First of two parts
Undated (AP) _ The pressure starts now for the Buffalo Bills.
The Bills came within a couple of yards - the distance Scott Norwood’s final-second field-goal attempt faded wide right in the 20-19 loss to the New York Giants - of becoming the first AFC team in eight years to win a Super Bowl.
Buffalo was probably the NFL’s best team last season and enters 1991 as the Super Bowl favorite. ″We took two or three steps forward in 1990,″ coach Marv Levy says of a team that as recently as 1986 was 4-12. ″We look forward to continuing that.″
But a lot can happen between next Sunday, when rookies and veterans report to camp, and Jan. 27, when the title game is played in Minneapolis (yes, Minneapolis).
Here’s a look at the AFC teams as they start camp. EAST Buffalo (13-3)
CAMP OPENS: July 14, Fredonia, N.Y. (rookies and veterans).
STRENGTHS: Offense led by Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed, the trio that helped team to 51-3 victory over Raiders in AFC title game. Pass rushing of Bruce Smith, linebacking corps led by Cornelius Bennett, Shane Conlan and Darryl Talley.
CAMP NEEDS: Establish stronger run defense. Bills were 15th in the NFL against the rush and lost the Super Bowl because the Giants controlled the ball for 41 minutes. New blood includes second-round draft pick Phil Hansen, Plan B nose tackle Odell Haggins and Reggie Rogers, a one-time first-round pick of Detroit attempting a comeback after a prison term for vehicular manslaughter.
OPENING EXHIBITION: July 28, vs. Philadelphia at London.
OPEN SEASON: Sept. 1 at home to Miami. Miami (12-4)
CAMP OPENS, July 11, Miami (rookies and veterans).
STRENGTHS: Improved offensive line bolstered last year by rookies Richmond Webb and Keith Sims, both future All-Pros. Passing of Dan Marino, running of Sammie Smith.
CAMP NEEDS: Continue to upgrade defense. All four losses were to physical teams - the Bills (in division title game and in playoffs), Raiders, Giants and Redskins. Establish Randal Hill, the first-round draft choice, as an eventual replacement for Mark Duper and Mark Clayton, the dangerous, but aging wide receiver threats.
OPENING EXHIBITION: July 26, at home to Chicago.
OPEN SEASON: Sept. 1 at Buffalo. Indianapolis (7-9)
CAMP OPENS: July 11 (rookies), July 18 (veterans), Anderson, Ind.
STRENGTHS: Potential of second-year quarterback Jeff George; linebackers led by Duane Bickett and Jeff Herrod; wide receivers Billy Brooks and Jessie Hester.
CAMP NEEDS: Establish offensive and defensive lines to protect George and get to quarterbacks. DE Shane Curry, top draft pick (second round), may be rushed in to help on defense. Coach Ron Meyer has shifted all offensive linemen except center Ray Donaldson in an effort to help, but new personnel may be needed.
Should also get the benefit of a full camp by Eric Dickerson, a holdout last year.
OPENING EXHIBITON: Aug. 2 at Denver.
OPEN SEASON: Sept. 1 at home to New England. New York Jets (6-10)
CAMP OPENS: July 16, Hempstead, N.Y. (rookies and veterans).
STRENGTHS: Skill position players - wide receivers Al Toon and Rob Moore, running backs Freeman McNeil and Blair Thomas.
CAMP NEEDS: Establish an offensive line, to which Irv Eatman and Ron Mattes have been added in offseason trades, and hope that Dave Cadigan has recovered from knee injury. Work on protecting immobile quarterback Ken O’Brien, who may be pressed by rookie Browning Nagle, the team’s top draft pick (second round). Stabilize defense, which adds Plan B linemen John Bosa and Bill Pickel and lacks an impact linebacker.
OPENING EXHIBITION: Aug. 3, at home to Philadelphia
OPEN SEASON: Sept. 1, at home to Tampa Bay. New England (1-15)
CAMP OPENS: July 11 (rookies), July 18 (veterans), Smithfield, R.I.
STRENGTHS: Very few, unless you count new front office headed by Sam Jankovich and coach Dick McPherson. Defensive line and running backs.
CAMP NEEDS: Establish new attitude on team that scored just 181 points and allowed 446 last season and spent a good part of season immersed in controversy over the treatment of reporter Lisa Olson in its locker room. Defense needs less work if Andre Tippett and Garin Veris come back from two injury-filled seasons, but the quarterback right now is second-year man Tommy Hodson and the offensive line is a sieve.
OPENING EXHIBITION: Aug. 3, at Green Bay
OPEN SEASON: Sept. 1 at Indianapolis. CENTRAL Cincinnati (9-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 18, Wilmington, Ohio (rookies and veterans).
STRENGTHS: Offense, led by Boomer Esiason, James Brooks, Eddie Brown, Anthony Munoz, plus second-year linebacker James Francis, one of the new generation of pass rushers.
CAMP NEEDS: Keeping team healthy, particularly on offensive line, where Munoz is getting older and injuries have been costly past two years. Beefing up defense - Bengals had league-low 25 sacks and allowed 4.7 yards per rush. Linebacker Alfred Williams, the No. 1 draft choice, may be phased in early, but Bengals have history of rookie holdouts.
OPENING EXHIBTION: Aug. 2 at Detroit.
OPEN SEASON: Sept. 1 at Denver. Houston (9-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 15 (rookies), July 18 (veterans), San Antonio, Texas.
STRENGTHS: Quarterback Warren Moon and his receivers, who used run-and- shoot offense to lead NFL in both total offense and passing offense last season.
CAMP NEEDS: Upgrade defense and improve goal-line offense - Oilers had trouble inside the 20, the result of a scheme that lacks tight ends and strong inside runner. Upgrade the secondary significantly, starting with cornerback Mike Dumas, No. 1 draft pick, and infuse some young talent into an aging offense.
OPENING EXHIBITION: Aug. 3, at San Diego.
OPEN SEASON: Sept. 1 at home to Los Angeles Raiders. Pittsburgh (9-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 10, Latrobe, Pa. (rookies and veterans).
STRENGTHS: Secondary, led by Rod Woodson; second-year tight end Eric Green; linebacking corps led by David Little.
CAMP NEEDS: Establishing consistency in quarterback Bubby Brister and an offense that didn’t score a touchdown in six of the 16 regular-season games and lost all six games against teams with winning records.
OPENING EXHIBITION: at home to Washington, Aug. 4.
OPEN SEASON: Sept. 1 at home to San Diego. Cleveland (3-13)
OPEN CAMP: July 14, Mentor, Ohio (rookies and veterans).
STRENGTHS: Quarterback Bernie Kosar (if healthy) and receivers Webster Slaughter and Reggie Langhorne. Defensive lineman Michael Dean Perry.
CAMP NEEDS: Establishing a new order under Bill Belichick, the new coach, who has a five-year contract to rebuild a team that until 1990 had reached the AFC title game four of the last five years.
OPENING EXHIBITION: at home to Tampa Bay, Aug. 5
OPEN SEASON: Sept. 1, at home to Dallas. WEST Los Angeles Raiders (12-4)
OPENED CAMP: July 7, Oxnard, Calif. (rookies), Veterans report July 12.
STRENGTHS: Running backs, if Bo Jackson returns; defensive and offensive lines.
CAMP NEEDS: Re-establish confidence that may have been lost in 51-3 defeat by Buffalo in AFC title game. Determine how fast No. 1 pick Todd Marinovich may threaten Jay Schroeder at quarterback. Upgrade linebacking corps and determine health of last year’s No. 1 pick, defensive end Anthony Smith. Integrate Plan B veterans Ronnie Lott and Roger Craig, taken from 49ers.
OPENING EXHIBTION: Home to San Francisco, July 27.
OPEN SEASON: Sept. 1, at Houston. Kansas City (11-5)
OPEN CAMP: July 14 (rookies), July 17 (veterans) at River Falls, Wis.
STRENGTHS: Running backs Barry Word and Christian Okoye plus rookie Harvey Williams, the No. 1 choice who adds speed. Development of defensive end Neil Smith and linebacker Derrick Thomas, plus veteran secondary.
CAMP NEEDS: Develop deep threat and prime backup quarterbacks Steve Pelluer and Mike Elkins in event 37-year-old Steve DeBerg can’t repeat last year’s career season.
OPENING EXHIBITION: Home to Dallas, Aug. 3
OPEN SEASON: Sept. 1, home to Atlanta. Seattle (9-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 19, Everett, Wash. (rookies and veterans).
STRENGTHS: Running backs John L. Williams and Derrick Fenner. Young talent on defense.
CAMP NEEDS: Good recovery by second-year linebacker Terry Wooden, who underwent knee surgery; early look at first-round draft choice Dan McGwire, the heir apparent to Dave Krieg at quarterback; upgrading linebackers; finding young talent for offensive line.
OPENING EXHIBITION: At home to Phoenix, Aug. 3
OPEN SEASON: Sept. 1, at New Orleans. San Diego (6-10)
OPEN CAMP: July 15 (rookies), July 17 (veterans), La Jolla, Calif.
STRENGTHS: Running back Marion Butts; wide receiver Anthony Miller; overall defense led by Leslie O’Neal, Burt Grossman and Lee Williams.
CAMP NEEDS: Development of young offensive line, which started two rookies last season. A quarterback to emerge from third-year-man Billy Joe Tolliver and second-year man John Friesz, who started the final game last year.
OPENING EXHIBITION: At home to Houston, Aug. 3
OPEN SEASON: Sept. 1, at Pittsburgh. Denver (5-11)
OPEN CAMP: July 12, Greeley, Colo. (rookies and veterans).
STRENGTHS: Quarterback John Elway, running back Bobby Humphrey, safety Steve Atwater.
CAMP NEEDS: Development of more physical defense, return from injuries of cornerback Tyrone Braxton and defensive end Alphonso Carreker, quick development of first-round draft choice Mike Croel at linebacker.
OPENING EXHIBITION: July 27 vs. Detroit at Canton, Ohio.
OPEN SEASON: Sept. 1, home to Cincinnati.
Tomorrow: Training Camps-NFC.