ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Washington Redskins' reputation as one of the NFL's most physical teams will precede them to Minneapolis and Super Bowl XXVI next week.
"I don't know if there is such a thing as Redskin football, but they play it," Buffalo Bills wide receiver Andre Reed said yesterday.
And how does Reed describe Redskin football?
"Hard and aggressive."
The battle lines have been drawn for the Jan. 26 showdown in the Metrodome between the Redskins and Bills. In a matchup of high-powered offenses and dominating defenses, Washington has been established as a 6 1/2 -point favorite. That was a reflection not only of the Redskins' 16-2 record, but also of their 41-10 pounding of the Detroit Lions in Sunday's NFC championship game.
The day after his Bills slipped past the Denver Broncos, 10-7, in the AFC title game, coach Marv Levy said he was unmoved by the label of underdog, though.
"It doesn't make much difference," Levy said. "I enjoy it [underdog status]. But I don't like the reason for it. The point spread before a game doesn't mean anything. It's the point spread after the game that counts."
Levy knows that fact firsthand. A year ago in Super Bowl XXV, the favored Bills suffered a 20-19 loss to the New York Giants.
And Levy knows the Redskins, with their relentless running game and quick-strike passing game, will be tougher to defend against than were the one-dimensional, run-oriented Giants of 1990.
"They're different than the Giants," Levy said of the Redskins. "The Giants played a great game against us and won. In objective terms, [the Redskins are] a more balanced, well-rounded team than the Giants were.
"You can't say you're going to stop this [part of their game because] they've got so many areas of strength."
The Bills nevertheless feel they are ready to try. Their defense played brilliantly in a 37-14 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago, and was no less effective Sunday against Denver. It has been a season of defensive upheaval and injury for the Bills, but they appear to have hit their stride in the playoffs.
Asked when they had last been as dominating on defense as they were Sunday, veteran defensive end Leon Seals said, straight-faced, "Probably in the '60s. We finally came together. It's like Jell-O. You put Jell-O in the refridge, let it chill and it's ready. We're chilled and we're ready."
Oddly, just as the defense arrived, the offense was going south against Denver. The Bills were held without an offensive touchdown for the first time since a 33-6 loss to Kansas City in October, and quarterback Jim Kelly threw his fourth and fifth interceptions of the postseason. Buffalo preferred to look at Sunday's offensive doldrums as a wake-up call.
"Everybody expects us to score 50 points," said Reed, the TC team's home- run threat. "But there are good defenses out there. You have to give Denver credit, [the Broncos] played us well . . . maybe it was a blessing it happened this week."
The Bills know it will take their best game to get past the Redskins.
"They've been playing extremely well," said Steve Tasker, Buffalo's special teams leader. "We'll have to play extremely well to beat them. You have to give Washington a little bit of an edge. They're a well-rounded team. They're going to be tough to stop."
Second time around
The Buffalo Bills are the NFL's fifth team to return to the Super Bowl after having lost there the year before. The four previous teams and their records:
* Dallas -- Lost to Baltimore, 16-13, in 1971; beat Miami, 24-3, in 1972.
* Miami -- Lost to Dallas, 24-3, in 1972; beat Washington, 14-7, in 1973.
* Minnesota -- Lost to Miami, 24-7, in 1974; lost to Pittsburgh, 16-6, in 1975.
* Denver -- Lost to New York Giants, 39-20, in 1987; lost to Washington, 42-10, in 1988.