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They Pull Out a Wild Card : Raiders: Marinovich presents the Chiefs with the unknown factor in game that will decide playoff site.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the first game of a twi-week doubleheader, the Raiders toss a left-hander at the Kansas City lineup and hope he can keep his pitches in the park.

Rookie quarterback Todd Marinovich gets the start today against the Chiefs at the Coliseum, rising from the scout team into the lineup ahead of the injured Jay Schroeder and the dejected Vince Evans.

This is called throwing your opponent a curve. The mid-week decision to start Marinovich no doubt sent Kansas City coaches scurrying through USC archives for available prints on Marinovich.

NFL films has about as much on him as it does the Loch Ness Monster. Marinovich, too, remains largely a myth, a shadow who reportedly surfaced on a gleaming surface--artificial turf--last Aug. 12 in Dallas, when he threw four passes against the Cowboys in an exhibition, then disappeared.

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It’s not much to go on. Welcome to the Al Davis Theater.

The Chiefs had a difficult time biting on the Marinovich bait. This is, after all, a real game, baby, not some summer exhibition.

The winner gets home-field advantage for next week’s rematch in a first-round wild-card playoff game. You know what home field means to Kansas City? The last time the Chiefs were hosts for a playoff game, Christmas Day, 1971, they didn’t want it to end.

And it almost didn’t. The Chiefs and Miami Dolphins played the longest game in NFL history, 82 minutes 40 seconds on the game clock.

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Chief safety Deron Cherry said this week he could not believe the Raiders would offer up Marinovich, in his first regular-season appearance, to the likes of himself and linebacker Derrick Thomas.

Cherry considered it almost a human sacrifice.

“You would hate to put a young guy in a position that he’s never really had that much experience in a big game like this, playing against our defense,” he said.

As the week wore on, tough, the Marinovich theory picked up steam and started to make more sense. For one thing, it allows the Raiders to throw a complete unknown at an opponent they must face again in a week.

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Marinovich has been provided only a limited package of the Raider playbook. The less you show, the less there is to see in films next week.

Marinovich is also a left-hander, with less arm strength but more touch than Schroeder or Evans. Might he not disrupt a secondary’s timing?

Of course, he will be nervous.

“If he’s not nervous I’ll be worried,” Coach Art Shell said. “I think you’ve got to be a little nervous to be ready to play.”

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Marinovich will make mistakes, too. He’ll get hit. But he was also the 24th pick overall in last year’s draft and is allegedly a bona fide talent.

“Sooner or later, you’ve got to play,” Shell surmised.

Yes, the Raiders want to win and play host to the Chiefs next week. But at what cost?

The Raiders are nursing injuries to several key players. Schroeder has two sprained ankles. Howie Long may or may not be ready to return from strained knee ligaments. Same prognosis and injury for Pro Bowl left guard, Steve Wisniewski.

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Nose tackle Bob Golic got kicked in the left calf against New Orleans. The bruise turned his leg the color of a grape Popsicle.

The hard-luck sight of the week, though, was Golic offering Schroeder, unable to drive because of his ankle sprains, a ride home from work. Golic then learned that he couldn’t work the clutch because of his leg.

As important as today’s game is, it is not as important as next week’s, when the loser goes home for the winter.

It is imperative that your best team shows then, not now.

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And although Marinovich doesn’t look like much in practice, he does have a reputation for playing well in big games.

The Raiders are only asking for one.

Also, that home-field advantage in consecutive games isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

The last time it happened was 1988, and it involved Chief Coach Marty Schottenheimer, who was then coaching at Cleveland.

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The Browns defeated Houston in the 16th week to gain the home-field advantage for the wild-card game, but lost to the Oilers the next week, 24-23.

No one remembered the first game.

Schottenheimer said there are few strategic advantages in playing the same team in consecutive weeks.

“You’re not going to outsmart anybody,” he said. “You’re not even going to try.’

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Wrong. The Raiders are trying.

Neither team, though, is beating an impressive path to the playoffs.

The Raiders have lost two straight games, the latest a 27-0 dusting by New Orleans.

“I’m sure the team that we’ll see Sunday is a different team that peformed against New Orleans,” Schottenheimer said.

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One would hope.

The Chiefs have lost three of their last five games and are not the team of a year ago, when they appeared serious Super Bowl contenders.

The difference in two words? Steve DeBerg. At 36, the Chiefs’ quarterback had a career season in 1990.

“The best word to describe his season of a year ago was extraordinary, " Schottenheimer said.

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DeBerg threw only four interceptions in 444 attempts.

The best word to describe DeBerg now is ordinary.

This season he has thrown 14 interceptions in 414 attempts. Two weeks ago, he was benched in favor of Mark Vlasic. But when Vlasic injured his knee last week against San Francisco, DeBerg was thrust back into the lineup.

With DeBerg at quarterback, though, the Chiefs have defeated the Raiders three conseutive times. DeBerg is expected to start today.

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Schottenheimer said the benching would probably not affect DeBerg’s confidence.

“I wouldn’t think so,” Schottenheimer said. “Part of the discussion Steve and I had subsequent to that decision of a week ago, was, you know, ‘This has happened to me several times before in my career, and every time I come back I seem to perform better than before.’ ”

The Raiders hope not.

Raider Notes

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The Chiefs, who have won three straight against the Raiders, have never won four consecutive in the 30-year history of the rivalry. . . . Raider Coach Art Shell said the offensive line will have to make minor adjustments with the left-handed Todd Marinovich at quarterback. “If we don’t let him get hit too many times, he’ll be all right,” Shell said. . . . Chief back Christian Okoye, with 999 yards rushing, needs one more to become the first Chief to record two 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Okoye gained 1,480 yards in 1989.

Okoye, who missed last week’s game with a knee injury, is expected to play today. . . . Raider kicker Jeff Jaeger needs five points to break George Blanda’s single-season scoring record of 117 points.

NFL Playoffs

A look at what is at stake during the final weekend of the regular season.

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AMERICAN CONFERENCE * BUFFALO--Has clinched East Division title and home field throughout playoffs.

* MIAMI--Can earn wild-card berth with a victory today over the New York Jets.

* NEW YORK JETS--Can earn wild-card berth with a victory today over Miami.

* HOUSTON--Has clinched Central Division title and will be site of divisional playoff game if Denver loses.

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* DENVER--Has clinched West Division title and will be site of divisional playoff game with a victory today over San Diego.

* KANSAS CITY--Has clinched wild-card berth. Winner of today’s game with Raiders will play host to wild-card playoff game next weekend.

* RAIDERS--Has clinched wild-card berth. Winner of today’s game with Kansas City will play host to wild-card playoff game next weekend.

NATIONAL CONFERENCE * WASHINGTON--Has clinched East Division title and home field throughout playoffs.

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* DALLAS--Has clinched wild-card berth.

* CHICAGO--Has clinched playoff berth. Wins Central Division title and will be site of divisional playoff game with a victory Monday night over San Francisco or a loss by Detroit today.

* DETROIT--Has clinched playoff berth. Wins Central Division title and will play host to divisional playoff game with a victory over Buffalo and a loss by Chicago.

* ATLANTA--Has clinched playoff berth. Wins West Division title with a victory over Dallas or a loss by New Orleans. Division winner will play host to wild-card game.

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* NEW ORLEANS--Has clinched playoff berth. Wins West Division title with a victory over Phoenix and a loss by Atlanta. Division winner will play host to wild-card game.


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