Their offense was so pulverizing last season that the Miami Dolphins (14-2) won the division by five games. Thus, it would seem that even a sizable slippage will not keep them from repeating as division champions.

While it is true that quarterback Dan Marino and big-play receivers Mark Clayton and Mark Duper likely won't duplicate their history-making numbers of last year, it is equally unlikely that the offense will be suffocated as it was by the 49ers in that 38-16 Super Bowl searing.

Let's just suppose that Miami's defense doesn't become more consistent and that running back Lorenzo Hampton, the No. 1 pick from Florida, doesn't give the Dolphins the durable, pounding back that they require. What then?

Once again, New England (9-7) appears to have the most realistic chance. It would help if the Patriots could win in Miami, which they have done once in 17 games. It would also help if running back Tony Collins, who ran for only 550 yards in 1984, can return to the 1,049-yard breakaway threat he was in 1983.

Quarterback Tony Eason (23 touchdowns, eight interceptions) can't get sacked 59 times, and the defense must produce more than 25 takeaways while finding a cornerback at least half as good as the other cornerback, Ray Clayborn.

Now that Joe Walton has fired his coaching staff and steered his team into becoming the last in the AFC to move to the 3-4 defense, can the Jets (7-9) look as good in person as they do on paper?

The Jets have a quality running back in Freeman McNeil (1,070 yards) and a tough, talented tight end in Mickey Shuler (68 catches). Now they must get one of those quarterbacks -- Ken O'Brien (1-4 last season as a starter) or Pat Ryan (6-5 as starter) -- to produce something other than mediocrity.

NFL sack leader Mark Gastineau (22 last season) will get his sacks and safety Lester Lyles (Virginia, taken in second round) should help a secondary that seems to spend as much time on injured reserve as on the field.

Buffalo (2-14) had what appears to be a breakthrough draft, landing defensive tackle Bruce Smith (Virgina Tech), cornerback Derrick Burroughs (Memphis State), all-America center Mark Traynowicz (Nebraska), wide receiver Chris Burkett (Jackson State) and Maryland quarterback Frank Reich.

Coach Kay Stephenson traded 12-year veteran quarterback Joe Ferguson and acquired quarterback Vince Ferragamo from the Rams. The Bills will improve, but hardly enough.

And what about Indianapolis (4-12)? Rookie Coach Rod Dowhower, who helped Neil Lomax develop at St. Louis, needs to start from scratch with an offense that finished last in yardage, passing and points. If only the owner could be traded . . .