SI Vault
AFC east
Paul Zimmerman
September 11, 1989
Look at the buffalo bills' 1988 season this way: if defensive end Bruce smith hadn't hurt his thigh in the first quarter of the AFC championship game, if cornerback Derrick Burroughs hadn't been thrown out of that game, and if linebacker Shane Conlan hadn't been hampered by a sprained right foot, Buffalo would have been in the Super Bowl. Yeah, I know, if wishes were fishes.... The point is that the Bills are on the way up, and this year they'll go all the way to the Super Bowl.
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September 11, 1989

Afc East

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A week before the draft, Michigan State wideout Andre Rison, a fast, heady ball hawk, was projected to be one of the first dozen players selected. Then his sun started setting. He refused to work out for teams. Scouts gossiped. Word got around: bad attitude, tough to deal with. Rison was taken by the INDIANAPOLIS COLTS as the 22nd pick. Nine days later Rison became the first first-round draft pick to sign, getting an eye-popping $2,557,500 over five years. That was Top 10 money. General managers around the league groaned. A new salary level had been created, from the bottom up. Curses were muttered about the Indy operation.

The Colts' attitude? Gee, that's tough. Come and get us. We want our No. I guy in early to learn the system. We want a big league passing game to go with Eric Dickerson's legs. We're making a run for it.

We'll see. We've heard lots of rah-rah talk before from the Irsays and coach Ron Meyer. Meyer didn't win a lot of friends around the league when he fired six assistants at the end of last season. Says Joe Collier, himself a casualty at Denver, where he had been defensive coordinator: "He fired six coaches in order to take the pressure off himself."

So a lot of people have it in for the Colts. Here's what Indy has going for it: a good offensive line, improving quarterback Chris Chandler and a good defense led by Pro Bowl linebacker Duane Bickett. Here's what Indy has going against it: a wicked schedule that includes the Bills (twice), 49ers, Browns, Saints, Bengals, Broncos and Rams. A championship-level team could handle that, but the Colts can't.

The bad news is that Bud Carson, who did magic tricks as defensive coordinator of the NEW YORK JETS, has gone to Cleveland to be head coach. The good news is that the Jets still own the trade rights to Mark Gastineau—if anybody's interested.

The '88 season ended on a happy note as the Jet defense rose in a sacking frenzy to knock the Giants out of the playoffs, thus giving the Jets an 8-7-1 record in a season that many people, including yours truly, had predicted would be a disaster.

The hunt continues for defense. The Jets passed up many offensive stars in the draft to pick Jeff Lageman, an inside linebacker whom they planned to move outside. That project ended when Lageman held out for 33 days. But the Jets got lucky with a pair of defensive ends: Ron Stallworth, a fourth-rounder who has been installed as the starter on the right side ( Marty Lyons will move to the left), and sixth-rounder Marvin Washington, who will be a spot pass rusher.

The offense isn't as sound. For years suspicion abounded that something was wrong with Ken O'Brien's throwing arm, and now he has been diagnosed as having chronic tendinitis of the shoulder. His arm might hold up, it might not. Both wideouts, Al Toon and Wesley Walker, were holdouts. The line is in disarray. I'm penciling in a 6-10 record for the Jets, but last year I picked them to go 5-11, and look how they surprised us.

Finally, the fans have become disenchanted with the all-pass, no-run. no-defense MIAMI DOLPHINS Two years ago Miami sold 53,000 season tickets to brand-new Joe Robbie Stadium. Last season the number was 44,000.

The fans who did show up in '88 practiced their booing. They booed Dan Marino, who has been the franchise for six years, when he looked downfield, saw no open receivers and threw the ball away. They booed Marino again when wide receiver Mark Duper turned in one of his patented downfield stunts—pulling up short on a pattern and waving at the ball as it went by. They booed the defense, which gave up more rushing yards than any other Miami team in history, and they booed the ground attack, which set another club record—fewest yards gained. Finally, they booed the worst record of Don Shula's career.

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