Super bowl prediction: Chicago bears 20, buffalo bills 17. last year, the bears won the division, and—with 20 draft picks this year, including two No. 1's—they are still on the way up.
Jim McMahon is gone, and those who say his feuding with coach Mike Ditka did him in don't understand this team very well. Ditka would have put up with the feud forever. McMahon, however, had lost his team. The tough guys, the ones who used to bang helmets with him, had switched allegiance to Mike Tomczak, who came back from a separated shoulder after three weeks last year and played in pain while McMahon was out with a bad knee. The players may have treated McMahon unfairly—he certainly has played hurt—but it's a hard-eyed world. In trading McMahon to San Diego, Ditka was reading the mood of his veterans.
Tomczak, who will be backed up by young Jim Harbaugh, will have all sorts of weapons to work with. Running back Neal Anderson is coming off a Pro Bowl year. Amazingly, the offensive line remains intact from the Super Bowl season of '85. It's a throwback unit—quick-footed and adept at trapping and pulling out for sweeps—which means less pressure on Tomczak to throw all the time.
Chicago lost All-Pro linebackers Wilber Marshall (to the Redskins as a free agent) and Otis Wilson (because of a knee injury) before last season, and right end Richard Dent broke a leg late in the year. Still, the defense finished second in the NFL. Now the Bears might even have a linebacker who can go into a down-end position for the pass rush. He's John Roper, a second-round rookie who showed exceptional quickness in camp. Both first-round draft choices, defensive end Trace Armstrong and cornerback Donnell Woolford, were late signees, but if they come through, the defense should be something to see.
They are sound, tough and deep. The Bears have the look of a Super Bowl champion.
General manager Mike Lynn appears to have almost exclusive control of the MINNESOTA VIKINGS He makes all final player-personnel decisions. He also keeps salaries low, which further solidifies his control—and causes holdouts. Nine veterans, including five Pro Bowlers from last season and three other starters, held out for at least part of training camp. Five of them missed most or all of it.
Holdouts can either crumble and return to the fold unhappy, as wideout Anthony Carter did, or they can stay out for an entire season, as the newest Viking, linebacker Mike Merriweather, did at Pittsburgh last year. When postmortems for the team are held, people point to "disruptions." What makes people edgy in Minnesota is that the Vikes paid big bucks—reportedly $3.4 million over four years—to get Merriweather. The guys who have been around awhile want some of that money too.
One player Minnesota finally took care of is quarterback Wade Wilson, who had a contract that called for him to earn $250,000 this season and would have made him the league's 57th-highest-paid quarterback. But after he made the Pro Bowl, the Vikes quadrupled that number. So the club does shell out on occasion.
In the end, the Vikes have too much talent, on both sides of the ball, to miss making the playoffs—unless some of those key holdouts stay mad.
Interesting statistic: Last season the DETROIT LIONS, who finished 4-12, held opponents to four first-quarter touchdowns all year. Only one outfit did better than that: the Other Guys. The enemy held Detroit to three first-quarter touchdowns.