Revamping a bad team and making it a respectable one takes more time and effort in football than in any other sport. Scrambling rosters takes longer because there are more players. Altering game philosophy is more time-consuming because of the specialization and sophisticated strategy.

Rapid major turnarounds in professional football are rare. Twice it happened in Cincinnati -- the 1980 Bengals were 6-10, the 1987 Bengals went 4-11. Both times Cincinnati was in the Super Bowl the following year.

Last year the Green Bay Packers, in Coach Lindy Infante's second season, finished 10-6 after having won a total of 13 games from 1986 to '88. The revitalization was accomplished with the help of brash young quarterback Don Majkowski. An aggressive flurry into the first Plan B free agent market also proved successful.

This season, if the Dallas Cowboys or Phoenix Cardinals are in the playoff chase heading into the final week of December, it would be a shock. But no one should be surprised if the Kansas City Chiefs or Detroit Lions are in the hunt, or if two of the dreadful teams of 1989 -- the 3-13 Atlanta Falcons and the 5-11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- make significant strides.

"As long as you are not in the bottom of the barrel in terms of talent, it is not unrealistic for teams to make some type of turnaround," said Chuck Schmidt, Detroit's executive vice president. "If you have a team like Green Bay or Atlanta where you are consistently picking high for a number of years and have a number of talented young players, then it is just a matter of putting it all together."

The Falcons hope new coach Jerry Glanville will be the right catalyst for them. His predecessors have not inspired performances that matched expectations from players such as third-year linebackers Aundray Bruce and Marcus Cotton.

Atlanta also has a smooth quarterback in Chris Miller and may have robbed the Colts by getting six-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Chris Hinton and second-year star-quality wide receiver Andre Rison in exchange for the No. 1 pick in last April's draft.

"We have been adding quality players," said Ken Herock, Atlanta's vice president of player personnel. "The next step is trying to unseat people in our division. Our biggest problem is that every year we have to play two games against the perennial league champions {49ers}, the Rams and a team that has been winning lately {Saints}."

The Buccaneers are still reeling over their failure to sign No. 1 draft pick Bo Jackson in 1986.

But nine of their games were decided by seven points or fewer last season. Two years ago Vinny Testaverde threw 13 touchdown passes and 35 interceptions. Last season he threw 20 and 22, respectively.

Alabama linebacker Keith McCants, this year's No. 1 pick, should be an impact player. Second-round pick Reggie Cobb, a running back from Tennessee, could be one of the steals of the draft. And running back Gary Anderson was obtained in a trade with Chargers.

"Over the last couple of years, {Coach} Ray {Perkins} has been building," said Herock. "And they are in a division {NFC Central} where they could be ready to make a move."

The Lions also may be poised to become more than a role player in that division. Wayne Fontes banked his coaching future on the run-and-shoot offense of assistant Mouse Davis, and the Lions went from No. 28 -- last -- in total offense to No. 18.

"A year ago people were saying we were crazy for using the run-and-shoot. Now people are taking a look at it and saying maybe it could work for them," said Schmidt. "We went through a transition period with it, but we think we have built a groundswell of confidence in the system."

Barry Sanders (1,470 yards rushing) added another dimension to the pass-orientated offense, and after winning their final five games of last season by averaging 25 points per game, Detroit could be a playoff team this season.

The Chiefs went 4-1-1 in their final six games last year to finish 8-7-1 after going 4-11-1 in 1988. Unlike the others hoping to make vast strides, Kansas City is solid on one side of the ball. It finished No. 2 in total defense last year.

"Personnel-wise, they have some great young players and a good coach in Marty Schottenheimer," said Tom Donahoe, the director of pro personnel and development for the Pittsburgh Steelers. "They have really turned it around."

What may limit the Chiefs is that they failed to get a first-rate quarterback in the offseason. They'll go with with Steve DeBerg or Steve Pelleur.

Having been through the rebuilding process, and having it pay off with a Steelers playoff berth last year, Donahoe advises struggling teams to develop a long-term plan that does not include revolving coaches.

"You must have a good organization," he said. "You must hire a good coach and stick with him like the Steelers did with Chuck {Noll}. He was 1-13 his first year and didn't have a winning season until his {fourth} year. But that is what you have to do -- make a commitment and stick with it."