The head coaches served on the same Los Angeles staff in 1973. Both starting quarterbacks have shotgun arms and plenty of Polish pride. The teams have identical 9-7 records and long histories of failure.

Those last two similarities between the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons explain why most of America must be yawning in anticipation of Sunday's NFC wild-card game here, even if 60,000 customers are expected at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for the 12:30 p.m. kickoff (WDVM-TV-9).

But Falcon Coach Leeman Bennett and his Eagle counterpart, Dick Vermeil, insist their teams do belong in postseason competition.

"We both got here because we had the best records among those teams which didn't win their divisions," said Bennett, whose Falcons lost three of their last five games, including a 42-21 drubbing at St. Louis last week. "Talk about us not deserving to be here is far from the truth. Yes, we had some luck this year (four of Atlanta's victories were achieved in the final 20 seconds). But most of our success has to be credited to a lot of hard work."

"I'm not embarrassed to take a team to Atlanta with nine wins," asserted Vermeil, whose team lost two of its last three games. "It's a great feeling of accomplishment. It's a great feeling of accomplishment. It's the greatest reward to know you have done a good job. We're not in the Super Bowl but we are in the playoffs."

Atlanta has never played a playoff game in the franchise's 13-year history. The Eagles are making their first appearance since 1960 when the quarterback was Norm Van Brocklin, later an Atlanta head coach.

The winner of today's contest wins a peck of trouble. If the Falcons advance, they face the defending champion Dallas Cowboys on Saturday in Dallas. If Philadelphia prevails, the Eagles travel to Los Angeles to meet a well-rested Ram team on Sunday. (A wild-card winner is not permitted to play its division champion before the conference final.)

Oddsmakers favor the Falcons by two points on their home field, where they were 7-1 during the regular season. "We expect a very physical, very tough game," Bennett said, "and a very emotional game."

Jaworski completed 52 percent of his passes and threw for 16 touch-downs this season. Bartkowski recovered from early-season benching to establish team records for pass attempts (369), completitions (187) and passing yards (2,489). He threw for 10 touchdowns in the 13 games he started.

The Eagles have a more versatile attack and a stronger running game featuring second-year tailback Wilber Montgomery. Voted his team's most valuable player, Montgomery gained a club-record 1,220 yards and his 4.7 yard-per-carry average led the NFC.

Still, some of the Falcons say they are not that impressed. "We've contained better runners than him," said defensive end Jeff Yeates, "and there's no reason why we can't keep him under 100 yards rushing."

Jaworski will be aiming frequently at 6-foot-8 Harold Carmichael, who caught 55 passes and averaged almost 20 yards a catch. None of Atlanta's starting secondary men stands taller than 6 feet.

The Falcons ranked 13th among 14 NFC teams in rushing offense this season, and Bartkowski is expected to throw frequently to wide receivers Wallace Francis and Billy Ryckman, each with 45 receptions.

Both teams use three-linemen, four-linebacker defenses. The Falcons blitz far more frequently than an Eagle team that has been strong against the run but ranks last in the NFC in pass defense. Still, Philadelphia gave up only 250 points this year, Atlanta yielded 290.

The Falcons would seem to have the advantage in a special-team play. Punter John James was among the NFC leaders in net punting and kicker Tim Mazzetti, cut by the Eagles in summer training camp, played a vital role in five Atlanta victories after the Falcons plucked him away from a Philadelphia tavern.

The Eagles meanwhile have been forced to use punter Mike Michel as a placement man since regular Nick Mike-Mayer was injured six weeks ago. Michel, who fanned on a punt against the Redskins this season, has made only nine of 12 extra points and has not been asked to kick a field goal.