TAMPA -- Every day there seems to be growing doubt about the Buffalo Bills. Nobody's hurt, nobody's been suspended. The Bills will use the no-huddle offense with Jim Kelly calling the plays for an offense that scored 51 points last week, 44 the week before. Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett will line up menacingly on defense.

There is every reason to believe the Bills, based on what they've done over 18 games, are the best team in the National Football League. But the doubt is creeping. By Sunday it may be a monster. You talk to ex-players in the hotel lobbies, some of them members of the Hall of Fame. You ask them who will win and a composite answer goes something like this: "Don't quote me, but the Giants. The Bills are probably better, man for man, but . . . well . . . you know."

Some say it, some won't. But the reason is understood. The Bills are the AFC team. The AFC is a loser. Six straight years, by an average of 26.3 points per game, the AFC teams -- Miami, New England, Cincinnati and Denver three times, have belly-flopped in the Super Bowl. If you factor out the one close game, the 49ers' 20-16 victory over the Bengals two years ago, the average margin of NFC victory has been 31 points.

You get the feeling that on Super Sunday, the NFC could show up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and blast the AFC champion with its second unit. This is why we don't believe Buffalo. The Bills have a better quarterback (Kelly), the Bills have a better feature back (Thurman Thomas), the Bills have better wide receivers (James Lofton and Andre Reed), they have the best defensive player on the field (Smith), the best pass rush. But the Bills are in the AFC.

"All week, I've been hearing all the stories about how the AFC has been so awful every year in this game," linebacker Bennett said. "I'm really concerned about it because we don't get enough respect as it is.

"Listen, the AFC is not a joke. We have to prove that. Here we are in the Super Bowl and all anybody wants to say is that we're lucky, we're not that good, all we beat was other AFC teams. It's incredible. The only way we can get rid of this rep{utation} is to win."

You can make the case that the Bills aren't really an AFC team. The Broncos, Dolphins and Patriots had several smallish players on defense, particularly the Broncos. The big offensive lines of the 49ers, Bears, Redskins and Giants just mauled them, pushed them off the line of scrimmage like they were college kids. Not so with Buffalo, whose offensive line run-blocks as well as any in the NFC.

Each AFC team that lost the last six years was a soft, finesse defense without a big-time game wrecker (Andre Tippett was just starting to fill that role in '85 for the Patriots). The Bills have two, Smith and Bennett.

However, the no-huddle offense betrays them. It stamps the Bills as an AFC team. Can you imagine the Giants, the 49ers, the Bears, the Redskins, goofing around with this no-huddle nonsense? Of course not. The AFC still resorts to gimmicks.

It's no coincidence that in four games against NFC teams this year, the Bills struggled three times. They blew out the Phoenix Cardinals early, but so did a lot of people. They ran up a 24-0 lead on the Eagles, but were nearly caught from behind, 24-23, before scoring a touchdown and winning, 30-23. The Bills beat the Giants, 17-13, when Phil Simms got hurt, forcing Jeff Hostetler into his first real action of the season. And they lost to the Redskins in the final game of the regular season, even though the Bills played none of their stars in the second half.

The Giants are in no way swaggering around town thinking they've got a cakewalk coming. "The Bills have everything going for them and that makes us nervous," linebacker Carl Banks said.

Cornerback Everson Walls said of the no-huddle offense: "It can be intimidating. We may do something special for it. The Bills' no-huddle is different from Cincinnati's because the Bills really call the plays at the line of scrimmage. You have to recognize the players and their formation at the same time and adapt your defense from that in a split second."

No defense except the 49ers' is capable of making those exact adjustments as quickly as the Giants. And that is one of the reasons the Giants will win, 24-21.

One big help is the Giants don't substitute on every play depending on down and distance like so many teams. If you don't sub, the no-huddle loses one of its primary advantages: the ability to prevent you from subbing, thus having the "wrong" personnel on the field.

In LT, Pepper Johnson, Banks, Gary Reasons, Leonard Marshall, Erik Howard, Walls, Mark Collins, Greg Jackson, Myron Guyton, etc., the Giants never have the wrong men on the field. "In our first game with them we kept the same player on the field most of the time," Banks said. "We are versatile enough to match up with them."

The Bills have never faced a defense as good as the one they'll see Sunday. Thomas and Reed, just as Jerry Rice and John Taylor before them, will find those open spaces aren't so open. Offense is nice, defense wins championships.

Offensively, the Giants can do just enough. The mobile Hostetler, in fact, might be able to get out of Smith's way, which is critical. Mark Bavaro, O. J. Anderson and, most important, Dave Meggett can keep the Giants moving into field goal range if nothing else.

Remember this about the New York Giants: They beat the two-time defending champion San Francisco 49ers on their home field a week ago. They are above all else resourceful. This, the Bills will find out the hard way Sunday evening.