The data notwithstanding, it will be hothouse football when Denver plays Houston at 4 p.m. (WRC-TV-4) in Boom Town on Sunday, with the temperature controlled at 72 degrees in the Astrodome.

The Oilers, favored by 6 1/2 points, will have everything going for them except a wind at Earl Campbell's back as his point men lead the assault on Randy Gradishar, and the 233-pound roving inside linebacker of the Denver Broncos may wish he were wearing a baseball catcher's equipment.

The noise level will match that of a rock concert for wildcatters from the oil fields celebrating payday. The Broncos are accustomed to playing at home beofre larger crowds proportionately demonstrative, but, naturally, 180 degrees friendlier.

The Oilers of the Central Divison (11-5) are favored by a touchdown over the Broncos (10-6) of the Western Division in the playoff wild-card teams in the American Football Conference.

The loser joins the nonqualifiers for the playoffs under the Christmas tree.

An upset by the Broncos would let them butt their heads against a steel wall in Pittsburgh and Eastern Division winner Miami would play the Western Division champion Chargers in San Diego next weekend.

If the Oilers win on Sunday they play at San Diego and Miami leaves its comfortable climate for the Frequently nasty weather in Pittsburgh, where Denver and Houston were eliminated in 1978 on the Steelers' way to their record third Super Bowl triumph.

Here on Sunday it will be 224-pound Campbell, the league's leading ground gainer, against the stingiest rushing defense in the NFL. But that's over-simplifying it.

Opponents have ganged up an limited Campbell to fewer than 100 yards. In doing so they often have set themselves up for the classic execution of the "play-action" pass of Dan Pastorini.

A more convenient description of it is a faked run evolving into a pass.

Because of the immense threat he poses as runner, it is almost obligatory for a linebacker to pause momentarily if the quarterback hands off or even fakes a handoff to Campbell.

That hestiation buys time for a receiver to shake free of chucks by defenders in the first five yards and for Pastorini to set up and read the reactions of the linebackers before releasing the ball.

Give a whippet such as wide receiver Ken Burrough that much maneuvering time and the consequence could be a long gainer.

Campbell's presence also discourages an all-out pass rush by the defenders, because of the threat of a fake pass and draw play or a trap or a basic quick-hitting straight smash at the line on a quick count.

Denver has a smart, poised and experienced defense to make split-second decisions, but it often has to spend too much time on the field because of the limited potential of its offense. Campbell seems to get stronger while defenses tire.

The Oilers have the capacity to spurt into a sizable lead by passing and/or running and to come from behind for the same reasons.

The Broncos do not have a runner to approach Campbell's effectiveness and 36-year-old Denvers quarterback Criag Morton becomes a liability with his immobility if his pass protection is not virtually fail-safe. Morton also has a pulled stomach muscle, and that doesn't help.

In a snug game, Campbell virtually can guarantee the Oilers ball control and placekicker Toni Fritsch has been remarkably accurate, with 21 field goals in 25 attempts.

Denver has allowed only 262 points to 331 against the Houston defense, but the Oilers have scored 362 points to the Broncos' 289.

Other comparative statistics reflect a tribute to Campbell -- while the Broncos actually have scored more touchdowns than the Oilers, 18 to 17, by passing, Houston has scored 24 by rushing; Denver 13.

The burden thus would seem to fall disproportionately on Morton, the knock-kneed stringbean who looks as though he is playing on stilts, despite his powerful arm.