What a viewer sees, or thinks he sees, during the course of an exciting NFL game on the tube can be deceiving.

As, for example, last Sunday.

I think I saw the smartest, most heads-up play in many a season. Or maybe it was just dumb luck on the player's part.

The game was Washington at Atlanta. The score was tied, 10-10, late in the third quarter when Mike Bragg decided to have a punt blocked. The man who blocked the punt was Rick Byas. The ball bounced crazily into the end zone, toward the left sideline.

Byas stayed with the ball all the way, fighting it , trying desperately to get the situation under control. He wound up with his body half out of bounds, half over the sidelines.

The ball seemed to determined to go out of bounds, a few yards past the flag.Had it done so, going out the left side of the end zone, Washington would have been charged only with a safety.

Byas was unable to corral the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. So, it appeared, he took his right arm and, at the last possible second, was able to nudge the ball out of bounds at the one-yard line. He gladly gave up the sure two-point safety gave up the sure two-point safety for the probable seven and Atlanta finally won, 20-17.

Trouble is, it doesn't make sense that any athlete, in any sport, could react that quickly and think that smartly under the split-second pressure to which Byas was exposed.

Naw, it couldn't have been. No one is that quick, physically and mentally. But it sure looked like it, even on the instant replay and on the "highlight" films shown on the television stations later Sunday night and Monday evening.

So, the Skins have the skids and everybody is being blamed except Jack Pardee. Who, besides me, wants Edward Bennett Williams to bring back George Allen?

Do you really believe, for instance, that Gorgeous George would have failed to make the NFC playoffs with this squad? He'd have been there, all right, however briefly.

Pardee might still get there too.

Green Bay won't beat Los Angeles Sunday. Oakland is likely to defeat Minnesota. Atlanta could stumble at St. Louis, and, yes, the Giants have a change to upset Philadelphia.

But can Washington beat Chicago?

Can Washington beat anybody?

Not even Joe Theismann knows for sure.

What the NFL should do, of course, is disqualify Green Bay, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Washington from wildcard consideration and award the spot, to, say, Dan Diego. The Chargers are a very capable team right now. They could, if they so desire, give Houston a heck of a scare Sunday in The Astrodome-and if the Oilers blow this one, they would lose the home field for the AFC wild-card playoff against Miami.

I'll close out the regular season by stringin along with Washington, Los Angeles, Oakland, Philadelphia and, maybe, Miami this weekend. Each game is an imaginary $250 in an attempt to increase the season's bankroll from $175.

The Bears haven't had a quarterback since Sid Luckman. Philadelphia hasn't been in the playoffs since Norm Van Brocklin. Oakland is still looking for its pride, its poise and tis Stabler, but what the heck, I've been wrong about the Raiders all year.

L.A. should care enough against the Packers to preserve its home-field edge against Dallas for the playoffs and, should Houston lose to or tie San Deigo Sunday Miami is worth a look Monday night against New England. The Dolphins would love to get Houston in Florida instead of Texas.

Washington is favoured by four, Oakland by three, Loss Angeles by eight, Philadelphia by six and Miami by three.

The Las Vegas line also shows Denver 1 over Pittsburgh (Saturday), Detroit 9 1/2 over San Francisco, New Orleans 3 1/2 over Tampa Bay, Cincinnati 4 over Cleveland, Dallas 6 1/2 over the Jets, St. Louis 1 over Atlanta, Baltimore 3 over Buffalo, Houston 3 1/2 over San Diego and Seattle 6 over Kansas City.