With a quarter of the 16-game season gone, several teams will battle for virtual survivial in today's National Football League games.
New England (2-2), a preseason AFC East Division favorite, cannot afford to lose to San Diego (1-3) at Foxboro, Mass. The Chargers are in an even deeper hole, having been tabbed to press Denver and Oakland in the AFC West.
The horrible spinal injury suffered by wide receiver Darryl Stingley, surely was a negative factor in the Patriots' preseason preparations.
Baltimore (1-3) will play brinkmanship almost every week now, even after Bert Jones returns to the lineup. The Philadelphia defense will test interim quarterback Bill Troup today at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium.
The Eagles (2-2) appear to be just a few players away from being a challenging team in the NFC East and are catching the Colts while they are crippled.
Minnesota (2-2) finds itself in the surprising dilemma of needing to beat Tampa Bay (2-2) and not being sure it can. The Vikings lost to the Buccaneers earlier. The Bucs have the defense but once more are going through growing pains as rookie quarterback Doug Williams familiarizes himself with the team.
There is pressure on Minnesota because Green Bay (3-1) is unexpectedly tough. The Packers will entertain the floundering Detroit Lions (1-3) at Milwaukee. A victory would keep Green Bay abreast of the Chicago Bears, also 3-1 atop the NFC Central.
Despite their loss last week to Minnesota, the Bears loom as the chief threat to the five-time division champion Vikings.
The Bears' problem today is that they are hosts to an Oakland team (2-2) that unaccountably is battling for survival in the AFC West. The Raiders are not that far back of defending AFC champion Denver (3-1) mathematically, but the Broncos seem to be the steadiest club in the division.
The Raiders are like the Bears. They have the apparent talent but it has not been consistently productive. Ken Stabler looks as though he is struggling on tender knees and Walter Payton of the Bears is still trying to take off with superstar performances.
Meanwhile, in the AFC West, Denver has what should be a convenient opponent in the Seahawks, before all those wild fans in the Broncos' home stadium.
Another staggering team is Atlanta (1-3). The Falcons are going up against a young Giants' team (3-1) that is picking up confidence and momentum.
Coach Bud Wilkinson is fighting against a collapse of his St. Louis Cardinals (0-4) who keep looking like bad bets against every opponent, this time the Dolphins (2-2) at Miami.
The Dolphins have not been meeting Coach Don Shula's requirements, even in a season when Bob Griese is out with an injury.But they have shown signs of cohesion, and new running back Delvin Williams is starting to put on good performances, good because they reflect a gradual but sure improvement.
The main focus is on the Redskins-Dallas game tomorrow night at RFK Stadium. It dwarfs others, such as unbeaten Pittsburgh against the Jets at East Rutherford, N.J., unbeaten Los Angeles at New Orleans, Cincinnati at San Francisco and Kansas City at Buffalo.
An AFC Central game that holds promise will match Cleveland (3-1) as host to Earl Campbell and Houston (2-2).