Holiday memo to NFC Central fans: Santa Claus is coming to town, and he's not a happy camper. He is weary of all those faxes from owners asking for new stadiums or leases. He is tired of everybody whining about ineffective defenses. He is sad that the erstwhile Black-and-Blue division has become a high-tech video game that you can't win without scoring a zillion points.
Santa is also confused. The teams are so much alike that he can barely tell Green Bay from Tampa Bay. He's not even sure, with a week remaining in the regular season, if he can identify the division's best team. The Lions and the Vikings, who both started slowly, are playing as well as the Packers, who at times have looked like Super Bowl contenders.
And then there are the Bears and the Buccaneers, who looked like playoff teams in the first half of the season but have slumped badly down the stretch. They staggered into their meeting on Sunday at Soldier Field, and Chicago won 31-10. But not even the bearded one can promise the Bears they'll find a playoff berth under the tree.
Here, team by team, is what Santa sees.
Green Bay Packers
THE STOCKING'S STUFFED: In Brett Favre the Pack has the best young quarterback in the NFL,. Wideout Robert Brooks has proved to be more than an adequate replacement for Sterling Sharpe, and the tight end tandem of Mark Chmura and Keith Jackson is the best in the league. On defense Reggie White, who is completing his 11th year in the NFL, remains one of the league's most dominant pass rushers.
WISH LIST: Edgar Bennett, the franchise's first 1,000-yard rusher since Terdell Middle-ton in 1978, has been more than satisfactory as a runner and a receiver, but the Packers need a breakaway threat to complement the passing game. "We'd like to add another weapon to our offense," says general manager and executive vice president Ron Wolf, "and we'd like to add another pass rusher and a couple of linebackers on defense."
DECK THE HALLS: The Packers are perfectly content with Lambeau Field, which provides the closest thing to a college environment in the league. "We've got the best stadium in the NFL," says Wolf, "and we've made it a tough place to play. I don't think opponents really relish playing here."
THE ORNAMENT AT THE TOP: Mike Holmgren is the most secure coach in the division. He's under contract through the 1999 season and has become the most popular Packer coach since Lombardi. He doesn't even get miffed about all the Lombardi photographs that fans keep sending him.
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION: Keep the team intact—Chmura and Jackson are among the key unsigned players for 1996—and don't lose any more talents like linebacker Bryce Paup, who signed with the Bills as a free agent in the off-season and leads the league with 17� sacks. There's no reason this can't be a Super Bowl team within the next two years.