Atlanta coach Jerry Glanville wears a perpetual scowl, a circumstance that suits his personality as neatly as his defense. It is a sometimes abrasive personality and an always aggressive defense, and tomorrow Glanville will bring both into RFK Stadium to confront the Washington Redskins in an NFC divisional playoff game.
If Glanville's Falcons played as well as he scowls, they wouldn't be 11-point underdogs in the 12:30 p.m. staredown.
But the playoffs are less about talk, and more about defense and quarterbacks. The big-play quarterbacks and the hot defenses are usually the big winners in January, when tension moves in like a Buffalo cold front.
Glanville has his blitz-crazy defense and the Red Gun (four wide receiver) offense. The last time he tried that combination at RFK, the Falcons were blown away in a 56-17 Redskins romp that was little more than target practice for Washington quarterback Mark Rypien.
Ironically, all four quarterfinal playoff games this weekend are rematches of earlier blowouts. Houston, which plays at Denver, ravaged the Broncos 42-14 last October in the Astrodome. Kansas City, which travels to Buffalo, drilled the Bills 33-6 in a Monday night affair at Arrowhead Stadium in October. And Detroit, which hosts Dallas, beat the Cowboys last October, 34-10, in the Silverdome.
Revenge is for nerds, though. This weekend is about taking the )) next step to the Super Bowl. What happened before doesn't really matter in the countdown to Minneapolis.
Here is a look at this weekend's matchups:
NFC * ATLANTA (11-6) at WASHINGTON (14-2), tomorrow, 12:30, Channel 11
Quarterbacks: Rypien and Atlanta's Chris Miller are both headed to the Pro Bowl in February, but Rypien clearly has had the superior year with 28 touchdown passes and only 10 interceptions. His superb pass protection should allow him to take advantage of Atlanta's blitzing defensive scheme this time, too. Miller (29 TD passes, 19 interceptions) has given the Falcons big-play capability, but he has been erratic, as well. He didn't play the first game, when his backup, Billy Joe Tolliver, passed for 245 yards. It's hard to imagine Miller doing better. Both quarterbacks have excellent receivers. Edge, Rypien.
Defense: The Redskins sacked Tolliver five times in their November meeting, and got to Brett Favre once. They recorded 50 sacks during the regular season, second only to Denver among teams still playing. The Redskins also played the stingiest defense in the league, allowing 224 points. The Falcons collected 29 sacks during the year, and had trouble with the run at times. Edge, Redskins.
Intangibles: The Falcons' charge that the Redskins ran up the score two months ago is hollow. Atlanta stayed with its man-to-man coverage in the secondary to the bitter end, despite having only its third and fourth best cornerbacks in the game. Deion Sanders was out with a hamstring, and Tim McKyer was benched after giving up four passes of 32 yards or more in the first half. When receivers are open downfield, it's the quarterback's job to hit them. And Rypien did, six times for touchdowns. Revenge? Forget it, Jerry.
* DALLAS (12-5) at DETROIT (12-4), Sunday, 4 p.m., Channel 11
Quarterbacks: It's the battle of the backups -- the Cowboys' Steve Beuerlein against the Lions' Erik Kramer. Beuerlein is 5-0 as Troy Aikman's replacement and has thrown only two interceptions since taking over. Kramer is 6-2 since replacing Rodney Peete. Kramer got the job when Peete tore an Achilles' tendon against the Cowboys in October, and threw two touchdown passes to pace that win. Aikman threw for 331 yards in a losing cause. He is ready to play again, and is Dallas' ace in the hole. Slight edge, Beuerlein.
Defense: The injury-plagued Lions have been demons down the stretch. In the last four games they came up with 16 sacks, 11 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries. But their best linebacker (Mike Cofer) and best down lineman (Jerry Ball) are out for the season. And inside linebacker Dennis Gibson is questionable this week with a sprained knee. The Cowboys' pass rush has picked up steam since Russell Maryland, the first pick in last year's draft, moved into the starting lineup. It's not coincidental that they've been able to put pressure on the opposing quarterback during their six-game winning streak. Dallas has played better against the run this season, a big factor in a game that matches Detroit's Barry Sanders and the Cowboys' Emmitt Smith. For that reason: Edge, Dallas.
Intangibles: The Lions needed the bye last week to rest and heal injuries. Yet the Cowboys seemed to come through last week's 17-13wild-card victory in Chicago with a lot of momentum. This is one case where the off-week may not help.
AFC * HOUSTON (12-5) at DENVER (12-4), tomorrow, 4 p.m., Channel Quarterbacks: It has not been the best of years for the Oilers' Warren Moon (25 TD passes, 22 interceptions) or the Broncos' John Elway (13 TDs and 12 interceptions). Despite his big numbers, Moon reeled down the stretch with a rash of turnovers, fumbles as well as interceptions. He is the Oilers offense because they have no running game. Elway is still a dangerous big-play maker, and still elusive. He ran for six TDs this season, and he relied a lot on running back Gaston Green, who had five 100-yard rushing games. Edge, Moon.
Defense: The Broncos pumped up their defense (fifth overall) and their pass rush (52 sacks) to win the AFC West again. The offense went along for the ride. Denver held opponents under 20 points in 14 of 16 games, and allowed an AFC-low 20 touchdowns. The Oilers were stout on defense, too, ranking sixth against the rush and getting 45 sacks. Edge, Broncos.
Intangibles: Did the Broncos turn their season around from 5-11 in 1990 because they were good, or were they just taking advantage of a fifth-place schedule? That's the key question. They were good enough to beat Kansas City twice. Houston, meanwhile, probably will have to go outdoors twice to reach the Super Bowl and everyone knows the run-and-shoot offense doesn't percolate outdoors. Mile High Stadium should take its toll on the Oilers.
* KANSAS CITY (11-6) at BUFFALO (13-3), Sunday, 12:30, Channel 2
Quarterbacks: For the Chiefs' Steve DeBerg, this could be his last shot at the Super Bowl. He is 37 years old, in his 15th season, and he followed up a marvelous four-interception 1990 campaign with a mediocre 15-interception season in 1991. When you get benched for Mark Vlasic, it's time to think about your alternatives. Buffalo's Jim Kelly, on the other hand, is still going strong. He passed for 3,844 yards, with 33 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. His 97.6 passer rating led the AFC. The Bills had the No. 1 offense in the NFL and the No. 1 rushing game. They led the league with 58 touchdowns and led the AFC with 458 points. Edge, decisively, to Kelly.
Defense: Playing without defensive end Bruce Smith and nose tackle Jeff Wright much of the season, the Bills ranked 24th against the rush. That will get them beat against a good team. Indeed, it did the first time they played the Chiefs. But Smith and Wright are back for the playoffs and Buffalo shouldn't be as soft. The Chiefs were sensational on defense a year ago, but less than that this season. They have been hurt by injuries at linebacker, although Derrick Thomas is fine after his scare with a racing heartbeat last week. Edge, Chiefs.
Intangibles: The Bills didn't always look good this season, but they may have been merely tuning up for a big finish. Buffalo was so close to winning the Super Bowl last year, it doesn't figure to become an upset victim this season.