For years, he might as well have been Chuck Knocks.

During five straight division-winning seasons as head coach of the Los Angeles Rams -- all with double-digit victory totals -- Chuck Knox was criticized for an unexciting, conservative offense. His final reward was being forced out of the job.

Now, three years after taking over a Buffalo team that had won five of 28 games in the two years before he came, Knox enters this season as the defending Eastern Division champ. His Bills finished 11-5 last year, their best season since 1964, and Knox was named NFL coach of the year for the second time.

And remember, this is Buffalo.

"I have a saying that regardless of what is written about you or your team," says Knox, "no one is as good or as bad as he is made out to be."

Last year, the Bills were better than anyone had originally made them out to be. Before losing at San Diego in an AFC playoff game, the Bills went 11-6. There were so many good things: Joe Cribbs ran for 1,185 yards and was named AFC rookie of the year; Joe Ferguson completed a personal best 57.2 percent of his passes, and the defense gave up only 260 ("Who Needs Tom Cousineau?") points, second to Houston's 251 in the AFC.

Perhaps the only thing to deflate the Bills was the recent disclosure that a nerve disorder will prevent top draft pick Booker Moore -- a fullback from Penn State -- from playing most of this season. The Bills still hope to have Moore healthy and playing by season's end; until then, Buffalo will rely again on Curtis Brown to carry the ball and block for Cribbs.

New England (10-6) never stands Pat.

Last year, the Patriots scored 441 points, best in the AFC, and failed to gain the playofs. Steve Grogan (2,475 yards, 18 touchdowns, 22 interceptions) and Matt Cavanaugh (885, nine, five) made the Patriots the third most efficient passing offense in football, behind Cleveland and San Diego.

Tight end Russ Francis has retired the team still has reserve Don Hasselbeck and wide receivers Stanley Morgan and Harold Jackson, the top active receiver in the NFL with 532 receptions.

In Miami, quarterback Bob Griese has retired but the Dolphins (8-8) have not. David Woodley (1,850 yards, 14 touchdowns, 17 interceptions) is the probable starting quarterback. Although Delvin Williams (671 yards, best on team last year) has used his breakaway speed to run from the Dolphins -- he has asked to be traded -- the Dolphins have added veteran defenders Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson and linebacker Bob Brudzinki.

Miami lost top pick David Overstreet to the Canadian Football League, which didn't help. Second-round pick Andra Franklin, a running back from Nebraska, is expected to pick up some of the ground yards lost by Overstreet and Williams.

When Bert Jones is healthy, so, usually, are the Baltimore Colts (7-9). Jones had a typically productive season last year, completing 55.8 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,134 yards, 23 touchdowns and having 21 intercepted. Roger Carr -- Jones' Cadillac receiver -- had 61 catches in 1980 and with running back Curtis Dickey (800 yards, 11 touchdowns), Jones will have some solid support.

Last season, though, it was the defense that often made the Colts wilt. You don't sweep New England by giving up 37 points one game and then 47 points the next. Then, there were the 38 points yielded to Kansas City in the final game. That accounted for three losses. The Colts ranked 12th in the 14-team conference in points allowed -- they gave up more than 24 a game. Such a gracious giveaway usually spells d-e-f-e-a-t.

It was, at best, an abominable season for the New York Jets (4-12), who made longer appearances in other teams' highlight films than their own.

Quarterback Richard Todd threw for 3,329 yards and 17 touchdowns. But he also threw 30 interceptions, most in the NFL. Scott Dierking ran for 567 yards, which was the tops on the team. Bruce Harper caught a team-high 50 passes. Freeman McNeil, the running back from UCLA, should help the Jets with those third-and-three situations.

The Jets' defense ranked one behind the Colts -- second to last in the AFC. That must be improved, if the season record is to improve.