The first round of the NFL playoffs doesn't figure to be too exciting except when the point spread is involved.
Buffalo, Dallas, Pittsburgh and San Francisco are solid favorites -- in the seven- to 11-point range. None of the underdogs figures to pull off an upset, but any of the four could cover. This is, after all, the age of parity in professional football.
No team is exceptional until proven otherwise. But several weaker survivors did become respectable in '96.
All bets in mythical dollars:
Jacksonville at Buffalo (-8): Buffalo's offense is life-and-death to score 20 points, given the mediocre performance by the offensive line and Thurman Thomas' ailing ankle. Jim Kelly seems to throw one costly interception each game. There will be only one playoff-quality unit: the Bills' defense. It is still rugged despite the loss (except for token appearances) of linebacker Bryce Paup. Jacksonville needed a miracle to reach the playoffs. Take Buffalo for $100.
Minnesota at Dallas (-9 1/2 ): This outcome hinges on how Dallas cornerbacks Deion Sanders and Kevin Smith fare against Vikings receivers Cris Carter and Jake Reed. If, as anticipated, Sanders and Smith get the better of the matchups, Minnesota is in big trouble. Take Dallas for $100.
Indianapolis at Pittsburgh (-7): Just when it looked as though Colts running back Marshall Faulk was getting his act together, he was held to 25 yards in 13 carries at Cincinnati. Faulk must do much better if the Colts are to surprise the Steelers. Pittsburgh has monstrous problems at quarterback, but there's nothing wrong with Bill Cowher's defense. Take Pittsburgh for $100.
Philadelphia at San Francisco (-11): After considering a mythical $250 here, the large number causes a reconsideration. You could be leading by 17 late in the game and still have to worry if you pick San Francisco. Still, that's the way to go. The 49ers are the only one of the eight teams playing this weekend to have shown, in recent weeks, that they're ready both on offense and defense. Take San Francisco for $100.
Record: 2-4. Net for week: minus $90. Net for season: plus $710. Season record: 67-58-1.
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .Last .. .. ..Season
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .week .. .. ..record
John Eisenberg .. .. .. ..7-8 .. .. .122-114
Gary Lambrecht .. .. .. ..6-9 .. .. .112-124
Ken Murray .. .. .. .. ..3-12 .. .. .108-128
Mike Preston .. .. .. ...5-10 .. ...115-121
Vito Stellino .. .. .. ...6-9 .. .. .104-132
Pub Date: 12/27/96