Given a choice between living under a fascist dictatorship or living under instant replay, I would take the fascist dictatorship every day--and twice on Sundays. At least with a despot, the trains run on time and nobody disputes any calls.

We have become a nation of officials. From stadium box seats to living room sofas, everyone has a whistle. During the NFL regular season I sit in a sports bar each weekend in which every few minutes someone either shouts out, "Where are my mozzarella sticks?" or "They've got to challenge that!"

Among the multitude of reasons instant replay should be overturned, the primary one is often overlooked: It changes the way we watch the game.

The game's no longer the thing; the officials are.

My friends, bad calls are a part of life, like bad marriages.

It's a much better game if you just play it, rule on it and move on, with the occasional blown call. These days, the focus is not on the play, it's on the replay. And eventually--and you can see this coming from 50,000 watts away--there will be a riot in the stands when a critical call is reversed against the home team.

The NFL playoffs have given small doses of replay's unrelenting, negative effect.

Two weekends ago, waiting for a review of the Titans' improbable kickoff return to beat the Bills diminished the wonder of the moment.

Last weekend, replay overturned Terrence Wilkins's electrifying punt return that essentially would have sent the Colts-Titans game into a 16-16 tie in the final quarter. For what? Because, upon further review, it appeared that Wilkins stepped out of bounds by an inch or so as he ran down the sideline.

Note: This is not sour grapes on my part, just because the ruling cost my no-longer-galloping- ingloriously- to-the-Super-Bowl Colts. No, good people, I saw at least a dozen instances this season in which replay overturned rulings that were absolutely, positively too close to call.

Was the replay on Wilkins conclusive? By NFL standards, yes. (There's no such thing as "conclusive evidence" anyway. Didn't anyone watch the O.J. trial?)

Wilkins's foot may have stepped on the line, but camera angles distort. How else do you explain Tom Arnold's success?

By the way, if it is a truism that TV adds 10 pounds to your body, then certainly it can add two inches to your toe.

(Do me a favor. Get a piece of chalk and draw a straight line on the sidewalk outside. Now, put your foot near that line. Do you know it's possible that some or most of your foot can appear to be on that line, when, in fact, it is not? For your toe might be on the ground, but your heel can be elevated. So you're telling me that a TV angle will tell us definitively whether someone is stepping on a line by an inch? TV can't even tell us when the president is lying.)

Further, with instant replay, we now are reviewing the spotting of the ball. Folks, on each and every play in which they spot the ball, it is an approximation. It is not exact. We must accept this; if we do not accept this, we all might as well start watching soccer.

It doesn't matter if instant replay gets more calls right, but it does matter that instant replay disrupts and distracts the viewer. It's a better game when you don't look at it as closely. Why can't people understand this?

(Coaching Note: Jimmy Johnson's last two Miami playoff losses were by 38-3 against Denver and by 62-7 against Jacksonville. If my addition is correct--and the way I've been going this season, I might be a bit off--that's a combined 100-10.)

As always, the following picks against the point spread are for recreational purposes only:

Titans at Jaguars (-7): Let us first deal with the oft-stated adage, "It is difficult to beat a team three times in the same season." Yes, it is difficult to beat a team three times, particularly if you haven't beaten that team even one time. But if you win the first time and then win the second time, it only stands to reason--despite the above maxim--that you have a reasonable chance to win the third time. At least a 50-50 chance, would you not say?

Let us now deal with the Titans. Tennessee played arguably the three best teams in football--the Jaguars (twice), Colts and Rams. Those three teams are a combined 0-4 against the Titans and 42-5 against the rest of the NFL. Pick: Titans.

Buccaneers at Rams (-14): This is The Man's all-time feel-good NFC championship game. It's a win-win: These are two long-forlorn franchises enjoying unlikely success led by likable coaches and fairy-tale quarterbacks.

If you just look at the two offenses, the game is a mismatch. The Rams, behind free agent alien Kurt Warner, dash down the field like runaway mercury from a broken thermometer. The plodding Buccaneers, meanwhile, are a reflection of offensive coordinator Mike Shula, whose game plans are less complex than a doormat. Pick: Rams.

Last week: 1-3.

Season record: 116-126-10.