HOUSTON, JAN. 2 -- The Astrodome has long been called the Eighth Wonder of the World. But the fact that an NFL playoff game will be played underneath that dome Sunday afternoon is the real wonder.

For only the second time in the team's history, and the first time since 1979 when Bum Phillips and Earl Campbell were in their prime, the Houston Oilers will play a playoff game at home. Sunday's AFC wild-card game that begins at 4 p.m. EST (WRC-TV-4, WMAR-TV-2) will match the Oilers, picked by many to finish last in the AFC Central, with a Seattle Seahawks team that was picked by many of the same to reach the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks and Oilers finished the regular season with identical 9-6 records, but Seattle has been established as a slight favorite, based probably on what the Seahawks are capable of doing, but so often have not done.

But the Oilers have won nine of their last 10 games at home, not counting the strike replacement games. And since getting blown out, 40-7, by Cleveland, Houston won three of its last four regular season games with the only loss coming to that juggernaut New Orleans Saints team that will be playing Minnesota a few miles east and a few hours earlier in the NFC wild-card game.

Not many teams come into the playoffs with their key players performing at peak efficiency. Having rushed for 957 yards in only 221 carries, halfback Mike Rozier's cockiness -- some would say obnoxiousness -- seems to have returned. And he has been much more effective now that Alonzo Highsmith, the tardy first-round draft pick, has begun to assert himself blocking, running and catching passes out of the back field.

Quarterback Warren Moon is playing his best ball of the season, and seems to have wide receivers -- Drew Hill and Ernest Givins -- who can hold onto the ball and do something with it after they catch it.

Throw in the fact that Houston has been accused by no fewer than four teams -- most recently Pittsburgh -- of being a bunch of cheap-shot thugs, and the Oilers even have a little mystique going into these playoffs.

"We have some confidence we can do some things against their defense," said Moon, whose 18 touchdowns to 21 interceptions is a bit misleading since more than a half-dozen of those interceptions have been tipped by his receivers or come on end-of-the-half desperation plays.

Seattle, on the other hand, has neither mystique nor all its important players. Running back Curt Warner, the Seahawks' leading rusher with 805 yards, sprained his ankle in Seattle's baffling loss to Kansas City last week and will miss this game.

"The thing we're going to have to do is pick it up all the way around like we did in 1984 when we lost Curt Warner in the first game of the year," Seattle Coach Chuck Knox said. "We lost him for the whole season and we came on and were able to find a way {12 regular season victories} to win that year."

It's difficult to tell what effect Warner's absence will have on the Seahawks because it's difficult to tell what the Seahawks would do even if the 1960 Jim Brown showed up in one of their uniforms.

And it no longer breaks down along home-road lines. The Seahawks lost to the Raiders at home, then beat Denver; they beat the Bears in Chicago then got blown out at Kansas City.

"The Seahawks still scare me because they've got so much talent," Oilers tight end Jamie Williams said. "They've had some mess-ups here and there, but we know they can play . . . Sometimes they look fantastic, sometimes they look so-so. I don't what causes that, but we have a little of that ourselves."

Wide receiver Steve Largent, who may have to bear a little more offensive responsibility in Warner's absence, said Knox isn't about to abandon the offensive philosophy that earned him the nickname "Ground Chuck."

"We still think we can stay with the things we do best, which is a balanced offense," Largent said. "A lot of Curt's success is due to the linemen in front of him. And those same linemen will be out there with us Sunday."

Fullback John L. Williams, who rushed for 500 yards and caught 38 passes, is more than capable of having a great game.

But the Seahawks have more than Warner to worry about. They have the lowest-ranked offense (17th of the 28 NFL teams) and the lowest defense (22nd) of the 10 playoff teams. The pass defense, which was once the best in the AFC, has dropped to 12th.

Knox doesn't want to hear anything about Seattle's playoff experience -- this is the Seahawks' third appearance in five years, but Houston's first since 1980 -- being an advantage. Knox is the only coach in league history to take three different teams (the Rams and Buffalo are the others) to the playoffs. Jerry Glanville is coaching his first playoff game.

"I think this playoff experience thing is overplayed," Knox said. "To me, it's the next game. We don't prepare any harder. You just don't need to say anything to the players to get them fired up because they already are fired up.

"{Playoff experience} doesn't mean anything at this level. It's just a football game. It's not like taking some small high school basketball team and putting them in the Sweet 16 tournament in Kentucky, where there are thousands of screaming fans. Here, everything's the same . . ."