When he was coaching UCLA and later the Rams, Tommy Prothro used to examine Bear Bryant's easy schedules at Alabama and observe: "It isn't always who you are that counts. It's who you play and when you play them."
His coaches called that Prothro's law. And, this month, it largely explains the records of the 0-3 Raiders and 3-0 Rams.
The Raiders' three opponents are 8-1. Ram opponents are 2-7.
The Raiders have been narrowly outpointed by three of the league's best teams--the unbeaten Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos and a 2-1 New York Giant team that lost a close one to the Dallas Cowboys.
The Rams have outscored the winless St. Louis Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts and a 2-1 San Francisco 49er team that learned, shortly before the kickoff, that it had lost Joe Montana for the year.
Would the Raiders be 0-3 against that bunch?
You may know later. In the last half of the season, the Rams' schedule will get tougher and the Raiders' easier.
But the first weeks of any season are momentum time in football, and the Rams are getting it now, whereas the Raiders aren't.
You can be sure that Prothro understands.
The AFC's list of Super Bowl contenders might have dwindled from five teams to two.
Defensive troubles are hurting the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets. The Raiders haven't had much offense since mid-1984.
This leaves the Broncos and New England Patriots, who will play Sunday at Denver's Mile High Stadium in what would seem to be one of the season's pivotal games.
They would be meeting as undefeated teams if the Seahawks hadn't blocked two Patriot punts Sunday in a 38-31 upset.
It is often said of Chuck Knox, Seattle's coach, that he finds a way to win. This is one of his ways, although, as the Patriots confessed, blocked kicks typically result from kicking-team mistakes.
"It was not very good coaching," said Dante Scarnecchia, their special teams coach.
But Knox does take advantage.
NFL officials have been hurting the game this year with mistaken calls on kick returns.
The touchdown they took away from the Packers Monday night was characteristic of the confusion they have shown on downfield blocking plays. Walter Stanley was racing for a touchdown--one that might have beaten the Bears--when an official penalized a Packer for an illegal block.
When thrown, it was a legal block. But at that instant, Stanley made a sharp cut, and the Bear went after him, turning his back on the blocker, who then piled into him as he completed his block.
This has happened recurrently this year. Every time a punt runner cuts, the tackling team changes direction, too. And, shortly, a perfectly legal block becomes an illegal block to an official who only sees the end of the block, not the first move by the blocker.
The only safe kick returns are straight-ahead runs, which attract few flags. When the kick returner cuts and runs laterally, a flag is 50-50.
It shouldn't be that way.
The instant replay cameras this year are proving, however, that officiating isn't as easy as it seems to some fans and even coaches.
There were two examples over the weekend:
--At Miami, Coach Don Shula said: "Our coaching tapes confirmed that Michael Harper's fumble was a fumble."
The officials, upstairs and down, had ruled otherwise, awarding overtime possession to the Jets ahead of their winning move in a 51-45 game.
--At Green Bay, the Monday night announcers said of a critical pass: "It was a completion and a fumble."
The instant replay official, however, correctly ruled incomplete. The receiver didn't have possession when his second foot hit the ground.
In their TV experiment this season, the pros have developed more of these little controversies than they had expected, a lot more. Officiating is tougher than they thought.
Quarterback David Archer of the undefeated Atlanta Falcons has come out of nowhere in recent weeks to take over as perhaps the NFL's brightest new star.
Ask the Dallas Cowboys, who lost to a bomb by Archer--a 65-yard pass play--in the last 30 seconds at Texas Stadium Sunday. This set up the 18-yard field goal that won the game, 37-35.
Atlanta had had less to beat in its first two games, against the New Orleans Saints and Cardinals, but both times Archer made the decisive plays spectacularly. And today, he's the NFC's top-rated passer.
"Dave's a great athlete," Coach Dan Henning said when asked to explain why he traded Steve Bartkowski to the Rams after promoting Archer in the sixth week of the season last October.
Wide receiver Charlie Brown, the former Redskin, said: "Arch reminds me of Joe Theismann. He has the same mobility, and he's the same kind of brash leader."
But he doesn't have the same background. Far from it. At 24, only three years out of Iowa State, Archer is in the NFL as a free agent. So far as the record shows, no pro club even considered drafting him.
"He was a running quarterback in college," Dallas Vice President Gil Brandt said.
Moreover, he played only two years of football in college.