Without question the Houston Oilers-Cincinnati Bengals first-round playoff could be one of the more peculiar games on the postseason menu. While the Oilers have the run-and-shoot, the Bengals have Coach Sam Wyche, who likes to shoot off at the mouth.
The Sunday game at Riverfront Stadium has an interesting cast of characters: Oilers quarterback Cody Carlson is subbing for the injured Warren Moon (dislocated thumb) and is making his first playoff start. Bengals running back Ickey Woods and his shuffle get more attention than running back James Brooks even though Brooks, who led Cincinnati in rushing with 1,004 yards, is more important to the offense. Brooks isn't happy he didn't make the Pro Bowl this year.
Houston wide receiver Drew Hill is one of the league's top wide receivers but hasn't scored a playoff touchdown in 10 games. Cincinnati's Boomer Esiason is the lowest-rated quarterback in the AFC playoffs with 22 interceptions. But he still is considered among the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the league.
And then there is Wyche, who this week stood firm on his position that women reporters shouldn't be allowed in the locker room to do their jobs like their male counterparts.
Wyche also closed practice this week because he thought Houston reporters might leak some of his strategy to the Oilers' coaching staff. The week after barring Denise Tom of USA Today from his team's locker room in Seattle (and being fined more than $27,000 for his action), Wyche spoke to reporters after a game dressed only in a towel. He is never dull.
"One of the great things about going to Cincinnati," Carlson said, "is that you never know what to expect when you get there. That's the kind of team they are. I think the fans really get into it too. You never know what's going to happen."
Lately though, when it comes to playing the Oilers at home, Cincinnati knows what's going to happen. They probably will win. Cincinnati has won eight of the last nine games the teams have played in Cincinnati.
At home the Bengals have beaten Houston by a combined score of 145-48 in the last three games, including a 61-7 spanking in 1989.
"All that stuff means is that maybe it's time for them to lose one to us," Carlson said. "Hopefully it's our turn to win."
Whether Houston overcomes the trend or not depends primarily on two factors: Can Carlson play like he did last week against Pittsburgh and constantly find his receivers? Hill (1,019 yards), Ernest Givins (979) and Haywood Jeffires (1,048) are among the most dangerous in the league.
Will Wyche give Brooks the ball more?
What will make Carlson's job a lot easier is the talent of his wideouts. Jeffires, in his fourth season out of North Carolina State, has averaged 13 yards a catch in the playoffs since joining the Oilers. Givins had 136 yards receiving in the Oilers' first-round playoff loss last season at home to the Steelers.
In all, the Houston offense averages 300 passing yards a game.
As for Brooks, he and Detroit's Barry Sanders, the league's rushing champion, have the highest per-carry average among the NFL's top-20 running backs, but Brooks averages only 12 carries a game. Wyche, a former NFL quarterback, relies more on the arm of Esiason and a cadre of running backs including Woods.
Despite the limited time, Brooks still managed to outrun other well-known backs, like Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker and Eric Dickerson.
Brooks told reporters this week that he doesn't have the big name like Dickerson and Walker, "but on the field I do more than they could."
When the Oilers and Bengals meet this week it will be the first time they have played one another in the playoffs, but it probably won't lack the spice of their regular season encounters.