The Rams, New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys and St. Louis Cardinals appear to have emerged as the new powers of the National Football League, strike style.
That's the conclusion from rating the revamped squads on the basis of strength at quarterback and on defense--especially linebackers and defensive linemen. Defectors make the difference.
Nine others could be competitive: the Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Oilers, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons.
But the rest, including the Chicago Bears and the entire NFC Central Division of America's unionized heartland--excluding Tampa Bay--where the picket lines have held firm, seem to have little going for them. AFC WEST Raiders (2-0)
Starting quarterback: Vince Evans.
Defectors: Quarterback Marc Wilson, guard Bruce Wilkerson, running back Ethan Horton, offensive linemen Shelby Jordan (injured reserve), Chris Riehm (IR), Mickey Marvin (IR) and Curt Marsh (IR); linebackers Jamie Kimmel and Joe Cormier.
In two weeks, Coach Tom Flores has rebuilt his offense around Evans' passing and running, and his experience with the Bears could make him effective in this junior varsity environment. The defense picked up briefly Friday when Howie Long and Bill Pickel returned, but then they walked back out. Denver Broncos (1-0-1)
Starting quarterback: Kent Karcher.
Defectors: Offensive linemen Dave Studdard, Winford Hood, Keith Kartz and Dave Baran; center Bill Bryan, wide receiver Steve Watson, running back Bobby Micho, defensive lineman Walt Bowyer, linebacker Jim Ryan.
Only two or three of the defectors are impact players. Karcher knows some of the Bronco offense from the '86 camp and has an adequate offensive line to help him. The defense looks average. Kansas City Chiefs (1-1)
Starting quarterback: Matt Stevens.
The highlight of Stevens' UCLA career was a Rose Bowl victory as a junior. He may rise to the occasion, but he doesn't have much of an offensive line in front. The secondary has some talent. San Diego Chargers (1-1)
Starting quarterback: Mike Kelley.
Not one of the new powerhouses. Some players have played in the NFL, including tight end Harry Holt and wide receiver Calvin Muhammad. Then there is offensive tackle Curtis Rouse, who weighs 340 pounds. Seattle Seahawks (1-1)
Starting quarterback: Bruce Mathison.
Defectors: None (center Stan Eisenhooth walked back out)
Mathison, a former backup with the Chargers who was in the Raiders' camp this year, signed Thursday. He'll work with former Bronco running back Rick Parros and ex-Buffalo wide receiver Jimmy Teal, but the defense is desperate. AFC CENTRAL Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1)
Starting quarterback: Steve Bono or Reggie Collier.
Defectors: Center Mike Webster, running back Earnest Jackson.
Webster's return this week anchored the offensive line, and Jackson provides some balance for a fair passing threat. The defense is sandlot, but the kicker is NFL veteran David Trout. Cincinnati Bengals (1-1)
Starting quarterback: Adrian Breen.
Defectors: Linebacker Reggie Williams.
Coach Sam Wyche's best hope for offense may be to start himself at quarterback. Williams' presence could steady the nervous defense. Cleveland Browns (1-1)
Starting quarterback: Jeff Christensen.
Christensen could start for almost any of the strike teams. He has been with four NFL teams in his checkered career. The biggest name on defense is lineman Darryl Sims, who was the Steelers' first-round draft choice in '85. Houston Oilers (1-1)
Starting quarterback: John Witkowski.
Defectors: Nose tackle Doug Smith.
Witkowski has been with the Lions and Oilers and has some former United States Football League receivers. Smith toughens the middle of the defense against the run, and the secondary has good coverage potential. AFC EAST New York Jets (2-0)
Starting quarterback: David Norrie.
Defectors: Defensive ends Mark Gastineau and Marty Lyons, defensive tackle Joe Klecko.
The offense has some skilled ball-handlers to help the inexperienced Norrie, such as running back Maurice Turner and wide receivers Derrick Gaffney and Michael Harper, who have been around NFL camps, but the offensive line looks weak. The defensive line is the best in this league, and NFL veterans Jay Brophy and Jim Haslett loom as solid linebackers in this kind of competition. New England Patriots (1-1)
Starting quarterback: Bob Bleier.
Defectors: Running back Tony Collins, guards Ron Wooten and Sean Farrell, cornerback Raymond Clayborn, safety Darryl Holmes.
The Patriots no doubt will try for ball control, considering Bleier's limited background--University of Richmond--and a shaky defensive front. Miami Dolphins (1-1)
Starting quarterback: Kyle Mackey.