The opening round of the NFL playoffs presents a hard card, from this bettor's point of view. Several of the matchups came up the wrong way as the result of last Sunday's games. For example, I would have preferred Pittsburgh getting points at the Los Angeles Raiders over Pittsburgh giving 1 1/2 in Three Rivers against San Diego.
The playoffs show the AFC's superiority, at the top level, over the NFC. The Raiders, Miami, Pittsburgh, San Diego, the New York Jets and Cincinnati are excellent clubs, worthy of Super Bowl XVII. Washington and Dallas are the only National Conference contenders in the same class as the American elite.
Taking the weekend's games:
Cleveland at Los Angeles Raiders. The Browns aren't bad. They aren't good, either. Buffalo would have been a better AFC qualifier. But 7 1/2 is a big number, given the conservative manner in which most teams approach postseason play. Jim Plunkett always is eligible to self-destruct, but not here. I'd give the 7 1/2 if I had to, but I don't.
New England at Miami. The Dolphins will win. I love to bet on the Dolphins' defense at home, but not giving 7 1/2, given their field goal offense guided by a quarterback, David Woodley, who is the team's weak link. Miami will stop the heart of the Patriots' attack, the running game. Again, I'd give the 7 1/2 if I had to, but I won't.
St. Louis at Green Bay. Yuck! The Cardinals got this far on gritty defense and the threat of Ottis Anderson. The Pack is back, some Sundays. Other Sundays, it isn't. Green Bay has outstanding people at the talent positions, on offense, except for Lynn Dickey. The offensive line has been known to wilt under big-game pressure. If it falters, Dickey's done. Give the four with Green Bay, if you must. I'll pass.
Detroit at Washington. The Redskins are favored by 5 1/2, a shark number. I was all set to jump in and give the points--until Art Monk broke a bone in his foot. Dallas wouldn't miss one such wide receiver. It is deep at that position. Washington isn't. The receivers have been the weakest part of the Redskins' offense. Now that weakness could become glaring. I still like Washington to win, but Detroit has an excellent chance of covering.
Tampa Bay at Dallas. "America's Team" has been something less than scintillating in its last two outings. Randy White has two sacks for the season. Too Tall Jones is the defense's money player--always has been. Eight points takes me off the Cowboys. No number could put me on the Bucs. Led by a quarterback who doesn't lead, they're likely to undo their sound defense in this sort of situation.
Atlanta at Minnesota. Who can handicap the Falcons? The Mad Hatter, perhaps. Against San Francisco, on Monday night TV, ABC proclaimed Atlanta as being ready to joust with the giants (pro football's, not New York's). Atlanta proceeded to lose to Green Bay, 38 to 7, and to New Orleans, 35 to 6. The Vikings might be a teeny bit better than most fans believe. Just don't pay to find out, Minnesota being favored by two.
New York Jets at Cincinnati. The Jets reportedly are hurting up front, on both lines, although Joe Klecko comes back for spot duty. Richard Todd has improved, from fair to good. He's still not Kenny Anderson. The Bengals' defense can shut down Freeman McNeil, as it did Marcus Allen. I want all-pro Louis Breeden to be healthy on the corner. This will be an exciting contest. Anderson will move the ball. Todd might. Pat Leahy's unreliable. I'll go with the home crowd, giving four, for an imaginary $250.
San Diego at Pittsburgh. Jack Lambert's praying for a foot of snow. I'd settle for five below. The Steelers will stop Chuck Muncie and Jimmy Brooks. Nobody stops Dan Fouts except Mother Nature. And the Pittsburgh secondary is, oh, so vulnerable to the deep stuff. If the weather is decent, I expect the Chargers to score 40 points--to 42 or more for Pittsburgh.
Don Coryell has the best offense in football. Chuck Noll's is second best. Coryell also is stuck with the worst defense in the playoffs. The Pitt pass rush won't get to Fouts. Only the Raiders do.
What a matchup! Here I go, risking $250 on the Steelers giving 1 1/2, hoping for a blizzard, and afraid to look at the television screen everytime Fouts goes back and pumps.
What a pity the whole nation won't get to see both the Jets-Bengals and Chargers-Steelers. They play at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. These are this week's best presentations. The league blew it with this schedule.
Last Week +$250
Season Totals +$2,025
Last week's result: Pittsburgh, giving 6 1/2, defeated Cleveland, 37-21, plus $250.
Won-lost record: 17-9.