The Las Vegas line on the NFL playoff participants finds San Francisco favored to win the Super Bowl at 8-5, followed by Miami, 12-5, Washington, 4-1; Denver 6-1, the LosAngeles Raiders, 9-1; Seattle, 10-1; Pittsburgh, 15-1; Chicago, 20-1; the Los Angeles Rams, 25-1, and the New York Giants 75-1.
These are not true probabilities, in that the bookmaker takes out 30 percent. But the line does indicate the relative strength, in the bettors' minds, of the 10 teams, coupled with the realities of the playoff schedule. Thus, the prices reflect what is perceived to be a greater amount of talent at the top of the AFC and the belief that the Redskins are the only serious threat to the 49ers from the NFC.
In the wild card games this week, Seattle is a one-point favorite over the Raiders Saturday and the Rams are rated 4 1/2 over the Giants Sunday. Seattle opened at 2 or 2 1/2, but the price quickly came down. The Rams opened at 4, immediately went out to 4 1/2 and, by kickoff, might well be 5. The only other number on the Vegas boards shows Denver 4 1/2, 5 or 5 1/2 over Pittsburgh for their Dec. 23 encounter.
I will risk an imaginary $500 on the Raiders and $250 on the Rams. If possible, I will be rooting even harder for the Rams than for the Raiders. That's because, the following week, I want the Rams to be playing at Washington when I pick the Redskins. And I won't be heartbroken should Seattle end the season for the Raiders. I would rather go with Miami against Seattle than with Miami against the Raiders.
Had the Raiders' quarterback situation not become so shaky this season, I would have invested at least $1,000 on Los Angeles against Seattle. The Seahawks have a pitiful running game, Dave Krieg has been known to fall apart when subjected to the sort of strong pass rush he is likely to face Saturday, and even the Seattle defense appears to be wearing down.
The Raiders have everything needed to beat Seattle except a confident quarterback. Marc Wilson has been given every opportunity to succeed Jim Plunkett. He has failed, and yesterday Coach Tom Flores said Plunkett will start against Seattle.
There's one big problem with this: Plunkett isn't primed. I will never understand why, after Plunkett tore an abdominal muscle Oct. 7, the Raiders were so slow in returning him to action; he has played less than three quarters since then. When I asked that question, I was told: "We don't want to shake Wilson's confidence."
Hey, it takes performance to create confidence, and Wilson has never been high in the performance ratings. The thumb injury served in part as a convenient excuse to cover up his ineptness.
I thought certainly, as Wilson continued to struggle through the final part of the schedule, Plunkett would be given plenty of playing time. He has performed capably under pressure in past playoffs and he figured to be the money man again for the defending Super Bowl champions. Instead, against Detroit and last Sunday in the surprising loss to Pittsburgh, the Raiders' coaching staff stayed with Wilson until late in the game.
The Raiders might pay a huge price for having made such a decision. Plunkett is the only quarterback who can get them to the Super Bowl, and he has not been given an adequate amount of playing time in which to prepare.
Still, I have to go with the old pros against Seattle. The Seahawks' offensive line has no one to block for, in terms of the run, and it is too small to protect Krieg against the Raiders' rush. Krieg was subjected to some of the most brutal punishment I have seen all year in their last meeting. That pounding is likely to be repeated.
Seattle's only hope is for its defense to force turnovers against Wilson and/or Plunkett and the Raiders' banged-up offensive line. This could happen. Many a good team has become rattled in the Kingdome, including a few that had good quarterbacks. But I can't bet against the Raiders' superiority on the line of scrimmage, especially their defensive front against Seattle's offensive front. Take the point.
The Rams should be able to cover against the Giants. New York's offense is always suspect. L.A. should be able to keep the visitors under 20 points. Eric Dickerson is so good he enables Jack Kemp's son to play quarterback, and that takes a lot of doing.
The Rams can't play catch-up, but Phil Simms doesn't figure to place them in that position. Give the 4 1/2 or 5.