ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- When the playoff preliminaries finally ended yesterday, the NFL wound up with strength against strength.
At last, it's the Washington Redskins' high-powered attack against the suddenly revived Buffalo Bills' defense.
It's the Bills' no-huddle offense against the Redskins' no-frills defensive schemes.
In Super Bowl XXVI two weeks hence, it's finally time for the team with the best record in the NFL to meet the team with the second best record.
The Redskins, with an NFL-best record of 16-2, punched their ticket to the Minneapolis Metrodome with a resounding 41-10 knockout of the Detroit Lions in the NFC championship game.
The Bills (15-3) were less impressive in a 10-7 triumph over the Denver Broncos in the AFC title game, but no less deserving of a Super Bowl invitation.
With that in mind -- and the NFC's seven-year winning streak in the Super Bowl, as well -- the Redskins have been installed by the oddsmakers as six-point favorites.
The Bills will be making a return to the NFL's championship game one year after dropping a 20-19 decision to the New York Giants.
"It's tremendous, of course," coach Marv Levy said of Buffalo's second straight AFC title. "Honestly, we didn't go to training camp and say we're going back to the Super Bowl. That is just too big a bite to take for any football team."
But last year's loss was the undercurrent to Buffalo's season. As linebacker Cornelius Bennett said yesterday, "We have some unfinished business. Last year we were just excited to go to the Super Bowl. This year we're not going to be happy unless we go there and win it."
The last time the Redskins went this far, they buried the Broncos, 42-10, in Super Bowl XXII after the 1987 season. Coach Joe Gibbs is 2-1 in the season's grand finale, but remained cautious as ever after eliminating the Lions.
"I've got lots of respect for that football team," Gibbs said of the Bills. "Every time I've seen them on film, they've just finished rolling over somebody."
Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien, who threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns yesterday, echoed Gibbs' high praise: "Two years straight to make it to the 'Show,' it's no fluke."
Asked for a Super Bowl prediction, Detroit quarterback Erik Kramer sided with the oddsmakers -- and the Redskins.
"Based on today's performance, I'd have to say the Redskins," Kramer said. "We played the Bills when they didn't play a lot of key players. I don't think it's going to be a blowout."
The Lions, with the NFC's second-best record, lost to the Redskins twice this season by margins of 45 and 31 points. They took a 17-14 overtime victory over the Bills in Buffalo in the final week of the regular season, when Levy rested quarterback Jim Kelly and running back Thurman Thomas.
"Of all the teams we've played, this is the best team by far," Detroit coach Wayne Fontes decided.
The Redskins limited the Lions to 95 net yards of offense in the second half to break open a 17-10 game. They intercepted two passes (Darrell Green, Kurt Gouveia), blocked a field goal (Jumpy Geathers) and forced a fumble (Charles Mann) to stymie Detroit's run-and-shoot offense.
In the Bills, the Redskins will have to contend with a no-huddle offense that averaged 28.6 points in the regular season. Kelly's offense sputtered against Denver, but he has thrown 36 touchdown passes this season against 22 interceptions. Rypien's totals are 30 TDs and 12 interceptions.
The Bills were scoreless through the first half yesterday for the first time since their regular-season finale against the Redskins in 1990.
Kelly wasn't disturbed by the fact Buffalo's defense outscored its offense in the AFC title game.
"Who cares?" he said. "We're going to the Super Bowl and that's all that matters."