In the unlikely case you have something better to do today and don't feel like watching the entire game, at halftime you might try calling Mike Murphy, the linebackers coach for the Detroit Lions. After talking to him, you could leave the house confident you will know whether the Washington Redskins or Denver Broncos will finish the night as the Super Bowl champion.

"If you give me a call about the middle of the second quarter, I can probably tell you who is going to win the game," said Murphy, whose Lions lost to both teams this year. "The way Washington runs the football early will be the key. If the Redskins are able to run on them and keep the game close, by the time it gets to the fourth quarter, they will be hard to beat. Because Washington is so big, they just pound you and going into the fourth quarter, any team they get ahead of is in trouble.

"On the other side, if Washington cannot find a way to contain Elway and lets him scramble, Denver will have the edge. Every time Elway has the ball, it is like a live grenade."

Offensively, the Redskins and Broncos are very different. Washington relies on establishing its running game with multiple offensive alignments to disguise a handful of basic plays. When it can lure enough defenders up to stack the front, thereby creating one-on-one coverages on wide receivers, the Redskins look for a big pass to either Gary Clark, Ricky Sanders or Art Monk.

The Broncos have the potential to make every play a big one, given the combination of Elway's strong arm, scrambling ability and knack for dissecting defenses before the ball is snapped.

What the teams have in common is that when they absolutely need a few yards, or a long touchdown, they seem to find a way to succeed.

Each team has a play it runs with the utmost confidence in key situations. The Redskins use Counter-Trey, an off-tackle run that starts with misdirection as the quarterback and running back try to show the play will go to one side. But the tackle and guard on that side of the offensive line pull, cross behind the line of scrimmage and lead the play to the opposite side.

Elway's arm usually makes a three- or four-yard gain on a quick pass to a wide receiver hard to stop on Denver's 62 Rub Option.

"If you can not stop counter-trey for four yards or less every time, you can not win a football game with Washington," said Murphy of the Redskins' best-known play. "The one step in the backfield by the quarterback and back freezes the inside linebackers. It then gives their interior linemen a superior blocking angle. You must stop it with your outside linebackers or defensive backs coming up, trying to force the play to go east-west, because if they get it off-tackle and into the seam, it can break you."

Minnesota defensive coordinator Floyd Peters said teams have learned to a degree how to defense the Counter-Trey, which is also now used by Indianapolis, New Orleans and, occasionally, even Denver.

"I swear those Washington linemen get out of bed and they are ready to use that trey play," said Peters, whose team lost twice to the Redskins this season and beat Denver, 34-27. "It is like playing school-yard tag on third and short because of all the looks Washington will give you, but it doesn't bother them if you stop that play for two yards because they will come right back and use it again and again.

"When they had {running back John} Riggins, it was their bread and butter and they destroyed people with it. It may not be as potent a play as it once was, but they still run it very well."

The Broncos converted 47 percent of their regular-season third-down situations, and much of the reason is that defenses cannot afford to stack up tight against Elway's offense the way they could against teams that are more limited due to less mobile, average-armed quarterbacks.

One play the Cleveland Browns will never forget is 62 Rub Option. On that play, wide receiver Mark Jackson scored a five-yard touchdown to complete the 98-yard last-minute drive that defeated the Browns in the 1986 playoffs.

On 62 Rub Option, one back comes out of the backfield and through the line as a possible receiver, serving the immediate purpose of drawing coverage from the outside linebacker. The wide receiver on that same side runs hard at the cornerback. When he gets just past the needed marker, he turns around and Elway rifles the ball to him.

"What you have to do is try to disrupt the pass route," said San Diego Chargers linebacker coach Mike Haluchak. "Situations like that are generally when a lot of teams like to blitz, but {Elway} is hard to get to and is even tougher when he comes out of the shotgun. He just throws the ball so hard, there is not much else you can do."

Though opponents have seen the Redskins and Broncos run those plays in key situations for several years, what has helped make them Super Bowl teams is their ability to create big plays when a defense is ready to stop them.

"When you have already committed yourself to stop that run," said Peters of Washington, "that is when they go up top for a big play to their tight end or one of their speedy receivers."

Trying to outguess Elway becomes just plain frustrating. The option part of 62 Rub Option gives the wide receiver the choice of going deep if the cornerback is in man-to-man coverage and playing tight to stop a quick short gain.

"{Elway} knows he can pick up a cheap five yards on you and you can't play a zone," said Peters. "If you try to play bump and run on the outside, they take it into a fade {deep pattern}."

Defensive coordinators think that successfully defensing both the Redskins and Broncos requires more multiple defensive looks than might ordinarily be used against the majority of offenses in pro football. And even then, sometimes it is not enough.

"Changing up, we used to think, would have an effect on Elway," said San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Lynn. "But no more. You still must change up, but even if you do change and he figures out what you are doing as he walks up to the line, then, it's over."