is a great opportunity for us," says Miami Coach Don Shula. "Now the
things that we've accomplished can be even more meaningful. We'd like to win
back-to-back Super Bowls, which no one has done since Green Bay, and we'd like
to write some new history as far as winning is concerned."
It is highly
improbable that the NFL champs will extend their 17-0-0 streak through another
unbeaten season and postseason. What is totally unlikely is that anyone will
stop the Dolphins from winning the division for the third year in
Miami needs three
more victories to break the NFL record of 17 consecutive regular-season
triumphs and two more to shatter the standard of 18 straight over regular and
postseason play. The Dolphins, however, meet five of last season's playoff
teams, including Oakland away on Sept. 23, and the Raiders have lost but four
home games since 1967.
around long enough to know you don't win indefinitely," says Quarterback
Earl Morrall, who has been around 17 seasons. "But I don't think any of us
are going to crack up mentally when we lose. If we can keep it going, great,
but the object of every season is the Super Bowl."
Toward that goal
the Dolphins offer some familiar credentials as well as subtleties you don't
find in the statistics. Miami was the NFL's No. 1 team both on offense and
defense a year ago, but the Dolphins were also No. 1 in luck.
Of the key
personnel, only Quarterback Bob Griese, whom Morrall capably replaced,
Defensive Tackle Jim Dunaway and Offensive Tackle Wayne Moore were lost for
more than four games. Griese may have to stay healthier now; Shula claims the
Dolphins will throw more than they did last season, when the brunt of their
ball control offense was a running game that ravaged defenses for 2,960 net
yards, an NFL record. Most notable among Griese's receivers is the incomparable
Paul Warfield, whose 29 receptions is the most misleading statistic in all of
football. In addition, there are Marlin Briscoe, Howard Twilley and Ron
Sellers, who was acquired from Dallas for Otto Stowe. Jim Mandich, who can
catch, and Marv Fleming, who can block, will again split time at tight end.
Larry Csonka (see
cover), the prime mover on the ground, rushed for 1,117 yards in 1972; Mercury
Morris got 1,000 and Jim Kiick picked up 521. The three-back offense will
remain an important Miami weapon. So will Placekicker Garo Yepremian, whose
biggest Orange Bowl thrill came last Independence Day when he became a U.S.
On defense, the
No Names return intact after yielding 171 points last year, lowest in the
league. Mike Kolen and Doug Swift adequately flank 32-year-old Nick Buoniconti
at linebacker and the deep secondary, patrolled by Dick Anderson, Jake Scott,
Curtis Johnson and Tim Foley, could write a book on how to play the zone.
There was little
evidence last year that the New York Jets had ever read anything about defense,
including their own playbooks. They scored 41 touchdowns and only 18 fewer
points than the Dolphins, but could not stop anybody. Yielding 23.1 points a
game, the Jets ranked 22nd in defense in the NFL and dead last against the
pass. Coach Weeb Ewbank hopes he has strengthened the defense through trades
and the draft. If he has, the Jets could contend for a wildcard playoff
Dealing a pair of
high draft choices to New Orleans, Ewbank acquired Defensive Lineman Richard
Neal, who has shown to advantage rushing the passer, and Defensive Back Delles
Howell, who may be the find of the year. Howell, a starter at cornerback with
Earlie Thomas, has sparkled in exhibition games. Burgess Owens of Miami, the
Jets' No. 1 draft choice, is expected to move in at one safety spot, the other
being filled by Chris Farasopoulos. Like many other teams this season, the Jets
will often use an extra deep defender on obvious passing situations, rushing a
three-man line. "We've also got more coverages than we've ever had,"
Ewbank says. "Our problem now is to learn them."