Green Bay should have beaten Dallas in the playoffs last season to advance to the NFC title game. "We were fortunate," said Cowboy Drew Pearson. Still, that 37-26 loss marks the turning point for Coach Bart Starr, who with a 6-4-1 season in 1982-83 finally may have the Pack on the way back.
However, there are two uncertainties attached to Green Bay's possible emergence as NFC Central champion. The first is Starr himself. He can't waste receiver John Jefferson (27 receptions in eight games) for another year, as he did in 1982. If he can use Jefferson and all-pro James Lofton equally well, opposing teams will have real problems. The second "if" is running back Eddie Lee Ivery. He stayed healthy last year; if he is hurt, Starr may be tempted to talk to Paul Hornung about a comeback.
With Doug Williams in the USFL, Tampa Bay's quarterback will be ex-Bengal Jack Thompson or retread Jerry Golsteyn. Thompson has ability; it won't take much to outdo Williams' so-so 1982 performance. Otherwise, these are the same old Buccaneers (5-5): aggressive on defense, porous along the offensive line and unsettled (after James Wilder) in the backfield.
Bud Grant of Minnesota (6-5) has done more with less than any other coach in the league. So why should 1983 be different? He'll miss retired receiver Ahmad Rashad, but improvement from young Darrin Nelson would help overworked Ted Brown at running back. It also would take some pressure off quarterback Tommy Kramer, who had a mystifying roller-coaster season. No. 1 pick Joey Browner may be an immediate plus in the secondary; he can't alleviate a growing weakness at linebacker.
Want a mystery team? How about the Bears? If Coach Mike Ditka can motivate Walter Payton and straighten out his offensive line, quarterback Jim McMahon may have an impressive season. He's a coming star. Ditka disliked the defensive maneuverings practiced by assistant coach Buddy Ryan; the Bears, 3-6 in 1982, will be more conventional this season, a switch that will work if young linebackers like Mike Singletary and Otis Wilson continue to develop.
Doesn't it seem that Detroit (4-6) always is rated higher than common sense dictates? Let's change that trend and say the Lions won't win the Super Bowl or the division. Oh, they'll contend again, but there are too many morale problems and weaknesses. Eric Hipple probably will be the quarterback over Gary Danielson. The smartest thing either can do is hand off to Billy Sims, who would be marvelous in a one-back offense. The secondary is in a shambles and the receiving isn't much better