This time, ABC joins NFL playoff picture Redskins-Eagles to lead traditional lineup Saturday

January 01, 1991|By Vito Stellino

The wild-card playoff battle lines have been drawn.

Not only between the teams, but also between the television networks.

When the National Football League announced its 1990 playoff pairings yesterday, it gave ABC-TV, the new kid on the network TV playoff block, the two "traditional" wild-card games on Saturday.

The Washington Redskins will play at the Philadelphia Eagles at 12:30 p.m. and the Kansas City Chiefs will play at the Miami Dolphins at 4.

Those would have been the only two wild-card games to have been played under the old format in which there were two wild-card teams from each conference. Under the old system, CBS would have shown the Redskins-Eagles game and NBC the Chiefs-Raiders.

But the addition of a third wild-card team in each conference created two new games, and these were scheduled for Sunday.

The Cincinnati Bengals, the American Football Conference Central Division champion, will play host to the third AFC wild-card team, the Houston Oilers, at 12:30 p.m. on NBC-TV, and the Chicago Bears, the National Football Conference Central Division champion, will be host to the third NFC wild-card team, the New Orleans Saints, at 4 p.m. on CBS-TV. New Orleans beat the Rams last night to clinch the final spot.

The league planned in advance to have ABC televise the two Saturday games, but didn't decide until yesterday which networks would get which games. ABC had never televised playoff games in the past except for the Super Bowl.

FIt will be interesting to see if the ratings for the traditional games on ABC-TV Saturday are any different than for the new games Sunday.

Although Chicago's opponent, New Orleans, has a .500 record, the Bears were the team most coveted by both CBS and ABC because they play in such a big market and have such a loyal following. ABC officials were unhappy because the Bears didn't appear on "Monday Night Football" this season.

Even if the new wild-card teams, Houston and New Orleans, are knocked out in the first round, the new format has had a profound effect on the AFC race.

Without a third wild-card team, Houston would have been eliminated before its Sunday night game with Pittsburgh. Under the new format, the Oilers were able to gain the third AFC wild-card berth by routing the Steelers, 34-14, a victory that gave the Central Division title to Cincinnati.

If the Oilers hadn't had anything to play for, it might have been much more difficult for them to beat Pittsburgh, and the Steelers might well have won to take the division title. Under the old format both Houston and Cincinnati would have wound up staying home.

With ABC televising both games Saturday, the league also runs into the possibility that the first game won't be over before the second game starts.

The last time that happened was on Christmas Eve in 1977, when NBC was televising two playoff games. When the Baltimore-Oakland playoff game went into double overtime, NBC wasn't able to pick up the start of the second game, between Pittsburgh and Denver, until midway through the first quarter.

After the wild-card weekend, ABC-TV will bow out of playoff action until the Super Bowl on Jan. 27, which that network will televise this year.

In the second round, on the weekend of Jan. 12-13, there will be four games televised by CBS and NBC, with each network

televising one game each day.

Buffalo will be the site of the 12:30 p.m. game Jan. 12 on NBC, and San Francisco will be the host for the 4 p.m. game on CBS.

On Jan. 13, the New York Giants will be host for the 12:30 p.m. game on CBS, and the Los Angeles Raiders play host for the 4 p.m. game on NBC.

If Chicago wins Sunday, the Bears go to the Giants the next Sunday, and the Washington-Philadelphia winner goes to San Francisco a week from Saturday.

If Chicago loses to New Orleans, the Saints go to San Francisco and the Redskins-Eagles winner goes to the Giants.

A member of the Giants organization said that team is rooting for a Chicago victory because it doesn't want to play a division rival in its first game and it hopes that the Philadelphia-Washington winner has a chance of knocking off San Francisco.

The Washington-Philadelphia game will present a contrast in coaching styles between Joe Gibbs of the Redskins and Buddy Ryan of the Eagles.

Gibbs is giving his players off until Wednesday because he wants them well-rested. Ryan took his players to Tampa, Fla., yesterday for work in mild weather and to keep their minds on the playoff game.

In the AFC, Cincinnati goes to the Raiders if it wins and the Kansas City-Miami winner goes to Buffalo. If Houston beats Cincinnati, it would go to Buffalo and the Kansas City-Miami winner would go to the Raiders.

Kansas City was rooting Sunday for San Diego to upset the Raiders to give the Chiefs the division title, but K.C. coach Marty Schottenheimer was so certain the Raiders would win that he didn't bother to watch the game and started preparing for Miami.

Cincinnati won its division title when Houston beat Pittsburgh, but Bengals coach Sam Wyche didn't bother to watch that game. Although the Bengals would have been eliminated if Houston had lost, Wyche said he went out to dinner with his family.

"Every time the waiters walked by, they'd bring us up to date," he said of the Houston victory.

The Bengals will play Houston for the second time in three weeks, having beaten the Oilers, 40-20, Dec. 23, when quarterback Warren Moon suffered a dislocated thumb in the final two minutes.

But the Oilers didn't seem to miss Moon against Pittsburgh as backup Cody Carlson threw three touchdown passes. Now he's going to try to do it again against the Bengals.

"There were a lot of questions answered tonight and there are a lot more to be answered," Carlson said. "We have to get better and concentrate even harder against Cincinnati."

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