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Duke Looks at Possibilities For Super Bowl Contenders

By Martin Duke
sports columnist

At the top of the NFL, we have chaos. With every divisional leader looking mortal (even 91 Denver), there is a jumble of teams, none of which seems to be the dominant Super Bowl juggernaut we have come to expect in years past.

It's really hard to pick a champion out of this mess, but we can make some statements about the individual division races by taking a look at each contender's remaining schedule.

NFC overview

In the NFC West, Green Bay (82) is three games ahead of everyone else in their division. It's difficult to imagine a scenario in which they blow their lead. There are only two tough games left on the schedule, so expect them to go 124.

The Redskins' loss to Arizona sealed their fate. They now face a gauntlet of playoff contenders. Look for them to finish 97. Barring an inexplicable lapse, the Eagles should win the rest of their games and cruise to a 133 finish and home field advantage in the NFC East.

Given SanFrancisco's schedule they will have a tough time, but look for them to finish 115 and win the NFC West.

AFC East

During the last three weeks of the season, 73 Buffalo will face Seattle and Miami on the road and then come home to play the Chiefs. Next week they have to play Bruce Coslett's 30 Cincinnati juggernaut. Since the rest of their schedule is pretty soft, they should end up with nine or 10 wins. On the other hand, New England, also 73, has to go to Dallas and host Denver. Count on them losing both games but ending up with 11 wins and the division.

AFC Central

After being shocked by the Bengals on Sunday, the 73 Steelers are looking to regroup against the Jaguars, who they should beat easily. They have two tough games at the end of the schedule - San Francisco at home and Carolina on the road. They should end with 11 wins and may even end up with 12.

Houston has an easier schedule, facing only Carolina among winning teams. This is going to be an exciting divisional race if they don't stumble against Miami or Cincinnati at home.

As they are likely to end up with as many wins as Pittsburgh, division records will determine the title. Houston has lost only to the Steelers, while all of Pittsburgh's losses have come from inside the Central. Advantage: Houston.

AFC West

Denver at 91 appears to be for real and needs only to win at Lambeau Field, Foxboro, and San Diego to defeat all the winning teams on the rest of their schedule. Regardless of how Kansas City does, I don't see how they're going to overcome the 14 wins that the Broncos are likely to pile up.

Given that it is only Week 11 and anything can happen, it is probably useless to make playoff predictions, but look for Denver and Philadelphia to have home field advantage the whole way through.

This is progress

The only possible silver lining in the nuclear winter that baseball is again experiencing is that it looks like interleague play will be dead for 1997. If we do in fact have an intact season next year, this labor mess will almost have been worth it.

Of course, that's a big if. All of this talk about interleague play got me thinking, though. What about the other sports? How could they be improved by adopting baseball's traditional system?

In the NBA and NHL, it would probably seem kind of silly, since they have the historically neutral Eastern and Western Conferences. But think of the possibilities in the NFL. You could eliminate two August preseason games and extend the regular season to 18 games. Since every division now has five teams, you could play two games against each division opponent and one against each other team in the conference. With 15 teams in each conference, one would get a bye each week.

Think about how much better the game would be if the schedules were balanced. And think of how much more interesting the Super Bowl would be if the teams had not already met in some midseason game. It would magnify still further the North American sports world's greatest spectacle.