With matching seven-game winning streaks, the NFL's only two undefeated teams, the Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints, are still far in front in the race for the Super Bowl.
But as members of the same conference, the NFC, they are on different tacks. They are on course to meet not in the Super Bowl but in the playoffs.
What can sports fans expect then?
--Buttressed by the home-field advantage, the Redskins would probably win in Washington.
--With the dome-field advantage, the Saints would probably win in New Orleans.
So that's what they're playing for now.
Under NFL rules, the Saints will get the dome-field edge only if their regular-season record is superior. Otherwise, they'll be playing in Washington.
Game results so far suggest that the inherent quality of the teams won't matter much in the playoffs, regardless of whether Bobby Hebert or Steve Walsh is at quarterback for the Saints against the Redskins' Mark Rypien. The one thing that will clearly matter is where they play.
For at home this year, the Redskins have rolled three shutouts with the same team that, on the road, has been all-out to beat winless Cincinnati, 34-27, and Dallas, 33-31.
Simultaneously, the Saints have a strong winning record in the Superdome. But at Philadelphia, for example, against a team without a quarterback, they needed a break to win outdoors, 13-6.
They could get another break Jan. 27. The Super Bowl is indoors this time, in Minneapolis.
No shoot or run: The NFL's two run-and-shoot teams, the Houston Oilers and Detroit Lions, were both on the road Sunday when the Oilers narrowly won and the Lions lost in a rout.
And so it's being said again that run-and-shoot teams can't produce away from home.
It is more likely, however, that their travel problems are rooted elsewhere. The Oilers and Lions are dome teams whose home games are played in the Astrodome and Silverdome, respectively. And it's getting harder than ever for such teams to win out of town, away from their controlled climate, away from the noise of a friendly crowd.
Some dome-team evidence:
--The Lions (5-2), winners of all five at the Silverdome with quarterback Rodney Peete, have been blown out of Washington, 45-0, and San Francisco, 35-3.
--The Oilers (6-1), a terror at the Astrodome with quarterback Warren Moon, lost in New England, 24-20, and were lucky to win at Miami Sunday, 17-13.
--In their Metrodome, the Minnesota Vikings beat San Francisco, but, venturing forth, couldn't win at Chicago, Detroit or even New England.
--Although injuries have made it a tough year for Seattle and Indianapolis, the Seahawks, with a backup quarterback, beat the rising New York Jets at the Kingdome.
Coming up is the dome-team road game of the year: Houston at Washington Nov. 3.
Coming up first is Chicago at New Orleans.
Is Chicago's Mike Ditka the one NFL coach who could get his team going in an unfriendly dome environment?
He will take four shots in the next five weeks: at New Orleans Sunday and at Minnesota, Indianapolis and Detroit in November.
The Bears have yet to score more than 21 points on any day this season--despite improved passing by quarterback Jim Harbaugh--but they have wide receiver Ron Morris back in form, and that should mean better rushing as well as better passing.
"Run-blocking is a big part of our offense," said Morris, the club's best receiver-blocker, who started the season on injured reserve. "If you can block, guys like Neal Anderson and Brad Muster can go all the way."
Do the Bears lack speed at wide receiver?
"We don't have a Willie Gault (anymore)," Morris conceded. "But I feel we have as much speed as most NFL teams."
To mingle with NFL crowds this year is to discover that the so-called generation gap of the 1990s doesn't apply to pro football fans in the same sense that, according to most polls, it is evident in other areas.
For example, Americans in their 20s and 30s may be reading fewer books and newspapers than those over 50. And, clearly, the generations favor drastically different forms of music, among other things.
But on any given Sunday, a similar mix of 20-, 40- and 60-year-old fans seems to be in most NFL stadiums.
Have the psychologists and psychiatrists noticed that?
Bruce Ogilvie has. A Los Gatos psychologist, Ogilvie said:
"A pro football crowd is a place where chronological age isn't terribly important. If you're 17 or 70, you either like long touchdown passes or you don't. Generation separation is a meaningless concept at the stadium. The game hooks a lot of teens and seniors--and goes over the heads of others."
Promotion, Ogilvie said, is a factor in everything from music to sports.
"You can't have a No. 1 rap record, or rock album, unless you capture the adolescent," he said. "So music promoters pitch to the kids.
"The NFL carefully avoids entanglements with any age group. They're always cultivating the next generation along with our generation."