Cincinnati's Ken Anderson has never posed for a panty-hose commercial or been asked to sing at the Grand Ole Opry, and newspapers continue to refer to him as "The Unknown Quarterback." The Bengals think this is pretty funny. Can the NFL's best quarterback be an unknown? Maybe on Madison Avenue and at CBS control, but in Riverfront Stadium it is hardly a secret that the publicity-shy Anderson, playing for a team that rarely runs the ball, threw only 11 of his 377 passes into the enemies' hands last season; had more completions (228) for more yards (3,169) than anyone else in the AFC; and, according to the computers, was the NFL's most efficient passer (94.1 rating points) for the second straight year. Let it also be known that Anderson is from "little Augustana College," sells real estate and devotes considerable time to charity. "It's not my personality to be a cheerleader," Anderson says. And it's not his job to call Cincinnati's plays either; the Bengals' coaching staff still shuttles them in via messenger guards.
Nevertheless, Anderson's quiet but dynamic accomplishments could force Pittsburgh's Terry Bradshaw to alter his usual holiday plans come Christmas. Instead of chasing Super Bowl No. 3, Bradshaw may find himself ice-skating with his new wife, professional figure skater Jo Jo Starbuck, or singing Silent Night Country & Western style in Nashville. Hardly an unknown, Bradshaw completely shed his Mr. Teen-Age America image last season when he finally asserted himself as Mr. Quarterback; the Steelers stopped answering him back in the huddle, and he stopped calling "dumb" plays. Bradshaw completed 57.7% of his passes, threw for 18 touchdowns and had only nine interceptions, all career bests. He also received All-Pro recognition for the first time.
If Dan Pastorini stops racing motorboats, making movies, playing tennis and breaking his foot, Houston may find its offense. The strong-armed Pastorini paid attention only about 47.7% of the time in 1975 when the Oilers finished 10-4, losing two games apiece to division rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. To keep Pastorini from dozing off, Coach Bum Phillips has acquired 36-year-old John Hadl from Green Bay.
What Cleveland needs is a new Otto Graham. Fast. Benched during a nine-game losing streak that began with the opening game, fidgety Mike Phipps returned to quarterback the Browns to three victories in their last five games. He completed 51.8% of his passes but his interception rate (6.1%) was too high and his average gain (5.59 yards) was the worst in the conference. Phipps hardly seems the quarterback of a contender.
One of Pittsburgh's great assets, particularly in key games, is a remarkably balanced attack. Led by Franco Harris (1,246 yards) and Rocky Bleier (528), the Steeler rushers outgained Bradshaw, Lynn Swann and the passing game by 89 yards, 2,633 to 2,544. For 1976, this offense returns almost intact. Line Coach Dan Radakovich insists he has seven first-stringers for five positions. Not one of the seven made All-Pro—or even all-AFC—but as Center Ray Mansfield gloats, "We've all got two Super Bowl rings." In addition to opening holes for the runners, they gave Bradshaw time to complete 49 passes to Superhero Swann, 28 to Harris and at least 10 apiece to seven other Steelers. Rookies Bennie Cunningham and Jack (Hydroplane) Deloplaine provide depth at tight end and running back, respectively. And Roy Gerela is a dependable placekicker; he converted 17 of 21 field-goal attempts last season and never missed from inside the 30.
Cincinnati lacked Pittsburgh's balance: The Bengals threw for 3,497 yards but rushed for only 1,819. Not coincidentally, two of their three losses were to Pittsburgh, which, says one Bengal, "always ignores our running game." Now Pittsburgh may have to pay attention.
Archie Griffin (see Newcomer) ran the ball plenty for Woody Hayes at Ohio State, and new Coach Bill (Tiger) Johnson, who succeeds Paul Brown, expects the same from Griffin in Cincinnati. If Griffin and 245-pound Boobie Clark can establish a decent ground game, Anderson's aerial attack will be even more destructive. Burner Isaac Curtis caught 44 passes for an average of 21.2 yards, and always attracts double coverage. Rookie Billy Brooks, the top draft choice who certainly would have caught far more than five passes for Oklahoma last fall had the Sooners ever bothered to throw the football, replaces the traded Charlie Joiner opposite Curtis; veterans Chip Myers (36 receptions) and Bob Trumpy (22) are available, too. Another rookie, Penn State's Chris Bahr, should make some of the field goals that Punter Dave Green (10 for 21) missed last year.
Thanks to Billy (White Shoes) Johnson, Houston usually gets strong field position on ball exchanges, but the Oilers' offense too often wastes Johnson's efforts. The 5'9", 170-pound wisp averaged 24.2 yards for 33 kickoff returns and 15.3 yards for 40 punt runbacks last year; he also caught 37 passes for 393 yards, and the average for his five touchdown gallops was 61.2 yards. "Put Billy in a phone booth with someone else," Phillips says, "and it'll be 10 minutes before the other guy touches him." Ken Bur-rough had 53 receptions for 1,063 yards, the most in the NFL, but he is Pastorini's only dependable target.