NFC Central

September 05, 1993|By Vito Stellino

Last season

The Minnesota Vikings were the surprise champions last year at 11-5, but they were blown out at home, 24-7, by the Washington Redskins in their first playoff game. The only other team in this division with a winning record was the Green Bay Packers at 9-7. The other three teams staggered to 5-11 finishes. Now that's a definition of mediocre.

New coaches

Dave Wannstedt went from first to one of the worst when he left Dallas to become the Bears' head coach. Like Mike Ditka, he's a native of the Pittsburgh area and played at Pitt, but the comparisons end there. He doesn't have Ditka's volcanic personality. He also has to deal with the fact that there's not much talent there. But then, when Wannstedt went to Dallas with Jimmy Johnson in 1989, things were even worse.

Coach on the bubble

Wayne Fontes saw his Detroit Lions go from the NFC title game to 5-11 in one year. He had plenty of excuses because there was so much trauma as the team had to deal with his deaths of his brother and offensive lineman Eric Andolsek and the loss of Mike Utley, who was paralyzed in 1991. But the bottom line is that Fontes has a 33-38 record and can't afford another losing season.

Best player

Barry Sanders is poetry in motion on the field, but he has to wonder if he's going to play on losing teams most of his career. He deserves a better supporting cast and it remains to be seen if the offensive linemen the team purchased in the off-season in the free-agent market, including Bill Fralic and Dave Richards, can make a difference.

Team on the rise

The Pack finally took the first step back last year as the Ron Wolf-Mike Holmgren regime found its quarterback of the future in Brett Favre. But the signing of Reggie White probably raised expectations too high. White only played on the winning side in one playoff game in Philadelphia, so how is he supposed to take the Packers to the Super Bowl? The Packers are improving, but they have a way to go.

Team in decline

The Bucs are always in decline. They have lost 10 games or more every year for 10 years. The last time they didn't do it was in the 1982 strike season when they played only nine games.

Key question

How long can Jim McMahon stay healthy behind the rebuilt Minnesota Vikings' line? McMahon doesn't have a history of staying healthy in the first place, and the team lost three linemen, Gary Zimmerman, Kurt Lowdermilk and Brian Habib, from last year. Look for all McMahon's injuries to continue to contribute to the rising health care costs in this country.


Does it make any difference which team wins this division? It will likely make a quick exit from the playoffs. This is the worst division in football. There's not one real contender in the bunch.

Minnesota was a pretender last year before it got bounced by the Redskins in the first round of the playoffs. From that team, the Vikings have lost their best running back (Terry Allen) because of injuries and three offensive linemen and defensive lineman Al Noga via the free-agent route.

The Green Bay Packers are a popular choice because of the White signing, but he's certainly not the last piece of the puzzle. The Packers could win the division if the Vikings falter, but they're not likely to be a Super Bowl contender.

The Detroit Lions are an unpredictable team that could bounce back, while the Chicago Bears are starting a rebuilding program under Wannstedt.

The Bucs? Well, they're the Bucs. They never seem to get any better.

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