NFL playoffs almost here; Raiders closing in on wild-card berth

At this point it is difficult to believe that the National Football Legaue playoffs starting Dec. 23 can be more dramatic or spectacular than some of the things we have seen during the regular season. What the NFL is producing are the best aerial fireworks since the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics.

Just when everyone was getting ready to write off the Los Angeles Raiders, the defending Super Bowl champions rise up to knock off previously once-beaten Miami, 45-34. Usually the Dolphins, who had already won their division and may not have been as ready mentally as they could be, don't give up that many points in two or three weeks.

With a lot of help from the St. Louis Cardinals, who all but ended New England's post-season chances with a 33-10 victory, the Raiders now must win only one of their two remaining games to clinch a wild-card playoff berth. Considering the opposition (the Lions at Detroit on Dec. 10 and Pittsburgh at home on Dec. 16), the Raiders might even be able to rest some veterans and still win.

More and more it begins to look as though San Francisco might be as good at capitalizing on turnovers as any team in the league. With their sixth straight victory and ninth in a row on the road, the 49ers clinched the home-field advantage throughout the entire playoffs by defeating Atlanta 35-17. San Francisco's defense forced seven turnovers, including a pass interception and 54 -yard TD return by Dana McLemore.

Seattle continued its great run in the AFC West with a smashing 38-17 victory over Detroit. Basically it was another MVP performance by quarterback Dave Krieg , who passed for 294 yards and a club record five touchdowns. The victory, Seattle's eighth in a row, combined with Denver's 16-13 loss to Kansas City, moved the Seahawks into first place.

Things continued to hold tight in the AFC East, where Washington, Dallas, and the New York Giants share first place. However that isn't apt to last beyond next week when Dallas hosts Washington and the Giants play at St. Louis.

In Cleveland on Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals pulled a hat out of a 270 -pound rabbit in a 20-17 overtime victory that kept their playoff hopes alive. Trailing 17-10 with one second left, the Bengals lined up tackle Anthony Munoz where a tight end would normally be positioned, making him an eligible pass receiver. When the ball was snapped Anthony stepped one yard into the end zone and caught a TD pass from Boomer Esiason, setting the stage for a game-winning field goal in overtime. The win put Cincinnati within a game of Pittsburgh in the AFC Central. Wronged by uprights; Oilers' foiler

* Don't bother to ask the Denver Broncos if history ever repeats itself. They know it does. Two weeks ago Rich Karlis had a chance to tie a game against Seattle when his 25-yard field goal attempt hit an upright. Sunday against Kansas City Karlis again hit an upright, this time from 42 yards away. Denver's only consolation is that it has already clinched a wild-card playoff berth.

* A smart lawyer got a 23-20 overtime decision for Houston against Pittsburgh on Sunday, although he had to kick to do it. Joe Cooper, a mid-season replacement for the Oilers' regular field goal kicker who is injured, booted a 30-yarder with 9:07 left. Joe, a second-year law student at San Joaquin College in Fresno, Calif., had no pro experience before joining Houston four games ago.

* Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams, who rushed for 149 yards in Sunday's 34-21 victory over New Orleans, now has 1,781 for the season. He needs 222 yards in the last two games to tie O. J. Simpson's NFL one-season record of 2,003. However Simpson set his mark in 14 games as compared to the current 16.

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