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Afc Playoff Capsules

December 28, 1995|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

* Finish: 13-3, first place in AFC West.

* Record vs. playoff teams: 2-2.

* League rankings: Offense 14th, defense second.

* Streak: Suffered two of their three losses in last five games.

* High point: Winning three of their first six games in the "Miracle Corner" of the east end zone of Arrowhead Stadium. Danan Hughes caught a touchdown pass from Steve Bono in the final two minutes of an eventual overtime victory over the New York Giants, James Hasty returned an interception 64 yards in overtime to beat the Oakland Raiders and Tamarick Vanover returned a punt 86 yards to beat the San Diego Chargers in overtime.

* Low point: An embarrassing performance on Monday night, Dec. 11, in a loss to the host Miami Dolphins. Even though Bono was playing with a sore thumb that caused him to miss on more than half of his passes, the Chiefs committed three turnovers and missed a field goal, proving again that they were a different team away from Arrowhead.

* Turning point: When Bono led them to a game-tying touchdown drive with no timeouts in the final 1:12 against the San Diego Chargers on Oct. 9. A team that really didn't know him has believed in him since.

* Will advance to Super Bowl if: Bono can figure a way to score twice against the imposing Pittsburgh Steeler defense in their inevitable showdown at Arrowhead on Jan. 14. His defense can do the rest.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

* Finish: 11-5, first in AFC Central.

* Record vs. playoff teams: 2-2.

* League rankings: Offense sixth, defense third.

* Streak: Won eight of last nine.

* High point: Scoring on a pass from Neil O'Donnell to Ernie Mills in the snow in the final 1:06 of regulation against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 5 to send the wild game into overtime. The Steelers won on Norm Johnson's 24-yard field goal and played the rest of the season as if possessed.

* Low point: A 27-9 nationally televised loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 19. The Steelers gained 468 yards in total offense and could not score a touchdown.

* Turning point: When frustrated Coach Bill Cowher walked into a meeting room after the loss to the Bengals and wondered if the Steelers couldn't figure a way to use this kid named Kordell Stewart. The multifaceted play of a fourth-string quarterback has inspired the team since.

* Will advance to Super Bowl if: O'Donnell can prove he is a big-time quarterback. He has played that way during the last two months.

BUFFALO BILLS

* Finish: 10-6, first in AFC East.

* Record vs. playoff teams: 4-2.

* League rankings: Offense 20th, defense 13th.

* Streak: Lost two of their last four.

* High point: The victory over the Miami Dolphins in Buffalo on Dec. 17. It proved that the old guys could still perform under pressure. Running back Thurman Thomas gained 148 yards rushing and quarterback Jim Kelly threw only one silly pass of 28, and was sacked only once.

* Low point: The midseason announcement that Coach Marv Levy was entering the hospital for surgery related to prostate cancer. The team lost two of three games under interim Coach Elijah Pitts.

* Turning point: The off-season signing of linebacker Bryce Paup from the Green Bay Packers. He was not only the defensive player of the year, but has lighted the kindling underneath teammates Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett.

* Will advance to the Super Bowl if: Thomas can find one more ounce of energy in tired legs, Kelly can find a few more yards in his sore shoulder and Levy can find one more bit of magic in his playbook before he retires.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

* Finish: 9-7, second in AFC West.

* Record vs. playoff teams: 2-5.

* League rankings: Offense 16th, defense 10th.

* Streak: Won last five.

* High point: Shaun Gayle's 99-yard interception return to beat the New York Giants in the regular-season finale, capping a comeback from a 17-3 halftime deficit. He was even smart enough to cover up the ball so it couldn't be knocked loose by flying snowballs.

* Low point: Pick a week, any week. A star linebacker died and the head coach spent a week in the hospital, and that was before they had even played a game. They committed four turnovers and 134 yards worth of penalties against the Steelers. The Chiefs beat them with the first overtime punt return for a touchdown in NFL history. They bottomed out at 4-7 after blowing a 21-point comeback in Denver and losing on a last-second field goal.

* Turning point: At halftime of a tie game against the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 9, defensive end Rueben Davis began screaming at his teammates in the locker room. They scored in the first 15 seconds of the second half on a kickoff return by Andre Coleman and eventually won the game.

* Will advance to Super Bowl if: Running back Natrone Means returns from a groin injury and Junior Seau plays all 60 minutes of each postseason game the way he played for 30 minutes against the Giants last week.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

* Finish: 9-7, tied for second in AFC East.

* Record vs. playoff teams: 3-3.

* League rankings: Offense 22nd, defense tied for seventh.

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