SI Vault
AFC East
Paul Zimmerman
September 07, 1981
A word of advice: Go to Vegas and take the price on BUFFALO to go all the way. The odds are right. Just look at how close the Bills came last year. If Charley Romes intercepts the pass that bounces off his chest in the last few minutes of the playoff against San Diego, then the Chargers don't score on the next play and win the game. And Buffalo gets to play Oakland at home—where the Bills crushed the Raiders earlier in the season. And Buffalo's in the Super Bowl.
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September 07, 1981

Afc East

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You'd get it everywhere you went last year: "What do you hear about the NEW YORK Jets' situation?" Translation: Is there going to be a head coaching job opening up? Why are they all breathing so heavily for Walt Michaels' job? "Because they've got some real PEOPLE up there," they say. People. Players. Talent. Oh yes.

Maybe the best offensive line in football. But last year the Jets got away from their true offense and tried to go flashy and get the ball to rookie Wide Receiver Lam Jones, and that didn't work.

Quarterback Richard Todd is strong of arm, strong of leg, but the Shea Stadium fans have practically turned him into a psycho with their booing. Now he's a 4-12 quarterback trying to climb back. He needs coaching. He didn't get any last year. Maybe he will now with new Offensive Coordinator Joe Walton running the offense, which has a nice runner in No. 1 draft pick Freeman McNeil.

There's terrific young talent along the front four—Mark Gastineau, Marty Lyons, Joe Klecko. So how come the Jets finished third from worst in the NFL in pass defense? Well, there's that matter of a secondary. Plus the concept. "We were too conservative," Lyons said. O.K., now there's a fire-eater as the defensive coach—Joe Gardi. He says the Jets will make things happen. Billy Baird, the new secondary coach, is teaching the defensive backs the old bump-and-run techniques the Jets used back in '68, when Baird was the free safety on the Super Bowl team.

Will all this work? Will Michaels' job be safe?

It's a tricky situation in old Gotham.

Baltimore's Bert Jones was the NFL's best-kept secret in 1980. After two years on the shelf, the Ruston Rifle came back winging. He threw for more yards (3,134) and completed more passes (248) than ever before (also more interceptions, 21), but the people of Baltimore greeted all this with a wide yawn; at the last game, as the season closed out at 7-9, only 16,941 of them showed up in Memorial Stadium, the worst turnout in Colts' history.

The Colts had a terrific draft, getting Randy McMillan, the best and fastest big back; Donnell Thompson, an active pass rusher; and down in the sleeper rounds, Bubba Green, 278 pounds of battering nose guard when the Colts go into a 3-4. And now season ticket sales are up—to 28,000. Don't laugh. In this town, that's good.

O.K., the offense should explode, with Jones, wide receivers Roger Carr and Ray Butler and running backs Curtis Dickey, McMillan and Zach Dixon, a swift second-year man. The line is so-so. Likewise the defense. The kicking? Don't ask. A 40-man tryout failed to come up with anything. Coach Mike McCormack, noting that four games were lost by a total of 10 points last year, said, "They're going to put on my tombstone: He died before his time because of missed extra points."

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