THE ORNAMENT AT THE TOP: Coach Dennis Green, who was under fire early in the season, now seems relatively secure. "Our coaches have hung in there," Diamond says. "When we were 3-5, they kept the team motivated and fought through some injury problems."
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION: Get off to a faster start in '96. For the first time in four years under Green, the Vikings stumbled in the first half. They've been playing catch-up ever since.
THE STOCKING'S STUFFED: Whatever became of that so-called quarterback controversy between Erik Kramer and Steve Walsh? Despite a late slump, Kramer has performed well. He's aided and abetted by an excellent line, deep threats in Curtis Conway and Jeff Graham, and a breakaway back in rookie Rashaan Salaam, who needs to hold on to the ball.
WISH LIST: The Bears need a couple of defensive linemen who can put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. "Our defense has been disappointing," says director of player personnel Rod Graves. "We need to rush the passer better and get bigger and stronger at cornerback." The Bears also need full seasons from fullback Raymont Harris and defensive back Donnell Woolford, who have missed 20 games between them because of injuries.
DECK THE HALLS: The Bears are grumbling about leaving venerable Soldier Field and moving out of the city. Can anybody imagine the Gary Bears? "We may be playing somewhere else a few years down the road," says Graves, "but that's not something we'll need to worry about for a while."
THE ORNAMENT AT THE TOP: A media darling when the Bears were 6-2, third-year coach Dave Wannstedt became an increasingly large target during the 1-5 swoon that followed. Nevertheless Wannstedt needn't worry. "Dave has done a tremendous job of getting this team on track and keeping the players focused," Graves says. "The criticism doesn't bother him. That's part of coaching in Chicago."
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION: Learn to win the close ones. This year six of the Bears' seven losses have come in games that Chicago had a chance to win or tie on its last possession.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
THE STOCKING'S STUFFED: Sift through the Bucs' roster, and you'll find plenty of talent: running back Errict Rhett, wideout Alvin Harper, tight end Jackie Harris and linebacker Hardy Nickerson, to name a few. The Bucs also are pleased with defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who has been uneven as a rookie. "He [ Sapp] struggled a little bit against big people," says general manager Rich McKay, "but my dad [John, the former Buc coach and vice president told me a long time ago not to judge anybody by his rookie year."