Cowboys, Raiders favored; playoff picture takes shape
The two teams probably best equipped emotionally and physically to handle this season's National Football League playoff jungle are the Dallas Cowboys (6- 2) and the Los Angeles Raiders (7-1). Organization always counts heavily at a time like this and so does previous playoff experience. This is why most experts are placing the improved but untested Washington Redskins a cut below both the Cowboys and Raiders. And if you're wondering how anyone can call the 7-1 Redskins untested, it's because the extra pressure always makes the playoffs a different season.
Although LA head coach Tom Flores doesn't have Tom Landry's newspaper reputation for thoroughness, the Raiders staff is also extremely talented at breaking down films of their opponent's best plays and then finding a way to defense them. Because Dallas's Danny White is a more mobile quarterback than LA's Jim Plunkett, the Cowboys figure to be better in third down situations. But the Raiders, in rookie Marcus Allen, may now have a running back nearly as good as Tony Dorsett and one who pass blocks considerably better. The way Allen can move and dance away from defenders has prompted Flores to sometimes use a five-man passing attack. That is, an offense where two backs flare out to join the team's regular receivers; a mass maneuver that often results in missed assignments by the defense. Right now, Marcus has as good a chance as anyone of being named NFL Rookie of the Year.
Assuming that neither the Cowboys, the Raiders or the Redskins make it to the Super Bowl, give Cincinnati more than an even chance of getting there. The Bengals have the firepower; the big passer in QB Ken Anderson (the NFL's MVP last season); plus a more experienced defensive secondary. And allowing for the usual number of playoff upsets, getting hot at the right time could also make Cinderfellas out of any of the following NFL teams - the Dolphins, the Jets, the Chargers, the Bills, the Falcons and the Packers. NFL playoff schedule
The National Football League's 16-team Super Bowl Tournament will begin with eight post-season games on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 8-9. First-round winners will advance to the second round on the following weekend, Jan. 15-16. The NFC Championship Game will be played on Saturday, Jan. 22; the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, Jan. 23. According to the NFL, the eight Super Bowl Tournament teams in each conference will be seeded one through eight, based on their 1982 regular-season records in the AFC and NFC. Throughout the tournament, the home teams in each round will be the teams that had the better won-lost record during the regular season. Super Bowl XVII will be played, as originally scheduled, on Sunday, Jan. 30, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Meanwhile the 1983 NFL College Draft will be conducted on April 26-27 at the New York Sheraton Hotel. News around the league
Most NFL scouts say that fullback Pete Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals is the best straight-ahead power runner in the league. Johnson, because of his low center of gravity and 29-inch thighs, almost never goes down the first time he's hit. Pete had two short yardage touchdowns on Sunday as Cincinnati earned itself a playoff spot with a 24-10 win over Seattle. The Bengals, who have won five of their last six games take a 6-2 record into their final game next Sunday against Houston, which has lost six in a row.
The next time the National Football League decides to expand, it reportedly will be into Indianapolis, which may call its team the Speeders; a tie-in to the city's 500-mile auto race. One of the Indianapolis owners probably will be former Rams and Saints executive Pete Rosenbloom . . . from Washington coach Joe Gibbs on how well the playoff-bound Redskins have done this season: ''I attribute most of our success to the extra time we spent in training camp,'' Gibbs told reporters. ''We did a lot of individual teaching and, even though things got interrupted by the strike, much of what we were driving at carried over. I also think the off-season weight program we had this year resulted in fewer injuries.''
In the six games since the end of the NFL strike, the San Diego Chargers have averaged almost 500 total yards per contest. During this period the Chargers have logged 164 first downs; averaged almost seven yards per offensive play; and punted only 11 times. With last Sunday's 44-26 win against the Baltimore Colts, San Diego has now scored at least 30 points in five of its last six games . . . Dwight Clark of the San Francisco 49ers has caught 40 percent of quarterback Joe Montana's third down passes this season. Clark, the NFL's leading pass receiver, now has 56 catches for 859 yards and five touchdowns.