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Super Bowl XXVII : THE BUFFALO BILLS : ANALYSIS : Forget Those Last Two Losses: This Team Is Bills’ Best Chance

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Buffalo Bills are in town this week with their best Super Bowl team yet.

And they know, now, exactly what it takes to beat an NFC champion.

To evaluate the Bills today, those are the starting-point facts for Coach Marv Levy or anyone else.

Levy’s players, unlike some who represented the AFC in the 1980s, are experienced, determined, Super Bowl-seasoned, and ready.

That leaves only one question about this team: Is it good enough?

From the Buffalo side, that is the question of the game.

The AFC in the last decade or so has produced several teams that seemed good enough to beat NFC champions--the Houston Oilers come to mind--but few that were mature enough or orderly enough.

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The Bills seem to have the character.

They might not have the talent.

BILLS AT A GLANCE

This isn’t the same kind of Buffalo team that began its Super Bowl run two years ago when it came within a missed kick of conquering the New York Giants in a 20-19 game.

Although many of the players are the same, the team has changed.

The 1990 Bills were commanding on offense with a unique quarterback, Jim Kelly, but on defense they were a little disorganized.

This season, the Bills have matured into a first-class defensive team, but now they are shakier on offense. Their point production has fallen off from 458 last season and 428 the year before to 320 this season.

They even lost to the Raiders, 20-3.

But if you’re backing Buffalo, take heart. During the last 15 years or so, the Super Bowl has usually been won by one kind of team: a defensive team with a big-play quarterback. And that’s what the Bills have become.

BILLS ON OFFENSE

This is still Kelly’s team, and he is still a menace to opponents with the same no-huddle, big-strike capability.

He can also be the most erratic of the NFL’s good passers.

At 32, Kelly brings a sandlot star’s heart to the game, and also some of the same recklessness. As a methodical, mechanical performer, he is no Joe Montana. But when his passes are hitting, he gets the same results.

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Kelly should be 1-1 at the Super Bowl, not 0-2. Two years ago, he drove the Bills into position for a last-second field goal try that missed.

If they were 1-1 now, the fear of 0-3 wouldn’t be there to build up the pressure, but that’s football.

Some of the confidence that both teams have is rooted in the confidence that both have in sound backup quarterbacks, Frank Reich of Buffalo and Steve Beuerlein of Dallas. Few other pro clubs are comparably well off at that position.

The Bills will be in Pasadena with the receivers they have used in three-receiver formations much of the year: Andre Reed, James Lofton and Don Beebe.

They are seldom seen in four-receiver formations because of the talent of halfback Thurman Thomas and tight end Pete Metzelaars. Their fastest back is Kenneth Davis.

Thomas is overdue for a role as Super Bowl MVP.

BILLS ON DEFENSE

The worries that Buffalo fans used to express about their defensive team have evaporated--now that it has become one of the AFC’s most mature, and now that Levy has strengthened it with two changes:

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--Phil Hansen of North Dakota State, a rookie in last year’s Super Bowl, has taken over solidly at left defensive end.

--This year’s new force, Henry Jones, the strong safety from Illinois, became the NFL’s 1992 rookie of the year.

So this is a defense that is finally up to strength at 11 positions. And there’s one other good thing about it: a pair of exceptional defensive players in Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett.

Defensive teams with only one superstar can be handled because there is only one for the blockers to double-team.

But when two players need to be double-teamed, the offense doesn’t have enough blockers to go around.

And that’s the problem that all offensive teams have faced lately when going up against Smith, the Bills’ right defensive end, and Bennett, the inside linebacker who swings left and right.

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Smith, Buffalo’s big man, focuses on passers, Bennett on runners.

There are more strengths at nose tackle with Jeff Wright and at linebacker with four standouts: Marvcus Patton, Darryl Talley, Shane Conlan and Bennett.

The Bills don’t have Dallas’ team speed. That could be a problem.

BILL SPECIALISTS

This is the fourth consecutive year that his peers have voted Buffalo wide receiver Steve Tasker into the Pro Bowl as the AFC’s best special teams player. His specialty is the open-field tackle. Kicker Steve Christie is an improvement on some that Buffalo has had. The punter is Chris Mohr.

Projected Bills Lineup

DEFENSE LE--Phil Hansen (90) NT--Jeff Wright (91) RE--Bruce Smith (78) ROLB--Darryl Talley (56) LOLB--Marvcus Patton (53) ILB--Shane Conlan (58) ILB--Cornelius Bennett (97) LCB--Kirby Jackson (47) RCB--Nate Odomes (37) SS--Henry Jones (20) FS-- Mark Kelso (38)

OFFENSE WR--James Lofton (80) LT--Will Wolford (69) LG--Jim Ritcher (51) C--Kent Hull (67) RG--Glenn Parker (74) RT--Howard Ballard (75) TE--Keith McKeller (84) WR--Andre Reed (83) QB--Jim Kelly (12) FB--Carwell Gardner (35) RB--Thurman Thomas (34)

SPECIALIST P--Chris Mohr (9) K--Steve Christie (2) H--Frank Reich (14) PR--Clifford Hicks (27) KR--Kenneth Davis (23)

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