cannot back Oakland with confidence. They were 13-1 in regular-season play this year but only 8-6 against the points, Minnesota was 5-8-1.
Perhaps, in fairness, Oakland is not as good as many believe them to be. Yet for years one of the enduring cliches of the National Football League had it that "the Raiders have more talent than any other team."
Oakland is unpredictable, particularly when expected to play well. Three weeks ago they figured to run on New England. They didn't. Then, in the AFC championship, they ran when they figured to pass on Pittsburgh.
Which is indicative. There are times when the Raiders appear to be beautifully prepared. At other times they seem to be more intent on maiming than in outscoring theopposition. Always, they are capable of losing their composure defensively. They often make stupid mistakes generally associated with bad teams. They lack the discipline of a great team.
Offensively, the Raider line is better than the running backs. The line also pass-protects superbly for Kenny Stabler. And Fred Biletnikoff is a brilliant receiver, for the money, just as Paul Warfield was with Miami.
Oakland should be able to run enough on Minnesota to make Stabler's aerial show exremely effective. Stabler will have time to throw inas-much as Bud Grant, the Vikings' coach, rarely adjust when overmatched. Grant tends to go to the guillotine calmly.
The Raiders should score 24 or more points. But Minnesota, for the first time since the January 1970, loss to Kansas City, has a chance in this Super Bowl. The Vikings are not out-classed, as they were by Miami in 1973 and Pittsburgh in 1975.
The fact that the Super Bowl is played so cautiously, so conservatively, is perhaps the biggest point in Minnesota's favor. If Oakland relaxes, once it has the lead, and rests on its defense, which has played will the last two months, then the Vikings can be in contention until late in the game.
Should that happen, anything can happen, because Frank Tarkenton has the tools with which to burn Oakland once or twice.
Chuch Foreman is the NFL's best all-purpose back. Sammie White, Ahmad Rashad and Stu Voigt are fine receivers, although White obviously wasn't in Grant's game plan against Los Angeles. Foreman can be particularly effective as a receiver swinging out of the backfield.
The problem with Minnesota, frankly is Tarkenton. Forget all the excuses his cronies in the broadcasting booth are likely to invoke. The truth is, Tarkenton is a 50-50 proposition when matched against the heavy weights of pro football. He does not have a good record of rising to the special occasion.
Stabler, by comparison, is much more reliable in maximum pressure situations.
Oakland should enjoy an edge in the line play, both ways. No secondary, not even Minnesota's excellent one, can cover Biletnikoff Cliff Branch and Dave Casper when Stabler is given time to set up.
All the signs point to an Oakland victory, by a comfortable margin, except for the one gnawing piece of knowledge: this is the type of game the Raiders lose, or win narrowly despite themselves. Proceed carefully. A quarter-unit on Oakland. That will mean a net profit for the season of 7 1/2 units, plus-25 units over the three years' of the column's existence.
The Super Bowl often has provided an appetizing way to close out the football calendar. Miami and Pittsburgh couldn't lose, the last four years. Oakland, unfortunately, has the potential to beat itself.