The best bet concerning Sunday's Super Bowl is that it will be a disappointment to many observers. There will not be enough scoring to please the media.
Defense is what got Philadelphia and Oakland to New Orleans. These are the finest defensive units in the NFL. The Raiders, in particular, have had to play superior defense in order to overcome the large number of potentially damaging errors made by quarterback Jim Plunkett. And Ron Jaworski, the Eagle quarterback, also has been known to suffer streaks of 0-for-11 against quality opposition.
I can see both Jaworski and Plunkett having a difficult time Sunday. Neither passer is likely to lead his team to victory on his own individual brilliance. They will be extremely effective only if their offensive lines can establish a decided superiority. That's not likely. Oakland will not run on Philadelphia. Philadelphia will have difficulty running on Oakland.
That last sentence is the key to the contest. There is a chance that the Eagles' fine offensive front, anchored by Jerry Seismore and Stan Walters at the tackles, might be able to create some space for Wilbert Montgomery. If that happens -- should the Eagles generate enough of a ground game to take the pressure off Jaworski -- they will win.
The Raider offensive front is not what it once was, when Gene Upshaw and Art Shell were the finest left side in the league. This season, Oakland ran right as much as left. But the entire front provided Plunkett with excellent pass protection -- which was necessary, because the Raider quarterback can be terribly tentative at times.
Even so, Jaworski is no more danger than Plunkett. He, too, can falter under fire. Jaworski has this game's finest receiver on his side, in Harold Carmichael. But Oakland's receiving corps, overall, is equally effective. And the Raiders' secondary, led by Lester Hayes, is more likely to come up with a critical interception.
When these two squads played Nov. 23 in Philadelphia, there was little to choose. The Eagles won, 10-7. Plunkett's long touchdown pass to Cliff Branch was lucky. The long Jawoski completion that set up the Eagles' touchdown was equally fortunate. He should have been sacked.
As I recall, the key play in that game came in the fist half when Oakland drove deep into Eagle territory only to fumble inside the 10 after a pass completion. Plunkett tested rookie cornerback Roynell Young early and often and almost hit paydirt. But Young, while not to be confused with Hayes, has stood up well to such treatment all season.
Only a fool would risk big money, however imaginary, on this Super Bowl. The Eagles deserved to open a three-point favorite because of their slightly better balance. I was surprised when the line moved to 3 1/2 in most areas. At Philadelphia, the Eagles were six over the Raiders.
I'm 13 for 14 covering the spread in the Super Bowl. The last nine picks are documented. The only loss came when Craig Morton refused to lead Dallas to victory over Baltimore, although the rest of the Cowboys tried very hard.
Sound advice for Sunday would be to enjoy the game but keep the imaginary $900 profit you've made from following Playing Football this season in your pocket. Alas, it is the super duper, and most bettors demand action. They refuse to wait until September for their next play.
So, all right. Take $250 and put it on Philadelphia and hope that Montgomery, a big-game performer, is given some running room by the Eagle offensive line. Montgomery is potentially the one significant difference between those two teams. Raider running back Kenny King is good, but he's not Wilbert.
The man I fear the most on the Raider roster is Ted Hendricks. The 6-foot-7 linebacker is uncanny in his ability to produce a big play when it's most needed.
Otherwise, the only edge Philadelphia enjoys is in field-goal kicking. Tony Franklin spent much of the year trying to figure out what he was doing wrong. That still puts him ahead of Chris Bahr. Oakland's three-point specialist, who has been known to go blind on occasion. Franklin has superior range. I won't be shocked if he hits one Sunday for more than 50 yards.
Please keep in mind, after picking Philadelphia for all the right reasons, that Lady Luck has been sitting on Plunkett's shoulder pads this year. If she stays with him for one more game, all the brilliant reasoning in the world won't matter.