Chuck Noll calls it even. Lee Roy Selmon says it's a tossup. And Bum Phillips doesn't want to make a prediction because, "I don't want to get these teams mad at me. I have to play them again next year."
The "it" in question is, of course, today's NFC championship game between Dallas and Washington. Despite the abuse heaped upon the watered-down playoff system resulting from the players strike, many feel this game may be the best possible matchup for the league title.
"Personnel-wise, Dallas should win by 12. The Cowboys' skill is super," said CBS commentator Tom Brookshier. "But I haven't seen another team as well-coached as the Redskins this season. (Coach Joe) Gibbs' team seemed to come out of that strike better than anybody else."
Dallas handed Washington its only loss of the season, 24-10, on Dec. 5, but many feel that game will have no bearing on today's. "The other game doesn't matter," said Selmon, a defensive end for Tampa Bay. "It's been a long time since they played and both teams have changed a lot. The Redskins have gotten gradually better game by game, and came back from the strike very strong. Dallas has been in a slump recently."
"It is how each team gets itself ready for this game that matters," said Pittsburgh Coach Noll. "With a game this important, there's no excuse for not being ready."
The Redskins never have lost a playoff game at home; they are 5-1 here this season and have won nine of their last 10 games at RFK.
"Going into it, the Redskins have a lot in their favor. Playing at home is a very big advantage," said CBS commentator John Madden. "The crowd can especially make a difference if the home team is playing well. They can magnify your big plays, and make them seem even bigger to the other team."
RFK seats 55,045, which, next to St. Louis' Busch Stadium (51,392), makes it the second-smallest in the NFC. But RFK's architecture and acoustics magnify the numbers.
"It's a small stadium and the fans are pushed up very close to the action," said Calvin Hill, who has experienced both sides of the crowd as a running back with the Cowboys and the Redskins. "It's also loud. The noise just sort of seems to hang in there and stay with you. But you can turn it against the home team with a few big plays."
The game will be played on a grass field; the Cowboys have played eight of their 11 games on artificial turf. Said Philadelphia cornerback Herman Edwards, "They always seem to grow the grass a bit taller down there at RFK."
The Redskins are expected to try to establish their running game early to give quarterback Joe Theismann time to set up the passing offense.
"I honestly don't believe they will have the success running the ball (today) that they had against Detroit and Minnesota," said St. Louis cornerback Roger Wehrli. "But Joe Theismann always finds a way to compensate to get things done."
"Theismann poses a lot of problems with his mobility," said Selmon. "The Cowboys can't let him get out and run. The defensive line has to keep him in the pocket."
"Joe can be rattled when he's forced to throw on the run," said Edwards. "He's still accurate when he rolls out and sets up, but if you force him to throw while he's moving he has a tendency to be a little more wild."
Dallas shared the NFC lead with Washington most of the season, but lost its last two games. In their two playoff victories, the Cowboys have allowed 43 points and played inconsistently, and Madden believes they still are in a slump.
"I really feel that since the last Dallas-Washington game, Dallas has gone downhill and Washington has gotten better," Madden said. "It's just not the same Dallas team. For them to win against Washington, (quarterback Danny) White has to function at or close to his best, and (running back Tony) Dorsett needs to get close to 100 yards."
Phillips, coach of the New Orleans Saints, sees in the Redskins qualities similar to those of last year's Super Bowl champions, the San Francisco 49ers.
"Washington and Dallas both deserve to be where they are," said Phillips, whose team lost to both in 1982. "Some people feel Washington isn't a worthy championship team, but they have made the breaks go their way, the same way they went for San Francisco last year."