PHILADELPHIA -- The suits who work in the NFL office are in a sweat today. They wouldn't admit it, they never do, but they have to be worried about where this 1991 season is headed.
These are the guys, remember, who revel in the world of parity. They are the ones who came up with the idea of a balanced schedule and wild-card games to make the Super Bowl race a come-one, come-all affair.
Their idea of a perfect Christmas would be finding 28 teams with 8-8 records piled under the tree in commissioner Paul Tagliabue's office.
Then Tags' elves could compute which 12 teams had the most points, head-to-head, within the division, on artificial turf, etc., and fax them playoff invitations.
What the NFL brass is staring at now, however, is the chilling prospect that this season's Super Bowl matchup could be a foregone conclusion in October.
We're talking, of course, about Buffalo meeting Washington. Right now, that looks as inevitable as snow on the Metrodome roof come kickoff for Super Bowl XXVI.
Next week will tell us a lot.
The Redskins (5-0) meet the Bears (4-1) in Chicago today and the Bills (5-0) face the Chiefs (3-2) in Kansas City tomorrow night. These are tough trips, with the Bears coming off a frustrating loss in Buffalo and the Chiefs playing host to their first prime-time telecast since 1983.
The stadiums will be loud and hostile, the competition will be as good as each conference has to offer. If the Redskins and the Bills roll through these road tests the same way they rolled through September, pedal to the floor, tires smoking, look out.
I know we haven't reached the halfway point in the season and, yes, I'm aware that every playoff game is a trapdoor ready to open under Jim Kelly's feet. But if you look at the field today, it is hard to arrive at any other conclusion.
Sorry about that, Tags.
The Bills already have a three-game lead in the AFC East and the team that pushed them to the wire last season, Miami, has too many holes on defense to be a factor this year.
Look around the rest of the conference and find a team that can stop the Bills. The Chiefs and the Raiders have the defense, but their respective offenses rank 24th and 26th in the league.
The Raiders haven't scored more than 17 points in any game this season and they are averaging 3.3 yards a rush. When you can't run the ball and the alternative is Jay Schroeder passing, you are in a serious bind.
The Denver Broncos are 4-1, but have you checked their schedule? So far, the Broncos have defeated the winless Bengals, the winless Chargers, the lifeless Vikings and the ho-hum Seahawks. Not exactly murderers' row.
It is reality-check time for the Broncos. They face Houston and Kansas City the next two weeks, so they should be coming back to earth.
Houston is an intriguing team, but the Oilers already have a puzzling loss to New England and they still have to run the NFC East gauntlet of Washington, Dallas, the Eagles and Giants.
Houston probably will win the lackluster AFC Central, but with four or five losses. That's too many.
The Bills almost certainly will finish with the AFC's best overall record, which means home field in the playoffs. The advantage is obvious enough. Last season, the Bills buried Miami and the Raiders by a combined score of 95-37 in two playoff games at Rich Stadium.
The Bills have won 19 of their last 20 starts at home. If the Oilers are, as many experts claim, the second-best team in the AFC, what chance would their run-and-shoot offense have in Buffalo with its subzero temperatures and arctic winds?
Answer: almost none.
In the NFC, the Redskins find themselves in a surprisingly strong position after five weeks.
For one thing, coach Joe Gibbs' team really meshed in the first month of the season, and now leads the league both in points scored (169) and in shutouts (three), a rare double.
Also, enhancing the Redskins' situation is the fact that their traditional conference rivals are in trouble.
The Giants and 49ers each are 2-3 and leaking confidence. Lawrence Taylor (thumb) and Joe Montana (elbow) are wounded and unable to ride to the rescue as in past years.
The Eagles already have lost Randall Cunningham and Jim McMahon and if they ever do get their quarterback situation stabilized, it probably will be a scramble just to finish over the .500 mark.
With Rams quarterback Jim Everett dropping out of sight (zero touchdown passes in five games) and the Bears' running game stuck in the mud (3.4 yards a carry), it puts Washington on the inside track to the NFC title.
Detroit is 4-1, but like Denver, the record seems flimsy. The Lions have beaten Green Bay, Miami (a mild surprise), Indianapolis and Tampa Bay (both winless).
Detroit's schedule is soft enough to keep it in the race, but aside from halfback Barry Sanders and linebacker Chris Spielman, there aren't many positions where this team stacks up with the Redskins. In fact, its one loss was to the Redskins, 45-0, minus Sanders.