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BILLS' PLAYOFF FATE MAY HANG IN BALANCE OF RUNS TO PASSES

It's one of those opinionated days . . .

After spending two-thirds of the season dealing with a split personality, the Bills' offense settled into something that fit them comfortably against Arizona.

If offensive coordinator Joe Pendry keeps showing the sort of faith in the offensive line, Jonathan Linton and Thurman Thomas that he demonstrated Sunday night, allowing Doug Flutie to do the sort of passing with which he is most effective, the Bills' chances of surviving as road warriors in the playoffs should improve.

Expecting a dozen consecutive running plays against defenses better than Arizona's is unrealistic, but a 60-40 balance, runs to passes, is often the ticket for success at this time of year.

The Bills' followers are going to find out what an underrated cornerback Ken Irvin is now that he's lost for the season.

As fine a prospect as Antoine Winfield seems to be, he's still a rookie who is breaking into the lineup at the worst possible point in the season.

He isn't likely to make the Pro Bowl when the squads are announced Wednesday, but left tackle John Fina is quietly enjoying one of the better seasons in his long career in Buffalo.
They're 13-1, best record in the NFL, yet for the last three weeks the Jacksonville Jaguars have been the cheesiest 13-1 team I've seen.

For all his crassness, you have to give Bill Parcells credit for sensitivity and patience in molding Ray Lucas, the rawest of material, into an acceptable NFL quarterback.

The Jets and Lucas, who already beat Miami in the New Jersey Meadowlands, could do it again to the reeling Dolphins in Florida on Monday night.

You know it's not your father's NFL when Tampa Bay, leader of the competitive NFC Central, goes into Oakland and gets barbecued, 45-0, by an inconsistent Raider attack averaging 22 points a game. The Bucs can't blame it all on their rookie quarterback, Shaun King.

It's sad news to hear those speculative stories about Dan Marino finishing up his career in Pittsburgh with a sad-sack Steelers team or in Tampa Bay tutoring King.

Marino earned tens of millions of dollars in the '90s. Does he really want to end up like O.J. Simpson did with the 49ers or Babe Ruth with the Boston Braves?

You watch Kansas City's aggressive defense and wonder how meaningful the statistics are reflecting yards allowed rushing or passing, compared to having a go-get-'em defense that takes away the ball, creating scoring opportunities.

The term "dumb jocks" will live as long as football players like the Cleveland Browns defend their out-of-control teammate, Orlando Brown, for knocking an official on his duff after the zebra accidentally hit Brown in the eye while throwing a penalty flag.

St. Louis should make it to the Super Bowl in a walk now that it has the overall home-field advantage in the NFC. The Rams are 7-0 at home. Washington is 3-4 on the road. So is Tampa Bay. Detroit is 2-5 and Dallas 1-6. The best NFC road record also belongs to the Rams (5-2).

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