It is a shame the Rams became mired in the mud of the Coliseum Monday. Had they survived the Vikings, we would be treated to the two best teams in each conference playing for championships Sunday.

Maybe, just maybe, new England is superior to Denver and should have been in the AFC final. Certainly the Patriots have more balance. But that's quibbling.The Broncos deserve to be where they are. They have arrived there the hard way, against the toughest schedule in the NFL while New England enjoyed the easiest schedule and was unable to win its division.

Los Angeles has the mud and coach chuck Knox to blame for sitting out the NFC title game. The spread on the Rams plummented from 10 to 9 1/2 to 8 to 7 1/2 in Las Vegas last weekend, once the rain began to fall in La.

Poor Knox. He is an excellent coach although horribly conservative with his offense. Then, when he gets to the playoffs, he still thinks he is playing in the regular season. He continues to be afraid to try to win by doing something positive - until it is too late.

Knox is not alone, of course, in this respect. The NFL is chock full of cowardly coaches determined not to lose because of errors made by their teams when on the attack. Even when they have the better offensive unit they tend to dress it is a straight jacket and sit and wait, then sit and wait some more, until the game is nearly gone. Then they open up.

It is as though all the coaches are recycles of George Allen. The difference being that Allen often doesn't have any offense, and he knews it. He has to play the way he does, probably by design.

Everybody in the NFL - and I mean everybody, except - on occasion, Tom Landry and Don Shula - sits on a three-point lead instead of risking a 10 point lead, Oakland is included, and Oakland is the finest piece of offensive machinery in pro ball today.

The league's defensive posture has become increasingly prevalent during the last two or three seasons. It often has become downright suffocating during the playoffs. This is why the Super Bowl usually is so dull. This is why, on Sunday, Oakland and Dallas could lose their games instead of winning, while Denver and Minnesota cannot win on their own.

Offensively, there is little the Broncos or the Vikings will attempt to accomplish. Instead, they will hope that their more talented (offensively) rivals make mistakes on which they can capitalize. They will be happy to gain admittance to the Super Bowl through the turnover turnstyle.

Denver can beat Oakland if the Raiders continue to turn over the ball on offense as they have the last month. Oakland kept Baltimore in the game last week with interceptions, fumbles and a breakdown by the special teams. If the Raiders are half as careless this week, Denver's defense is good enough to carry the Broncos to the Super Bowl.

Not that Denver is all that hopeless offensively. It's just that Craig Morton has been the Surprise of the Year, and when is the bubble going to burst?

Still, Oakland needs only to play close to its offensive potential in order to win and hope that the rookie on the left corner of its secondary doesn't fall down too often. Ray Guy's punting could be a strong factor. I'll continue to string along withthe Raiders for a mythical $250 giving 3 1/2 points (up from three).

Chuck Foreman is a great back. He can be used many different ways. But the big edge in the Minnesota-Dallas game lies with Harvy Martin and friends coming after Bob Lee. I doubt that Minnesota's offensive line can keep the Dallas defense off Foreman and Lee.

Make it a mythical $250 on Dallas giving 10 1/2 or 11 points.The 10 1/2 is available.

That would set up Super Bowl 12 in New Orleans on Jan. 15 as Oakland, the defending champion, vs. Dallas. These would be the two teams with the best offenses in professional football. Naturally, given the current climate of NFL coaching, that game would be turned into a defensive struggle.