Atlanta coach Jerry Glanville wears a perpetual scowl, a circumstance that suits his personality as neatly as his defense. It is a sometimes abrasive personality and an always aggressive defense, and tomorrow Glanville will bring both into RFK Stadium to confront the Washington Redskins in an NFC divisional playoff game.
If Glanville's Falcons played as well as he scowls, they wouldn't be 11-point underdogs in the 12:30 p.m. staredown.
But the playoffs are less about talk, and more about defense and quarterbacks. The big-play quarterbacks and the hot defenses are usually the big winners in January, when tension moves in like a Buffalo cold front.
Glanville has his blitz-crazy defense and the Red Gun (four wide receiver) offense. The last time he tried that combination at RFK, the Falcons were blown away in a 56-17 Redskins romp that was little more than target practice for Washington quarterback Mark Rypien.
Ironically, all four quarterfinal playoff games this weekend are rematches of earlier blowouts. Houston, which plays at Denver, ravaged the Broncos 42-14 last October in the Astrodome. Kansas City, which travels to Buffalo, drilled the Bills 33-6 in a Monday night affair at Arrowhead Stadium in October. And Detroit, which hosts Dallas, beat the Cowboys last October, 34-10, in the Silverdome.
Revenge is for nerds, though. This weekend is about taking the )) next step to the Super Bowl. What happened before doesn't really matter in the countdown to Minneapolis.
Here is a look at this weekend's matchups:
NFC * ATLANTA (11-6) at WASHINGTON (14-2), tomorrow, 12:30, Channel 11
Quarterbacks: Rypien and Atlanta's Chris Miller are both headed to the Pro Bowl in February, but Rypien clearly has had the superior year with 28 touchdown passes and only 10 interceptions. His superb pass protection should allow him to take advantage of Atlanta's blitzing defensive scheme this time, too. Miller (29 TD passes, 19 interceptions) has given the Falcons big-play capability, but he has been erratic, as well. He didn't play the first game, when his backup, Billy Joe Tolliver, passed for 245 yards. It's hard to imagine Miller doing better. Both quarterbacks have excellent receivers. Edge, Rypien.
Defense: The Redskins sacked Tolliver five times in their November meeting, and got to Brett Favre once. They recorded 50 sacks during the regular season, second only to Denver among teams still playing. The Redskins also played the stingiest defense in the league, allowing 224 points. The Falcons collected 29 sacks during the year, and had trouble with the run at times. Edge, Redskins.
Intangibles: The Falcons' charge that the Redskins ran up the score two months ago is hollow. Atlanta stayed with its man-to-man coverage in the secondary to the bitter end, despite having only its third and fourth best cornerbacks in the game. Deion Sanders was out with a hamstring, and Tim McKyer was benched after giving up four passes of 32 yards or more in the first half. When receivers are open downfield, it's the quarterback's job to hit them. And Rypien did, six times for touchdowns. Revenge? Forget it, Jerry.
* DALLAS (12-5) at DETROIT (12-4), Sunday, 4 p.m., Channel 11
Quarterbacks: It's the battle of the backups -- the Cowboys' Steve Beuerlein against the Lions' Erik Kramer. Beuerlein is 5-0 as Troy Aikman's replacement and has thrown only two interceptions since taking over. Kramer is 6-2 since replacing Rodney Peete. Kramer got the job when Peete tore an Achilles' tendon against the Cowboys in October, and threw two touchdown passes to pace that win. Aikman threw for 331 yards in a losing cause. He is ready to play again, and is Dallas' ace in the hole. Slight edge, Beuerlein.
Defense: The injury-plagued Lions have been demons down the stretch. In the last four games they came up with 16 sacks, 11 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries. But their best linebacker (Mike Cofer) and best down lineman (Jerry Ball) are out for the season. And inside linebacker Dennis Gibson is questionable this week with a sprained knee. The Cowboys' pass rush has picked up steam since Russell Maryland, the first pick in last year's draft, moved into the starting lineup. It's not coincidental that they've been able to put pressure on the opposing quarterback during their six-game winning streak. Dallas has played better against the run this season, a big factor in a game that matches Detroit's Barry Sanders and the Cowboys' Emmitt Smith. For that reason: Edge, Dallas.
Intangibles: The Lions needed the bye last week to rest and heal injuries. Yet the Cowboys seemed to come through last week's 17-13wild-card victory in Chicago with a lot of momentum. This is one case where the off-week may not help.