Philadelphia opened as a 6-point favorite over Chicago for Sunday's first NFL wild-card playoff game. The Eagles quickly moved out to 6 1/2. By kickoff, the spread could be 7. Houston, meanwhile, has held steady as a 5-point choice over Denver. Both favorites are at home.
The advantages of making a selection early are obvious. Philadelphia giving 6 1/2 is a much more attractive proposition than giving 7. That is a big half-point, although I believe the Eagles offer the only way to fly in this contest. I will give the 6 1/2 for a mythical $500.
Philadelphia should be able to defense Walter Payton adequately. Its 3-4 tends to be more effective against the run than against the pass, and the Bears' passing game is unreliable with Mike Phipps throwing.
Fourteen points should be the maximum total scoring for Chicago. The Eagles should score 21 or more. There is one danger, however. Check the weather forecast in Philadelphia. Storm conditions would favor Chicago.
I have never been a Ron Jaworski fan-although the quarterback has more talent than many of the pros who play the position. Jaworski is a follower, not a leader. He must have considerable help in order to get the job done.
The Eagles are a classic example of the supporting cast -- meaning Harold Carmichael and Wilbert Montgomery -- being more important to the offense than the QB. If Montgomery runs well and Carmichael can get open, and if the Eagles' excellent offensive line plays up to par, then Jaworski can help finish off a rival. But he rarely, by his own individual brilliance, carries his team past a superior opponent and he often is far from his best under pressure.
Jaworski's shakiness and Coach Dick Vermeil's innate conservatism force me to temper my enthusiasm for Philadelphia even though, on paper, they would seem to command more than a $500 play.
Houston giving 5 against Denver is worth a mythical $1,000. Earl Campbell is going to have a difficult afternoon (for him) running against the Broncos, but Dan Pastorini should be effective throwing to his fine array of receivers.
Denver is hurting. Rick Upchurch did not finish Monday's game in San Diego. Rob Lytle is out, and Riley Odoms undoubtedly has tried to come back sooner than he normally would have.
These three players represent much of the Bronco offense. Without them available or at full capacity, poor old Craig Morton might be in for a long afternoon in Houston, although the Oiler pass rush is not terrifying.
The most interesting aspect of this game will be how well Campbell fares against Randy Gradishar and friends. The Broncos have the best short-yardage defense in the league and are excellent against any runner foolish enough to try to get to the outside. Yet Campbell is so special he still might run for more than 100 yards. A good bet for the day, however, is that Payton compiles more yardage than Campbell.
The AFC's superior quality will be on display right from the start of the playoffs. Chicago, Tampa Bay and Los Angeles all qualified from the NFC, while Cleveland, New England, Seattle and Oakland all failed to survive in the tougher conference.
There is no justice. Perhaps the NFL should consider having all playoff competition being interconference instead of intraconference from the start. That way Dallas would not be "protected" in the NFC and the two best teams in professional football, both from the AFC, would make it to the Super Bowl.