The National Football League playoffs, which begin next Sunday, will include at least six teams that didn't participate a year ago, including two teams from New York for the first time ever.
The Big Apple's popular parlay came through over the weekend as the Giants upset Dallas Saturday and the Jets turned back Green Bay yesterday. Miami, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay and San Francisco, all out of the playoffs a year ago, have qualified. Denver could be the seventh new team if Oakland defeats San Diego tonight, a result that would give the Broncos the AFC West title and eliminate the Chargers.
The other teams in postseason play -- Dallas, Philadelphia, Buffalo and possibly San Diego -- made the playoffs last year.
The Jets finished with a 10-5-1 record and will have the home-field advantage when they take on Buffalo at noon Sunday for the right to play at Cincinnati the following weekend.
The Giants got their first playoff berth in 18 years when the Packers lost yesterday and fell to 8-8. The Giants did their part Saturday by edging the Cowboys, 13-10, on a 35-yard field goal by Joe Danelo midway through the overtime period. They will play at Philadelphia at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
Buffalo lost its opportunity to bring the playoffs to snow country when it failed to generate any offense Saturday and lost at Miami, 16-6, to finish 10-6.
"The only good thing about the loss is that a lot of teams are going home and we aren't," said Bills Coach Chuck Knox. "We have a road show for three weeks now. Oakland did it last year (winning the Super Bowl as a wild-card entry), and hopefully we can do it this year."
Last year's Super Bowl victory by underdog Oakland has given coaches and players added confidence going into this year's playoffs.
"I wouldn't want to play us now," said linebacker Byron Hunt of the Giants, whose interception set up Danelo's dramatic kick.
"Defense is what wins in the playoffs, and right now we're playing defense as well as anybody," Hunt continued, referring to the fact that the Giants have given up only 54 points in the last five games despite playing such playoff powers as Philadelphia, San Francisco and Dallas.
The Giants will be returning to the scene of the victory that many players believed turned their season around when they visit Philadelphia, which earned the home field edge by shutting out St. Louis, 38-0, yesterday. A month ago, the Giants beat the Eagles, 20-10, with an outstanding defensive effort.
"We thoroughly beat them physically," said Giants General Manager George Young. "That was our most significant victory of the season. We had lost a heartbreaker to the Redskins, (30-27 in overtime), the week before and could have given up. Instead, we bounced back and have played great defense ever since."
If the Giants can repeat their earlier upset in Philadelphia, they will travel to San Francisco to meet the 49ers for the second time in a month. In their only loss in the last five games, the Giants were beaten, 17-10, by the 49ers when Scott Brunner completed only 13 of 34 passes and had three intercepted.
The 49ers held off the Saints, 21-17, in New Orleans yesterday to finish with the best record in the NFL (13-3) and secure the home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Tampa Bay dealt Detroit its first loss in eight home games, 20-17, to win its second Central Division title in three years. The Buccaneers (9-7) will have two weeks off before traveling to Dallas Jan. 2 or 3.
"None of the dates will be determined until Monday," Fran Connors, an NFL spokesman, said last night. "Geography and weather are usually taken into consideration."
Most likely, the AFC games at Cincinnati and Miami will be the first games of the doubleheaders, and those at Dallas and San Francisco will be the late games.
Miami won the AFC Eastern title with its victory over Buffalo Saturday and will play host to either San Diego or Denver. The Broncos lost a chance to capture the AFC Western crown by losing, 35-24, at Chicago.
"It's very tough to play a football team that's got nothing to lose," said Bronco Coach Dan Reeves. "We just have to hope for a miracle from Oakland."
San Diego can win its third straight divisional title tonight (WJLA-TV-7 at 9) by repeating an earlier victory at Oakland. The Chargers' fourth victory in five games would give them the same 10-6 record as Denver, but they would qualify for the playoffs because of a better divisional record (6-2) than the Broncos' 5-3 mark.
Cincinnati's 30-28 victory at Atlanta gave the Bengals a 12-4 record, best in the AFC. If they defeat the winner of the Jets-Bills game, they would have the home field advantage against the winner of the Miami game.
This year marks the first time that three teams from the same division in both the AFC East and NFC East qualified for the playoffs.