The San Francisco 49ers, whose season began in Detroit's Silverdome 18 weeks ago, can move closer to ending their season there, in the Super Bowl, when they play the New York Giants today in an NFC semifinal (WDVM-TV-9, 5 p.m.).
In the AFC, Cincinnati's Ken Anderson, who as a very young pro twice quarterbacked the Bengals into the playoffs only to be defeated, will find out whether his switch to longer passes can subdue the Buffalo Bills (WRC-TV-4, 1 p.m.).
The 49ers, NFC West champions, earned a bye last week after a 13-3 season. They are 5 1/2-point favorites to advance to next Sunday's NFC championship game against Dallas.
A year ago, the 49ers were 6-10. Seven weeks ago, the Giants were 4-6. There are two other elements of intrigue in this game: the playing field at Candlestick Park and Giants running back Rob Carpenter.
It has been raining all week in the Bay Area and the 49ers are 7-1 at home. "We call it 'the Quag,' " said 49er wide receiver Dwight Clark. "That's quag as in quagmire."
The surface has been a problem to many running backs, including Carpenter, who has kept the Giants in overdrive since being acquired from Houston in midseason. But he was held to 40 yards on 13 carries Nov. 29 when the Giants lost at Candlestick, 17-10, their only defeat in the last six weeks. Stopping Carpenter is the key if the 49ers expect to win.
For the Giants, who finished 9-7 and third in the NFC East, the added confidence and fewer mistakes of second-year quarterback Scott Brunner have been timely. Brunner completed nine of 14 passes for 96 yards and three first-half touchdowns in upsetting the Eagles last week. Before playing like a veteran at Veterans Stadium, Brunner was completing only 42 percent of his passes.
Of the four NFL playoff games this weekend, none features a quarterback matchup of quite the magnitude as the Bills-Bengals at Cincinnati.
Until last week, Buffalo quarterback Joe Ferguson was a match for Anderson in playoff records. But then the Bills held on to beat the New York Jets in the AFC wild-card game despite a shaky second half by Ferguson, whose misdirected passes almost cost his team the victory.
Now Ferguson faces a stiffer challenge. He knows that the Bengal offense will score (26-point average), so he can't afford another inconsistent performance.
Ferguson this season threw for personal highs in yards (3,652) and completions (252). Anderson had a better season: 300 completions on 479 passes (62 percent), 3,754 yards, 29 touchdowns, only 10 interceptions. You have to go way back to Y.A. Title in 1963 to find an NFL quarterback who has surpassed Anderson's combination of accuracy, touchdowns and lack of interceptions.
The Bengals are five-point favorites to gain the spot opposite the San Diego Chargers in next Sunday's AFC championship game.