Giants, Bears teams to beat in strike-threatened NFL season
Sophisticated defenses were supposed to take control of the National Football League last season, when the New York Giants (who won it all) and the Denver Broncos made it to Super Bowl XXI. And while the Giants, along with the Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, and Los Angeles Rams, generally contained their opponents, overall the quick, cheap touchdown (usually the result of a long pass) continued to show up fairly regularly. This season, with defenders restricted from taking more than one step toward the quarterback after he has released the ball, scores should keep climbing.Skip to next paragraph
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No doubt about it, going into this season the two best beams in the NFL are the Giants and the Bears. That is, assuming Chicago quarterback Jim McMahon gets back into action in time to make a difference.
But there is also room in the picture for the Broncos, the 49ers, the Rams, and maybe even the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. Traditional NFL powers that seem to have lost their way include the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, and Los Angeles Raiders.
Meanwhile, ever since the players' contract with NFL owners expired on Aug. 31, there has been increased talk about a strike. The main issue is free agency for veterans, but there are also such sticky areas as drug testing, retirement benefits, and guaranteed contracts.
Here are the scouting reports, with probable order of finish in each division:
NFC East: New York Giants, Washington, Philadelphia, Dallas, St. Louis.
The Giants simply have too much overall talent not to repeat. While this team has had more off-season distractions than usual, including tell-all books, backbiting, and belligerence, once the bell rings the Giants should react like old firehorses with young ideas. Phil Simms is one of the league's top quarterbacks, and he has plenty of good people to catch the ball. Balancing the attack is a powerful ground game sparked by 5 ft. 7 in. running back Joe Morris. And a fearsome defense led by linebacker Lawrence Taylor keeps that offense on the field for most of the game.
Last year Washington tried three times to beat the Giants and never came close. That could happen again. But look for a great season from QB Jay Shroeder.
Philadelphia should continue to improve now that coach Buddy Ryan has had a year in which to install his system.
Dallas, after its first losing season in 22 years, has tried to solidify its lines. But even if that happens, quarterback Danny White seems to have slipped, and the picture is further clouded by injuries to running backs Tony Dorsett and Herschel Walker.
St. Louis, which played on a ``long field'' last year when it often started deep in its own territory, hopes for better field position and more than a league-worst 218 points.
NFC Central: Chicago, Minnesota, Detroit, Green Bay, Tampa Bay.
If McMahon were available full-time, Chicago would be considered a lock. The Bears have triumphed in each of the last 23 games he has started. Even with Jim expected to miss at least six weeks with shoulder problems, they're still favored.
Last year's backups, Mike Tomczak and Doug Flutie, will probably see most of the early QB action.
Elsewhere, there is also some concern over running back Walter Payton, who no longer carries a big-yardage guarantee.
Second-year coach Jerry Burns is talking about Minnesota making the playoffs. Defensively, the Vikings are probably good enough to make it happen, but the offense still looks shaky.
Detroit went backwards last year, when coach Darryl Rogers stayed with some players longer than he should have. ``My expectation is that their replacements will be a lot better,'' he says.
Green Bay, coming off its worst season in 28 years, is excited about rookie running back Brent Fullwood of Auburn, a breakaway type who should provide a much-needed scoring lift.
``When I was in high school,'' said Tampa Bay coach Ray Perkins, ``I loved taking engines apart and then putting them back together, because if you did it right the machinery would always start. I believe that same philosophy can also be applied to football.'' Maybe so if No. 1 draft pick Vinny Testaverde can do in the pros what he did at Miami; where he completed 65.9 percent of his passes.
NFC West: San Francisco, Los Angeles Raiders, Atlanta, New Orleans.
The 49ers are a well-balanced team that, if everything went right, could make it to the Super Bowl. Bill Walsh is an inventive coach, Joe Montana a fine quarterback, and the team's situation-substitution on defense the best around.
During coach John Robinson's four years with the Rams, he has had the defense, depth, special teams, and running game to be a contender - but the passing game has always been a cut below L.A.'s toughest rivals. That is why he brought in San Diego's aerial specialist Ernie Zampese to redesign the offense.