Dallas is 6 to 5 in Las Vegas to win the Super Bowl. Next in the near-future line comes Pittsburgh, at 2 to 1, followed by New England 4 to 1, Los Angeles 5 to 1, Denvar 12 to 1, Miami 20 to 1, Houston 35 to 1, Minnesota 40 to 1, Philadelpha 50 to 1 and Atlanta 75 to 1.
As usual, there are no bargains being offered by the sporting houses. Miami, at 20 to 1, is the nearest thing to value, and the Dolphins would have to beat Houston in Miami, the Steelers in Pittsburgh and either New England or Denver on a foreign field to get to the grand finale.
The only edge that accrues to taking 20 to 1 on Miami is that the Super Bowl would be played on the Dolphins' home turf-should they advance that far.
The NFL's expanded playoff format begins Sunday with Houston at Miami and Philadelphia at Atlanta. The Dolphins are favored by six points, the Eagles by 1. I will tread lightly, taking Miami for an imaginary $250 and Philadelphia for an imaginary $100.
"Dan Pastorini will be playing hurt," was the word out of Vegas yesterday, 'but Earl Campbell will be healthier than he has been since his ribs were injured in the Pittsburgh game."
Miami also has physical problems. Larry Little, the offensive guard, hurt his ankle and his knee in the early minutes against New England Monday night. And Del Williams, the splendid running back, appears to be far from 100 percent ready.
A month ago, when Miami played in Houston, I selected the oilers and gave them 2 1/2 points. Houston covered, 3k to 30, but it was thrilling all the way. Since then, Miami's defense has continued to improve while Houston, an extremely physical team, has begun to show the stresses and strains -not to mention the bumps and bruises-of the 16-game season.
Houston-miami offers an intriguing matchup, a beautiful contrast in team styles. Pastorini and Coach Bum Phillips couldn't think their way out of a gas station. Miami's Bob Griese and Coach Don Shula are the shrewdest combination in the business. This time around I'm taking mind over matter.
Philadelphia-Atlanta is not a playoff game. Not really. Neither team belongs in the postseason competition. San Diego, for example, could spot either squad a touchdown and breeze.
But the wilder wild-cared schedule demands that someone fill the TV time. The Eaglers are the superior team enjoying a decided edge in the running game and a slight superiority in the pass-and-catch play.*tIf the game was being played in Philadelphia, I'd be backing the Eagles solidly. Unfortunately, in Amlanta, strange results occasionally occur. The Falcons' flamboyant defense beat the Rams' Pat Haden and the Redskins' Joe Theismann there this fall. Neither quarterback was polished enough to cope with such an all-out rush. I'm not convinced Ron Jawarski can, either. He's been known to panic or go blind, or both, under pressure. Then again, Steve Bartkowski is as erratic as Jawarski.*tAtlanta's advantage is in the kicking game. Should their former Philadelphia bartender boot the winning field goal we'd never hear the end of it.
The regular season for "Playing Football" closed with a net profit of $900 after being $3,125 down after five weeks and $2,295 ahead on Nov. 19. Thirty-one picks won, 30 lost.