Before proud Pete starts bragging about parity in the National Football League this year, he might do well to consider the four division races that excited no one. The AFC East and NFC West were over early and the two Centrals produced only one team above .500 through the 14th week of the season.
Much of the talent and most of the competition were in the AFC West and NFC East. Seattle and Denver should settle their argument a week from Saturday in the Kingdome. They are 12-2 and 11-3, respectively, and deserve tremendous credit for their overall performance. But neither squad is going to be the champion of the AFC. That distinction will go to either the Los Angeles Raiders or the Miami Dolphins.
For an excellent blend of ability and balance, the NFC East provided a classic example in 1984. Washington and Dallas slipped perceptibly from their recent past while the New York Giants and St. Louis improved. The Cardinals should have captured the division, but they have a history of folding under pressure.
While the NFC East is providing good theater, it will not produce the winner of Super Bowl XIX. The only team in the NFC capable of beating the Raiders or Dolphins is San Francisco.
The Las Vegas line this week rates Washington a one-point favorite at Dallas, St. Louis 4 over the Giants, the New York Jets 7 over Buffalo, San Francisco 16 over Minnesota, Tampa Bay 7 1/2 over Atlanta, Cincinnati 2 at New Orleans, Pittsburgh 7 1/2 over Cleveland, Green Bay at Chicago even, the Los Angeles Rams 12 over Houston, Miami 14 at Indianapolis, New England 2 1/2 at Philadelphia, Denver 7 over San Diego, Seattle 4 at Kansas City and the Raiders 7 1/2 at Detroit.
I'll pick Washington and Seattle for an imaginary $250 each. I wanted to go with the Dolphins, on the rebound, but the number is too high. The Rams are no bargain, either, giving a dozen, and as terrible as the Vikings are, who wants to lay 16, even if it is with the 49ers?
As underdogs, the Browns and the Saints appear attractive this week, except that Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have everything to play for while New Orleans and Cleveland may be playing out the season. I'm still miffed at the Browns. All they had to do in order to cover the spread last Sunday was punt the ball, leading, 17-10, with a minute left, and they couldn't even do that.
The Cardinals should beat the Giants. That doesn't mean they will. Neil Lomax hasn't had a good day passing in more than a month, and that includes last week's 33-10 rout of New England.
This week Lomax will have to do much more, against the New York defense, than simply hand off to Ottis Anderson. If the Giants get to Lomax early, he'll get rattled and spend the rest of the day looking only for Roy Green. If so, the Giants would be well on their way to the division title.
The Redskins have had success running straight at the Cowboys' flex defense. If John Riggins is ready to rip, there is no reason they won't do nicely in that regard again.
Dallas' offense, particularly the line, is an embarrassment to Tom Landry. Last week it gave Tony Dorsett a real headache, in the form of a concussion administered by the Eagles.
Give the point. If Riggins isn't healthy enough to play like Riggins, though, Joe Theismann and the passing game could be under heavy pressure from Dallas' improved defense.
Seattle is available at what appears to be a cheap price, at Kansas City. Dave Krieg has thrown better than I thought him capable in his last two outings. The Seahawk defense performs well.
The Chiefs played gamely in edging Denver on Sunday. The problem with Kansas City, however, is that Mike Bell and Bill Maas are hurting in the defensive front. They don't figure to pressure Krieg in their current condition. Give the 4. THE RECORD
Won-Lost Record: 40-32 Net for Week Net for Season +$425 +425
Last week's results: Washington, giving 10 1/2, defeated Minnesota, 31-17, plus $500; the Raiders, getting 5 1/2, defeated Miami, 45-34, plus $250; Green Bay, giving 6, defeated Tampa Bay, 27-14, plus $250; Detroit, getting 11, lost to Seattle, 38-17, minus $275; Cleveland, even, lost to Cincinnati in overtime, 20-17, minus $275; Kansas City, getting 4, defeated Denver, 16-13, plus $250; New England, giving 4 1/2, lost to St. Louis, 33-10, minus $275.