Miami's 34-28 loss to San Diego in overtime served one purpose. It should put an end to all the gibberish about this Dolphins squad being compared favorably to the undefeated Miami team of 1972.
Does anybody really believe that a team featuring Woody Bennett as its bread-and-butterball carrier can be called great? Not that Bennett is much worse than the injured Andra Franklin. The kindest thing anyone can say about Miami's running game is that it gives Dan Marino time to rest his arm between passes.
As for Marino, too many glowing adjectives are being applied much too soon. Let the second-year pro play a little longer before putting him in the Hall of Fame.
Marino is impressive, obviously. Everyone comments about his quick release. What deserves equal praise is the pass protection he gets. All the defenses Miami meet are primed to stop the pass, and they still don't get to Marino. He is enjoying a luxury that comes to only a few quarterbacks in the National Football League -- the combination of fast, outstanding receivers and all the time in the world to locate them.
But how will Marino do, one of these days or years, when he is subjected to pressure? Mobile, he's not. The situation reminds me of Dan Fouts when he had superb pass protection in San Diego. When that line began to break down last season, so did Fouts' efficiency. Much the same thing will happen to Marino, when and if.
This is not to put down Marino and this Miami team too severely. They are good. Much better than Denver and Seattle, for example. And the defense, which relies on finesse as opposed to brute strength, will become much tighter again when the injured Don McNeil returns to the left corner.
Don Shula has designed a team to take full advantage of today's rules that promote the passer. He knows it is no longer is necessary to establish the run before pump-priming the passing game. Marino simply wears down the opposition, going to his speedy Marks, Duper and Clayton.
What makes Miami look even more formidable this season is the downspin suffered offensively by the Los Angeles Raiders and the Washington Redskins. Neither team is close to what it was a year ago, due perhaps to key injuries. That leaves the Dolphins as the logical favorite, entering Week 13, to win the Super Bowl. Still, Miami is not truly dominant, as San Diego showed Sunday.
Las Vegas lists Miami a 13 1/2-point favorite Monday night over the New York Jets. Today, Green Bay is 3 1/2 at Detroit and Dallas 2 over New England. Sunday finds Cincinnati 6 1/2 over Atlanta, Washington 13 1/2 over Buffalo, Chicago 3 1/2 at Minnesota, the Raiders 14 1/2 over Indianapolis, Cleveland 6 1/2 over Houston, the New York Giants 7 over Kansas City, the Los Angeles Rams 3 at Tampa Bay, St. Louis 5 1/2 over Philadelphia, Pittsburgh 3 over San Diego, San Francisco 7 1/2 at New Orleans and Denver 3 over Seattle.
I will risk an imaginary $250 on St. Louis, Washington, Miami and the Raiders and $500 on Denver.
The Cardinals have committed 16 turnovers in their last three games. They have gone from 6-3 to 6-6 and need only to examine that statistic to wonder why. They should be able to take out their frustration on the Eagles, who lack a running game. St. Louis won, 34-14, in Philadelphia on Oct. 28. They should cover again. Give the 5 1/2.
Washington finds itself, at 7-5, in danger of not making the playoffs. This is the best team in the NFC East, even though the Smurfs have disappeared, leaving Joe Theismann with Art Monk as the only dependable receiver. Buffalo played its game of the year in upsetting Dallas. The spread is high but the Redskins will be ready. Give the 13 1/2.
The Raiders are back to playing the defense that made them Super Bowl champions last season. In Indianapolis, they have the perfect foil with which to dominate a game on both lines of scrimmage. Jim Plunkett might return at quarterback to give the Los Angeles offense a lift. Give the 14 1/2.
Miami's offensive line will be facing the best part of the Jets' game Monday night in Mark Gastineau and the New York defensive front. The Dolphins will neutralize the Jets' pass rush. Once that happens the evening should belong to Miami. Give the 13 1/2.
Denver and Seattle have much in common, in addition to their outstanding records. The defenses have generated much of their offense and both squads have been wonderfully opportunistic. There is one major difference: The Seahawks have no running game, whereas Denver's has become respectable with Sammy Winder and improved blocking. Who would have dreamed that these teams would be playing for the AFC West lead under a combined record of 21-3? Give the 3 on the home team.