It has the makings of a classic American Football Conference clash, along the lines of the memorable 1981 San Diego-Miami playoff confrontation or the vintage 1971 Miami-Kansas City matchup.
The Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Raiders, two of the original franchises in the AFL, the maverick league founded in 1960 before merging with the NFL in 1966, face off Sunday in the AFC championship contest at Rich Stadium, the winner getting a berth in Super Bowl XV.The Raiders have progressed a little better than the Bills since the AFL was founded, going to four Super Bowls and winning three. A Bills victory would give them their first trip to the big game in the 30-year history of the franchise.
"We were the two division winners with the best record," Bills Coach Marv Levy noted, "so maybe it's appropriate we do face each other.
"They are extremely well balanced, extremely talented, with outstanding defense, good specialists and good special teams," Levy said of the Raiders. "In saying that, I hope I described us as well."
If regular-season records mean anything, the game may be one for the record books, similar to the Dolphins' 27-24 double-overtime playoff win over the Chiefs on Christmas Day 1971. Or maybe it will come close to San Diego's 41-38 overtime victory over the Dolphins Jan. 2, 1981 - still an NFL playoff record for most points.
Both teams will obviously be thinking about their first meeting back on Oct. 7, when the Raiders led by 10 points in the fourth quarter only to see the Bills score 24 points in a 6:03 span of the fourth quarter to post a 38-24 triumph.
"We felt we had the game under control for about three quarters and they came up with the big plays," Raiders Coach Art Shell recalled. "You have to give them credit for making things happen."
The offensive possibilities in this game are enormous. The Bills, with Jim Kelly at the controls of a potent no-huddle offense, rolled up 493 offensive yards and scored 44 points on a snow-covered field in their playoff win over Miami last weekend.
"What you saw (against Miami) will come out again (against the Raiders)," said Bills running back Thurman Thomas. "We won't change it,"
The Raiders scored 20 points in their playoff win over Cincinnati, but had 389 net yards, including 235 on the ground. Their quarterback, Jay Schroeder, fired 19 touchdown passes during the regular season, with just nine interceptions.
They have an able receiving corps, led by Mervin Fernandez, Willie Gault and tight end Ethan Horton.
"I think we can put points on board when we have to," Shell said. "The object of the thing is to win. If it means scoring three points, fine. If it takes 40 points, then you have to get it."
One of the Raiders' offensive weapons will be missing. Powerful running back Bo Jackson suffered a left hip injury against Cincinnati, and Shell said Saturday Jackson would not play.
"We won't change offensive strategy (without Jackson)," Schroeder said. "The players we have are here because they fit into the offensive strategy that we have. Whether he can or cannot go, we're going to go out and do basically the things we've been doing all year."
While the offensive potential is great, neither team is a slouch on defense. The Bills are led by defensive end Bruce Smith, whose 19 sacks were second best in the NFL this season. A linebacking corps of Cornelius Bennett, Darryl Talley and Shane Conland provide added strength.
The Raiders' 4-3 defense is led by its down linemen, Greg Townsend, Howie Long, Bob Golic and Scott Davis. Golic had nine tackles against the Raiders and was second on the team with 91 stops during the season.