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Raiders still winning the big ones; Dolphins near third title in row

By Phil Elderkin / December 18, 1985



The thing National Football League coaches probably value most is consistency. If they can somehow get their offensive and defensive units to play at or near their potential each week, a good season is almost guaranteed. No club has done this better in 1985 than the NFC Central Division champion Chicago Bears, who are 14-1, with a final road game Sunday against the Detroit Lions. The Bears, early favorites to win the Super Bowl, have given up the fewest points (181) of any NFL team.

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Although the Dallas Cowboys, who sometimes seem to get their quarterbacks out of revolving doors, have clinched the NFC East, they seem to have too many breakdowns to go very far in the playoffs. While not all pro scouts agree, there is a feeling among many of them that the New York Giants are actually the best team in that division.

That same situation may also exist in the NFC West, where the defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers appear to have many more offensive weapons than the Los Angeles Rams, plus a better defense. Nevertheless, when the Rams had to beat the 49ers two weeks ago to hold first place, it was San Francisco that unraveled, and not L.A.

Whether the motivation comes from owner Al Davis, coach Tom Flores, or the players themselves, the Los Angeles Raiders still seem able to win the big ones. Picked to finish behind division rivals Seattle and Denver, the Raiders defeated the Broncos in Denver on Dec. 8, then nailed down the AFC West championship Sunday with a 13-3 victory over the Seahawks.

Every time the New England Patriots visit Miami they are reminded that they haven't beaten the Dolphins in the Orange Bowl since 1966. This year they made it close, rallying from a two-touchdown, fourth-quarter deficit to tie Monday night's game at 27, but a 48-yard field goal by Fuad Reveiz put Miami back on top with 3:27 left, an interception by Glenn Blackwood stopped New England's last drive in the final minute, and the Dolphins prevailed again, 30-27. The win not only continued Miami's home dominat ion of the Patriots but also put the Dolphins in position to clinch their third straight AFC East title by beating hapless Buffalo on Sunday, while the Pats can still assure themselves of a wild-card spot by winning their finale against Cincinnati.

In the AFC Central (or software division), no team is likely to finish above .500. While Cleveland is one game over that figure at the moment, the Browns will be hard pressed to beat the tough New York Jets on Sunday. Even if they lose, however, they will still be the division champions unless both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh win their finales, in which case the tie-breaking formula would give the Bengals the title. In any event (unless the Browns beat the Jets), the eventual champion will be 8-8 -- the w orst full-season record ever to qualify for the playoffs. The Browns themselves as well as the Detroit Lions both made it with 4-5 records in the strike-shortened 1982 campaign, but the poorest full-season mark to qualify so far was San Francisco's 8-7-1 tally in 1978.

The Dallas Cowboys have recorded a holiday album and video entitled ``The Twelve Days of Christmas.'' The song's gimmick is that the Cowboys don't want to be home for the holidays because that's the playoff time of the year -- and now that they've clinched their division title they can be sure of postseason action at least through the weekend of Jan. 4-5. Proceeds from the album and video will benefit both the North Texas Food Bank and the Salvation Army. Some fans are buying the video jus t to see whether head coach Tom Landry sings with his hat on or off. Concerned over the increasing length of most games, NFL officials are again looking at possible rule changes aimed at holding the action under three hours. Insiders claim that next year, at least in exhibition games, timekeepers will be told to start the clock on pass incompletions as soon as the offense has recrossed the line of scrimmage. The way things are now, they wait until the ball is snapped.

You'd better believe that pro football TV advertising has enormous appeal for most big companies. All commercial time has already been sold for the Super Bowl on Jan. 26 in New Orleans. Thirty-second spots went for $550,000; one-minute spots, for $1.5 million.

Those on-again, off-again rumors that have the Cardinals moving from St. Louis to Phoenix, Ariz., in time for next season continue to surface. But owner Bill Bidwell says they aren't true and that all he has ever wanted from St. Louis is a stadium with a larger capacity than its present limit of 51,392.