There's this friend in mid-America who handicaps Super Bowl winners with, he says, the aid of divine guidance. The gentleman simply monitors league action during the first months of the NFL season in order to determine which is "God's team" for the year.
"It's much better," he assured, "to be God's team than, say, America's team. The distinction hardly ever lasts for more than one season, but once it's there that team knows it's playing under special care. They know it's their year. They recognize it early, their confidence soars, and they perform accordingly."
San Francisco and Washington received this extraordinary blessing the last two years, according to my friend, and in all fairness I do remember him having made his observation before either team was very far along on the way to the championship.
"The early weeks are the important ones," he said. "Two years ago, San Francisco had that real young secondary, but every time there was a deflected pass, which seemed like two or three times a week, the ball wound up in the 49ers' hands. Then, last year, Washington got rain or mud to play in for two of its first four games. Hogs love mud. First thing you know, they were 4-0 and on their way to believing in themselves and in (Mark) Moseley's magic toe."
This year, the friend declares, God is with Dallas.
"The first week, they're 20 points behind Washington at the half. They rally, but in order for the Cowboys to win, Moseley has to miss a chip shot. He misses. Two weeks ago, against the Giants, Dallas is struggling again only to have everything go their way so they can score 14 points in about 14 seconds. Then, last Sunday, (Ken) Stabler gets himself caught for a safety so the Cowboys can win by one point over the Saints. What more evidence do you need? God has spoken."
Well, maybe He has, and maybe He hasn't. I have never been convinced that Dallas needs divine guidance in order to win a conference title. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if there is an early preview of Super Bowl 18 this weekend when the Los Angeles Raiders visit Washington.
Washington is favored by 2 points over the Raiders Sunday. Dallas is a 4-point choice at Minnesota while Cincinnati is 6 over Baltimore, Chicago 1 1/2 over Denver, the Los Angeles Rams 4 1/2 over Detroit, Pittsburgh 11 over Houston, Miami 3 at New Orleans, Atlanta 3 1/2 over Philadelphia, Kansas City 2 1/2 over St. Louis, San Diego 2 at the New York Giants, San Francisco 3 at New England, Cleveland 3 1/2 over Seattle, Green Bay 6 1/2 over Tampa Bay and (Monday night) the New York Jets are accorded a 1-point edge at Buffalo.
I will risk an imaginary $500 on Washington and $250 each on New Orleans, Seattle and Buffalo.
It is going to be a beautiful matchup, the Redskins' offensive front against the Raiders pressure. Art Monk may return to action, which would help the Washington passing game quite a bit. The Redskins have an advantage in the field goal game, the return game and, particularly, the quarterback game. Essentially, I'm picking Joe Theismann over Jim Plunkett, giving the two points.
Seattle is going to improve steadily. The Seahawks should be able to run the ball against Cleveland. The Browns are 3-1, but I'm not convinced they're that good, so I'll take the 3 1/2 points.
New Orleans is another team on the way up. George Rogers, coming off a slight injury, gives the Saints' offense excellent balance, and that is what is needed against the Dolphins' quickness on defense. David Woodley continues to struggle as quarterback for Miami. I will take the three points.
Buffalo is slightly underrated. Their defense is rugged. It could be particularly effective against the Jets, who must go without running back Freeman McNeil for six to eight weeks. I will take the one point. Won-lost record: 5-7 Net for Week Net for Season $50 --$175
Last week's results: Miami, giving eight, defeated Kansas City, 14-6, a tie; Seattle, getting 1 1/2, lost to Washington, 27-17, minus $275; San Diego, giving 6 1/2, lost to Cleveland in overtime, 30-24, minus $275; Los Angeles Raiders, giving 3 1/2, defeated Denver, 22-7, plus $500.