With the wild-card games out of the way, the odds on winning Super Bowl XX were revised as follows: Chicago, even money; Miami, 7-2; Los Angeles Raiders, 4-1; Dallas, 12-1; Los Angeles Rams, 12-1; New York Giants, 15-1; New England, 18-1, Cleveland, 40-1.
The Browns clearly don't belong in the final eight, off their record of 8-8. Unfortunately, somebody has to represent the Central Division of the American Conference. To say that Cincinnati would have been a more formidable representative probably is splitting hairs.
The numbers on this week's games are right on the money, as usual. It's tough to make a selection on Cleveland-Miami or Dallas-Rams. I don't like to give more than seven points (Miami is favored by 10 1/2) and the game at Anaheim appears to be dead even. BROWNS AT DOLPHINS
The line opened at 10, quickly went up to 10 1/2 and is 11 at a few places. Nobody ever got rich by repeatedly backing teams that were 10 points down at the opening kickoff. The trouble is, I don't want anything to do with this Cleveland squad, not with Bernie Kosar at quarterback.
Kosar is not ready to play in the National Football League. After the injury to Gary Danielson, the Browns' coaching staff had little choice but to go with the rookie. He has performed poorly, even though his offensive line is solid enough for running backs Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner to have gained more than 1,000 yards each.
Admittedly, Kosar lacks an outstanding corps of receivers. That's no excuse for the lack of zip and/or touch that he's had on the ball.
Miami's defense is vulnerable against a good running game. The Dolphins should be able to stack the deck against Mack and Byner, however, and dare Kosar to put points on the board.
Dan Marino, meanwhile, should be able to beat Cleveland's secondary for 30 or more points. His receivers are as outstanding as the Browns' are ordinary, and whereas Miami's offensive line is only average in blocking for the run, it remains one of the best in pass protection.
Take the Dolphins giving the 10 1/2. COWBOYS AT RAMS
Los Angeles enjoys a huge advantage in comparing the special teams. The Rams' specialists could carry the day. But my lack of enthusiasm for Rams quarterback Dieter Brock has been obvious from early in the season. Brock is going to have to carry his share of the offensive load against Dallas because the Cowboys still are strong against the run and will make Eric Dickerson work hard for every yard.
The outcome hinges on the play of Dallas' offensive line. If it gives quarterback Danny White time to function, he has adequate weapons at his disposal to beat Los Angeles' tough defense. I'm also counting on Dallas Coach Tom Landry to bring more inspiration to his game plan than John Robinson has been able to provide for the Rams' offense.
Take Dallas getting two points. For those of you who want Los Angeles, 1 1/2 is available in a few places. GIANTS AT BEARS
This should be the best game of the weekend in that it matches quite possibly the two best teams in the league. Perhaps Chicago is such a standout it can give a team as well balanced as New York nine points and still cover.
Much was written here last week about the Giants' offensive line, which performed so capably in the wild-card victory over San Francisco. Now comes an even tougher test. Can that line provide Joe Morris with some running room against the Bears? Equally important, will Eric Schubert, the Giants' field goal kicker, be able to recover from his miserable effort against the 49ers?
The New York defense will play well again. It always does in these situations. Walter Payton will be held under control. This means Chicago quarterback Jim McMahon will have to pass more than he usually does -- and the Bears' receivers don't scare anyone. Nor, for that matter, do the Giants'.
Both quarterbacks, McMahon and the Giants' Phil Simms, are tough, talented competitors who can stand up to heavy pressure. That is why I'm going with the Giants, getting the nine points. Simms is not the most polished passer in the NFL but I like the way he hangs in the pocket, or scrambles, when he's under a strong rush.
The pick is Chicago to win, New York to cover. PATRIOTS AT RAIDERS
Congratulations to New England Coach Raymond Berry for installing character into a squad never renowned for that quality. New England continues to play superior defense, enabling the offense to stay as conservative as possible. But it doesn't take too much courage to go against the Patriots by selecting the Raiders, giving five points.
Los Angeles' defense will shut down the visitors' good running game early, then go after quarterback Tony Eason. If Eason gets the shakes, as he has in the past when confronted by a high-pressure pass rush, a repeat of the 35-20 score the Raiders posted at Foxboro, Mass., on Sept. 29 is possible.
Still, I doubt Los Angeles will win this rematch so easily. The Raiders rarely do anything the easy way, often because quarterback Marc Wilson makes their task more difficult than it need be. And New England's defense has the ability to force Wilson into costly mistakes.
New England has been the luckiest team in the NFL this season. The ball keeps bouncing its way, week after week, and the Patriots are good enough to take advantage of the breaks. What other team, for instance, could score two touchdowns on its own kickoffs within three weeks?
This game might come down to the final drives. If it does, I would expect the Raiders to pound the ball into the end zone. I would expect Eason to come up short. Give the five.