Pressure in its most dramatic concept will govern the high strategy in Sunday's game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys for the Eastern Division title in the National Football Conference.
It will be "handicap football" with a point spread made legal by the league's tie-breaking procedure.
The Cowboys must beat the Eagles by 26 points or more to win the division title; the Eagles can take it merely by not being routed. With the title goes the home field advantage in the playoffs and a week's rest while the league's four wild card teams battle Dec. 28 to advance in the postseason competition.
The Eagles and Cowboys have clinched wild card berths. But the Cowboys can clinch a home field advantage next week just by beating the Eagles. With the Cowboys under the gun, fans in Texas Stadium will be expecting them to come out of the runway firing away, with a hurry-up offense from the first whistle.
The Dallas players figure to have their competitive juices boiling after reading comments in the Los Angeles area press following the 38-14 drubbing by the Rams Monday night.
"A TV farce," one critic wrote. "I the Dallas Cowboys are indeed America's team, then we Americans should all bow our heads in shame. Or shall we say the Dallas Cowgirls?"
"We saw better air defense at Pearl Harbor," another critiqued.
Sunday's game figures to be a duel between the Cowboy's big-play offense and the Eagles' little-play offense. Philadelphia has the No. 1 defense in the NFC.
The Cowboys are sending out cryptic signals. Coach Tom Landry insists that if the Cowboys try to score too quickly they will have interceptions, and will not be able to move the ball with the consistency they will need. "If we put points on the scoreboard in each quarter and put together a great defensive effort, we've got a chance," Landry said.
Safety Charlie Waters just about concedes that 26 points are too many to make up and pretends to be more concerned about just winning so the Eagles will not sweep this season's series.
General Manager Tex Schramm, while protesting too much that he doesn't know Landry's thinking, seemed to reflect it when he speculated on what approach the teams would take.
He recalled how the Cowboys had to beat the Redskins by seven points or more in 1975 to make the playoffs and won, 31-10, and how the Cowboys came from behind in 1979 to beat the Redskins, 35-34.
"The first thing we have to think about is winning the game," Schramm said, "even if we don't do it by 26 points, so that we will have at least the home field advantage as the wild card team.
"If it wasn't a question of that, we might go all out to win by 26 points. I think we will come out a lot more aggressively than usual and take a shot at beating the 26-point handicap.But if we get far enough into the game to see that we are not going to win by that much, we'll just try to win.
"If it wasn't for the home field advantage as a wild card, I think we'd come out throwing on just about every play from the shotgun formation.
"I think we'll begin the game with those 26 points in the back of our minds, try to get the kind of momentum necessary to overcome them, you know, hit on a couple quick passes . . . get a stampede going. But if we get deep into the second half and it's a tight game, we'll chance it and play just to win."
Does he see the Eagles playing a conventional defense, using a "prevent" defense to force interceptions or maybe blitzing to cause the same result?
"I expect the Eagles to play conservatively on offense and defense. I see them trying to get on the scoreboard fast, to try to take away our incentive to beat the 26-point handicap. I don't expect the Eagles to use a prevent defense, because they don't want us to be able to run the ball, to march for a touchdown. They might try occasional blitzes to discourage us from passing too easily."