The Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins figured to make it to the Super Bowl--in 1984 or 1985, perhaps. In terms of the 1982-83 season, they were seen as good young teams on the way up. Then, suddenly, there was room at the top, immediately.
Coaching has had a lot to do with their success, of course. Don Shula and Bill Arnsparger have long been taken for granted as the best in the AFC. Joe Gibbs and his staff have quickly become a threat to Tom Landry in the NFC. This season, they got their teams to Super Bowl XVII the old-fashioned way: they earned it.
The Dolphins have opened as a three-point favorite in Las Vegas. That is the number throughout most of the country, although a few areas report 2 1/2. Bob Martin, the Las Vegas pricemaker, believes 3 1/2 may be the final figure.
I'm a little surprised Miami was accorded that much of an edge in the betting line. This is not a team that scores a lot of points. The offensive line is excellent and the running game is sound, but David Woodley's passing against a strong defense usually leaves much to be desired. And Washington's defense is solid, the cornerbacks having held up splendidly all season.
Turnovers? Andra Franklin and Tony Nathan are more likely to fumble than John Riggins and Joe Washington. Woodley is a much greater risk to throw, when he shouldn't, than is Joe Theismann.
Special teams? No comparison. The Redskins win this matchup by a mile, with Mike Nelms an all-pro return man.
Quarterbacks? I'm probably a little too rough on Woodley. I think he's exceptionally ordinary. Commentators repeatedly refer to his running ability. NFL quarterbacks aren't paid to run. Theismann still doesn't play as well as he talks. If he did, he'd already be in the Hall of Fame. But Jawin' Joe is a good one, who scrambles intelligently.
Receivers? Poor, on both sides. Give the edge to the Dolphins. They're probably a little better than Woodley permits them to appear. The Redskins had one top-flight receiver in Art Monk, but he's injured. What's left are the Smurfs. Beautifully named, but Theismann keeps hitting them on the numbers, making it hard for them to drop anything.
Punters? Both undependable.
Field goal kickers? Mark Moseley has been listening to Theismann too long. After a great regular season, he's been slumping through the playoffs while still talking a great game. Uwe von Schamann is in a better groove, despite the back injury.
Runners: Riggins is all by himself, having ripped off 119 yards against Detroit, 185 against Minnesota and--unbelievably--140 yards against Dallas. No one runs straight at Dallas effectively. Riggins did.
Line play? Forget all those other considerations. This is what will decide the game.
Washington's defensive front and the linebackers gamble frequently, going for the big play. They've either been very good or very lucky. Or both. Miami's offensive line will perform smartly. It always does.
The matchup of greatest concern is the Washington offensive line against the Dolphins' defensive front and linebackers. The Redskins have been able to control the ball on the ground in crucial situations. Nobody has been able to do that to Miami.
Tell me how many yards Riggins will gain and I'll give you a guarantee. I have tremendous respect for both units. In 16 Super Bowl picks involving the point spread, I've been right 14 times, losing only with Dallas (and Craig Morton) against Baltimore and with Philadelphia (and Ron Jaworski) against Oakland.
At the start of the playoffs, I thought Pittsburgh would be the lone survivor. Then I wanted to bet San Diego against Washington. Instead, I'm stuck with the Redskins. The biggest reason for my selection is that they're getting three points in what should be a low-scoring contest. I'm banking on Woodley not being able to get the job done. If he has a decent day, I'll lose an imaginary $250. Last Week Season Totals +$250 +$1,700
Last week: Miami, giving 1 1/2, defeated the New York Jets, 14-0.
Won-lost record: 19-12.