San Francisco Coach Bill Walsh, the master of the "situation," substituted and shifted his way to the Super Bowl championship for the second time in four years.

As things stand now, he certainly won't have to do any tinkering with the NFC West this season. Walsh's 49ers won this division by five games last season over the Los Angeles Rams, and it's doubtful Eric Dickerson or a quarterback who has passed for almost 20 miles in Canada will be able to change that.

The last time the 49ers were defending Super Bowl champions, they plummeted to a 3-6 record in the strike season of 1982. It's unlikely that will happen this time, if only because most of the main players in last season's 15-1 show are under 30.

Joe Montana, the Super Bowl MVP and the NFC's top passer in '84, is versatile enough to have become the team's second-leading rusher in the playoffs, with 144 yards in three games.

The offense he leads is equally varied. If Roger Craig (649 yards; 71 receptions) or Wendell Tyler (a team-record 1,262 yards) don't do the job by the run, it's likely Dwight Clark (52 receptions) or Freddie Solomon (40) will through the passing game.

You want defense? How about the fewest points allowed in the NFL last season (227)? And fewest touchdowns (24)?

If anyone can overtake the 49ers, it's the Rams (10-6). With quarterback Jeff Kemp back on the sidelines, this is the chance for Dieter Brock, the 34-year-old CFL veteran, to prove he can reproduce his numbers from the North.

It seems unlikely for Dickerson to equal last year's 2,105-yard season, if he ends his holdout. But if receivers Henry Ellard and Olympic sprinter Ron Brown receive more work, this should be a more balanced offense than last year's (second in the conference in rushing, last in passing).

On defense, the Rams must keep safeties Nolan Cromwell and Johnnie Johnson at full strength and get more pressure on the quarterback (only 43 sacks, 17th in the NFL).

New Orleans has only about four possible starters among running backs, but Earl Campbell, 30, is Coach Bum Phillips' personal favorite as the Saints (7-9) play for the present and hope for their first winning season.

There is a new owner (Tom Benson), but the problem is the same old defense (third-worst in the league against the run).

Atlanta might have even more problems than last year's 4-12 record indicates. Trading up in the draft, the Falcons did pick up massive tackle Bill Fralic, but that's the good news.

The bad news is that running back William Andrews (knee) says he won't return this season, leaving Gerald Riggs (1,486 yards) and former Redskin Joe Washington to do the running. Quarterback Steve Bartkowski returns from injured reserve, but can he move?