American Football: Dallas favourites despite carrying health warning: Bills seek to end NFC's nine-year Super Bowl supremacy. Matt Tench reports from Atlanta

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The Independent Online
YOU have to hand it to the NFL. It is 10 years since an AFC team last won the Super Bowl and in nine matches of NFC dominance just a couple could be described as genuinely competitive. And still they make it sound like the most compelling contest in the world of sport.

The secret lies in the pre-game show. Lasting nearly a week, the razzmatazz is so bewildering that you are forced to conclude there must be a great sporting event in the offing.

Looking forward to tomorrow's game it is difficult to see the pattern being broken. In thrashing the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday the Dallas Cowboys showed themselves to be not just the best team in the league, but comfortably the best. The 49ers themselves are probably the second best and would have been favoured to beat the Bills had they won in Dallas.

The Cowboys have the most threatening offense in the game with game-winning talent at just about every position. None is more dangerous than the running back Emmitt Smith. Unless the Bills can limit him the Cowboys will simply cruise to victory without having to rely too heavily on the other shells in their daunting arsenal.

On defense they are almost as good. Lacking only marquee names, they are quick, physical and greedy for the ball. The much-admired 49ers' offense was reduced to mediocrity by them.

The Bills produced their best performance of the season last weekend when they put a stop to the Joe Montana roadshow and beat the Kansas City Chiefs. However, a terrific one-off display in front of their own fans should not mask the flaws of a season. Despite their success their big-play offense often spluttered and failed to come up with those big plays.

And for all its star names, their defense has given up more yards than in its previous Super Bowl seasons. What it has not given up is so many points, and the Bills will have to show the same resilience tomorrow if they are to have a chance.

The one factor in Buffalo's favour may be the relative health of the two teams. The Bills are carrying a few knocks - everybody does at this time of year - but have no major worries. Bruce Smith, their dominating defensive end, is in his best shape for years.

The Cowboys on the other hand have a number of serious question- marks. Smith insists his partially dislocated shoulder is not a problem but one heavy hit could change all that and the Georgia Dome's astroturf will not help. Two key defensive players, middle linebacker Ken Norton and lineman Charles Haley, have played with debilitating injuries for much of the season. Both will play

tomorrow but neither is fully fit.

The biggest doubt concerns the quarterback Troy Aikman, who was knocked senseless from last Sunday's game and still remembers little of the day. Had he sustained the concussion playing rugby union he would not be available for selection tomorrow. Should he take another big hit the equation changes significantly in Buffalo's favour.

For all that the case for the Cowboys is overwhelming. The Las Vegas oddsmakers favour them by 10 1/2 points and even that may be underestimating the disparity between the teams. Dallas by 14.

(Photograph omitted)