Baltimore is 5-0 atop the AFC East, one of three remaining undefeated teams in the National Football League.
Minnesota is 4-1, good enough to earn Bud Grant's squad its accustomed first-place position in the NFC Central.
So Who's afraid of the big, bad Bully Boys?
Not me. Not this week Nor, for that matter, do Baltimore or Minnesota scare the Head Linesman for the National points spread in Las Vegas, Nev. He makes both the Colts and the Vikings two-point underdogs, even though they are meeting opponents with less glamorous 3-2 records.
Baltimore is at New England late Sunday afternoon for a game to be televised nationally by NBC. Minnesota visits Los Angeles Monday night for ABC. "Playing Football" will be playing favorites: S750 on the Patriots and S250 on the Rams.
When you're hot you're hot, and "playing Football" is sizzling so far this season with 16 winning selections in 19 tries, including the last eight. It adds up to a mythical plus figure of $4575. May Pete Rozelle live to be 100.I love his league.
New England must beat Baltimore or realize its season has ended quickly. The Colts would be three games ahead, uncatchable, and the Patriots know that the SFC's wild-cardspot this year probably will go to Denver or Oakland. New England is desperate. I am always looking to back good teams in such a situation, particularly when they are playing at home.
New England would be one of my strongest picks of the year if the "3" in the Pats' 3-4 defense was not a littlw soft. The down linemen are vulnerable to the run, as Greg Pruitt demonstrated so vividly a few weeks ago in Cleveland. Nor has New England's pass rush been as strong as it was near the end of.
This is the Patriots' weakness, but it is their only weakness. For my money, New England has the best offense in professional football. The line is superb, especially since John Hannah and Leon Fray have solved their contract problems. Sam Cunningham is a fine fullback, Russ Francis is all-world at tight end and big, mobile Steve Grogan's passing continues to improve.
Baltimore's front four is excellent, especially with tackle Joe Ehrmann expected to return to duty. But any offensive line that can neutralize Ehrmann. John Dutton, Fred Cook and Mike Barnes has the Baltimore secondary at its mercy.
New England's running game and offensive line play will keep the strength of the Baltimore defense honest. The Colts' secondary, for the first time this season, will be on its own. I will pay to find out if they have improved from their pathetic performance under pressure late last season. They are suspect.
The Patriots will score 20 points if they have to. There is an outside chance 30 will not be enough.
Bert Jones is the NFL's best quarterback. Lydell Mitchell is an underratedrunner. Jones' receivers are good, particularly if Roger Carr can rejoin the cast. I never underestimate the capabilities of Jones and the Colt offense. They may be able to score as often as New England does, although Jones occasionally has trouble against a 3-4 and, on occasion, when he falls behind, he tries to catch up too quickly by repeatedly going deep with his passes.
I hope the Foxboro scoreboard is ready to ring up large numbers. This should be one of the most exciting games of 1977.
Minnesota-Los Angeles should be a good defensive display. Chuch Knox made the right move in switching to Pat Haden at quarterback, with Joe Namath relegated to spot duty. The Rams still need more speed in the backfield. Wendell Tyler may provide the answer.
Other games of more than passing interest this week find me going with Cleveland giving 6 at Buffalo and Dallas giving 10 at Philadelphia. Completing the card are Chicago giving 6 1/2 (down from 7) against Atlanta. Detroit giving 2 at San Francisco, Tampa Bay getting 4 (up from 3) against Green Bay, Houston getting 10 at Pittsburgh, San Diego giving 9 1/2 against Kansas City, New Orleans getting 10 at St. Louis, Washington giving 9 against the New york Giants, Oakland giving 13 at the New York Jets and Miami giving 16 1/2 (up from 15) at home against Seattle.
Iwill alse take Cincinnati against Denver if Ken Anderson Plays, but Denver if he doesn't. The spread should be about even.