Two squads, one in each conference, appear to be ideally equipped to handle the 16-game regular season as play begins Sunday in the National Football League.
In the NFC it's San Francisco; in the AFC it's Seattle.
San Francisco has an excellent (3 to 1) chance of becoming the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champion since Pittsburgh in 1979-80. Rookie receiver Jerry Rice provides a more dangerous deep threat in Joe Montana's passing game.
But four AFC West teams on their schedule, plus Chicago, Washington and Dallas, promise to make the 49ers' outside-the-division action interesting. There is no way, despite all its depth and talent, that San Francisco can again go 18-1 -- and 14-5 against the point spread.
Seattle has a good chance to match its 13-5 record of last season, with 1983 standout Curt Warner back at running back. The Seahawks' defense and special teams will lead the league in creating turnovers. The only question mark is Dave Krieg at quarterback. He must continue to show steady improvement if Chuck Knox's crew is to make it to Super Bowl XX.
In division races, Chicago will cruise in the NFC Central if Jim McMahon and Walter Payton stay healthy. Washington should again hold off St. Louis and Dallas in the NFC East. Chuck Noll will find a way to make Pittsburgh repeat in the AFC Central. Miami is fortunate to be in the AFC East, where New England is the only respectable rival. Game of the Week
Washington at Dallas Monday night. The Redskins have superior balance. Tony Dorsett still lacks blocking up front. The Cowboys' defense, however, ranks near the top, behind only the Bears and the Raiders. And Tom Landry never loses an opening game. Well, almost never. In a game that is rated even, I'll take Dallas lightly. Plays of the Week
St. Louis, giving 2 1/2 points at Cleveland, and Seattle, giving 2 1/2 at Cincinnati. Both light plays. The Cardinals have the firepower needed to overcome the Browns' sound defense. Seattle's defensive front should rattle the Bengals' passing game. Upset Pick
Buffalo, against San Diego. The Bills are a 4 1/2-point underdog at home. Keep an Eye ffensive line as the season progresses. It's still struggling. Should it develop quickly, the Cowboys would have been a smart pick, at 15-1, in the Super Bowl future book. The Line
Las Vegas' early-week spreads on Sunday's other games put the New York Giants 6 1/2 over Philadelphia, Miami 7 1/2 over Houston, San Francisco 10 1/2 at Minnesota, Atlanta 3 over Detroit, Kansas City at New Orleans even, New England 4 over Green Bay, Chicago 7 over Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh 10 over Indianapolis, Los Angeles Raiders 9 over New York Jets, Denver at Los Angeles Rams even.
FUTURE BOOK -- Las Vegas offers San Francisco at 3 to 1 to win the Super Bowl followed by Miami, 4-1; Seattle, 6; Raiders, 7; Chicago, 8 (down from 12); Washington, 9; St. Louis and Denver, 10; Dallas, Rams and San Diego, 15; Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Green Bay and the Giants, 20; New England, Kansas City and Jets, 30; Cleveland and New Orleans, 50; Philadelphia, 60; Tampa Bay, Detroit, Minnesota and Houston, 75; Atlanta, Buffalo and Indianapolis, 100.
1984 POINT SPREAD RECORD -- San Francisco 14-5, Miami 12-6, Seattle 11-6, Denver 11-6, Tampa Bay 10-5, Philadelphia 10-6, Chicago 10-8, Cincinnati 9-6, Cleveland 9-6, St. Louis 9-7, Washington 9-7, Green Bay 8-7, Pittsburgh 9-9, Kansas City 8-8, San Diego 8-8, Rams 8-9, Dallas 7-8, Giants 8-10, Indianapolis 7-9, Raiders 7-9, New Orleans 7-9, Jets 6-9, Detroit 6-10, New England 6-10, Buffalo 5-10, Minnesota 5-11, Houston 4-11, Atlanta 4-12.