All the holiday shopping for the NFL playoffs this weekend could be done in nickel-and-dime stores, if there were any. The prices range from a low of 5 to 10 1/2.
Denver is considered the weakest favorite by those fans betting into the Las Vegas line. The Broncos are favored by 5 at home against Pittsburgh. Miami is rated 6 over Seattle. Washington is 7 over Chicago. San Francisco is 10 1/2 over the New York Giants.
I will start by placing an imaginary $250 on the 49ers. Of the eight teams still contending for Super Bowl XIX, San Francisco is the best balanced, and the only one without a highly exploitable weakness.
The Giants have an excellent front seven on defense, as they showed once again Sunday in upsetting the Los Angeles Rams. But it won't be Jeff Kemp that they are lined up against this week. It will be Joe Montana, one of the three outstanding quarterbacks in the postseason play.
Coach Bill Walsh did a beautiful job of neutralizing Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson on Oct. 8 in the Meadowlands, when San Francisco scored a 31-10 victory. Success should not come that easily this time, even on the 49ers' home turf, but there is no way I can make the case for the Giants .
Montana should throw for 300 yards, as New York will have to respect San Francisco's running backs. San Francisco, meanwhile, will go after Phil Simms from the start since the Giants' ground game is nothing to fear. Give the 10 1/2.
In Denver, I like the Broncos to win and the Steelers to cover the spread, for $250. Pittsburgh has played surprisingly well against stronger teams, a tribute to the preparation Coach Chuck Noll brings to any game.
John Elway is making progress as the Denver quarterback. He is displaying the resiliency needed to overcome mistakes and scrambles out of the pocket alertly when necessary.
Pittsburgh has the personnel needed to play Denver tough on the line of scrimmage, both ways. The outcome probably will hang on the performance by Steeler quarterback Mark Malone. He has never been in a pro game as important as this and might be shaky. I'll take the 5, but for the minimum.
Washington gets the call for $500. Had Jim McMahon stayed healthy, the Bears would have been formidable. Steve Fuller is a poor replacement, albeit an improvement on the other backups who have played in recent weeks.
Chicago has the best defense of the final eight and can cause misery and inflict pain on any rival.
Washington would appear to be particularly susceptible to strong pass pressure at this time. Dallas and St. Louis both enjoyed success against the Redskins with all-out blitzes that weren't as good as those the Bears will bring.
Still, the overriding consideration in handicapping this contest centers on the Chicago quarterback. Fuller is not a dangerous passer and the Washington defense continues to be dominant against the run. Walter Payton will have to work hard for his yardage.
I look for Joe Theismann to beat the Bears deep at least twice and for John Riggins, now that he has had time to get more involved in the practices, to have a good day.
The number is right on the money. Fuller figures to be the difference, in a negative sense. Give the 7.
Miami attracts the strongest play of the week, $750.
Seattle upset the Dolphins in a similar situation last year, when Curt Warner was healthy. Warner's injury deprived the Seahawks of a running attack this season until, amazingly, last week when a minor miracle happened and Coach Chuck Knox masterminded a way for his club to ground out yardage against the Raiders. I doubt that Seattle can resurrect its running game two weeks in a row.
Seattle admittedly has the superior pass rush, but Miami provides by far the better pass protection. Dave Krieg and Dan Marino both will have time to throw. The quarterback who delivers the better performance figures to lead his team to victory. Marino enjoys a big edge over Krieg in terms of consistency and firepower.
I don't enjoy going against Knox in this setting -- unless there is a Don Shula on my side. So I'll give the 6 and trust that Shula goes with a wide-open offense. If he gets conservative, as he did two weeks ago against Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys, he'll be sorry. THE RECORD
6 Won-lost record: 42-39/Net for Week Net for Season/ -- $825 -- $1,550
Last week's results: Los Angeles Rams, giving 5, lost to the New York Giants, 16-13, minus $275; Los Angeles Raiders, getting 1, lost to Seattle, 13-7, minus $550.