The First Annual NFL Preview
by Tom Edwards , Editor-In-Chief,

    Ok, sure, the NFL might have played a game already, but Thursday football not on Thanksgiving is unnatural, so my review is still technically on time.  Feel free to completely ignore the 49ers/Giants game while reading this review; my football pool did (Niners were three point favorites, they win by... you guessed it, three.  No one wins!)

    Actually, I probably could have gone without writing an NFL preview if I hadn't read the NFL preview put forth by Newsday (the Long Island tabloid/newszine) that was mind-boggling on so many counts.  After hearing how the Dolphins got slammed in it (not an uncommon theme), I wanted to check it out.  To my surprise, the Dolphins were ranked as the third best team in the AFC, by writer Bob Glauber, who wrote the previews for both the NFC and AFC.  But, upon looking at the league breakdown, with projected finishes and records, there were the Dolphins, the third best team in the AFC, listed at 9-7, third place in the AFC East, a game above .500 and out of the playoff hunt.

    Seven losses for the third best team in the league.  Wow, that NFC portion of the schedule must be a killer.

    On top of that, the fourth ranked team in the AFC, the New England Patriots (that's right, the defending Super Bowl Champions), are listed as going 10-6 and finishing second in the AFC East, one game ahead of the Dolphins.  So, the fourth ranked team, which in my number-loving mind is lower ranked than the third ranked team, is projected to have a better record.

    Something just didn't seem right.  Especially when you looked at other teams that were listed in this mock records page.  No less than 8 teams were listed as having projected records equal or better to that of the 9-7 Dolphins.  The-third-ranked-team-in-the-AFC Dolphins.

    Now which teams led the AFC in Bob Glauber's crystal ball?  Well, surprising every reputable NFL "analyst" in the world, Glauber didn't select the Pittsburgh Steelers to go to the Super Bowl, or even ranked them second on the AFC list of doom (they were ranked 6th, which caused them to win the AFC North with a 11-5 record.)  No, the two teams that sat above the rest were the Oakland Raiders (2nd), and the New York Jets.

    Let me repeat that for effect.  The New York Jets.

    Sure, I understand the whole "home town team" thing, but let's not get carried away.  Squeezing into the wild card last season, the 10-6 Jets were put in their place by the Raiders and sent home.  In the offseason, the team lost six starting players, replaced by two salary cap cut victims, two players with drug histories, and a player who hasn't played in almost two years.  This, my friends, surely sounds like a Super Bowl team.  Glauber goes on in a separate article for the preview to use the mindset that if New England could win the Super Bowl last season, then the Jets could win this season.  But, apparently, not teams like the Dolphins, who went out in an effort to improve the team, nor the Pittsburgh Steelers, who just have the same team that probably should have been in the Super Bowl last season.

    Then again, the misplacement of the Dolphins isn't surprising.  The New York media has always been critical of Miami, and Glauber is no exception.  He even wrote an article a few days before the preview letting us know that Ricky Williams is destined to be a failure, comparing him to the likes of Andre Rison's arrival in Cleveland and Jeff George's tenure in Oakland.  Not much of a stretch there, is it?

    Anyway, I'm ranting.  I should know that most football previews that are writer are two parts popular theory and one part "total guess to be different."  Everyone wants to be the column that predicts this season's New England and be considered sports geniuses.  Yet, no mention is ever made of previous year predictions, where almost everyone had the Eagles playing the Titans in the Super Bowl.  I must have missed that Super Bowl.

    Anyway, again, on to the review:



    AFC East

    1. Miami Dolphins

    Screw it, if no one else wants to do it, I will.  At least I'll say I'm picking them because I like them.  To be honest, the Jets, the Dolphins, and the Patriots all have a shot at taking the East, and Buffalo might just be a year away.  But, if I have to pick between the three, I'm picking the Dolphins.  I'm seriously digging the idea of a major running back in the Dolphins backfield in Ricky Williams.  This is a team that managed success with Lamar Smith at halfback.  Add onto that the best corners in the league, Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas, and Chris Chambers, and you have a very good team.

    2. New York Jets

    As much as I personally don't like the team, I think they're a better team than the Patriots right now.  They, too, have a very strong running game, and a better offensive line than the Dolphins at this rate.  They have the right combination of speed and possession receivers, and Vinny TesticalVerde isn't half bad some days.  The Jet fans need to worry moreso about those other days with the Vin-man, when he starts having Tampa flashbacks, and a defense that has more new starters than returning starters.

    3. New England Patriots

    It's funny to read people talking about the Patriots going into this season.  You have the wave of people who say that it was luck and duct tape that got them a Super Bowl victory last season.  Then the second wave came; the wave of people who talk about how the Patriots are going to repeat and go 13-3 this season.  That's all a load of crap.  The Patriots aren't a bad team, but they are not a championship-caliber team.  Antowain Smith was run out of Buffalo because he was mediocre, and only ended up in New England because their running situation was so bad that anything would have been an improvement.  Smith's contract with the Patriots this season will sit right next to Jay Fiedler's as the contracts that teams will regret for years to come.  Tom Brady is not Troy Aikman, folks, and can't carry a game on his back.  But, this team will win games, because they are well coached, and they are a team, more than anything, instead of a collection of players.  People (especially GMs) tend to forget the whole "team" aspect (see Mets, New York), and they end up paying for it in the end.  The Patriots watched all the bricks fall into place for them last year, it won't happen twice.

    4. Buffalo Bills

    People around Buffalo are screaming that Drew Bledsoe is the savior, just the same as they did when Rob Johnson came into town, or when Doug Flutie came off the bench when Johnson folded like an accordion.  However, Bledsoe is a hell of a lot better than the two quarterbacks mentioned previously, so Buffalo should have reason to get excited.  Bledsoe, unlike his previous stint in New England, has offensive options too.  Receiver Eric Moulds has shown in the past that he can be an All-Pro receiver, and Peerless Price across from him is due for a Moulds-like season.  Travis Henry has shown occasional brilliance, but the jury could go either way with him.  Jay Riemersma could really be the key for Bledsoe, who used Ben Coates in New England so much it made him an All-Pro, but Riemersma is balking at a pay cut and has free agent signee Dave Moore behind him on the depth chart, which could mean Riemersma is a few bucks away from waiverville.  The defense, however, could be what keeps this team from succeeding.  The Bills start three draft picks from last year's draft (DT Ron Edwards - 3rd round, DE Aaron Shobel - 2nd round, and CB Nate Clements - 1st round), and one rookie (3rd round pick Coy Wire, at strong safety).  They feature Chidi Ahanotu at defensive end, who is on his third team in three seasons.  But the young nucleus of the Bills defense is a positive thing, and their linebacking corps is strong.  Sleeper?  Sure.  Super Bowl contender?  Not for a few years.

    AFC North

    1. Pittsburgh Steelers

    Sure, it's fun to make a "creative" pick, but to not pick the Steelers to win this four team division this season is naive.  The general consensus feels that Pittsburgh would be a Super Bowl winner if they had a better quarterback than Kordell Stewart.  Kordell's been getting the Randall Cunningham rap for almost his entire career.  Once Bill Cowler rolled the dice and let Kordell be his starting quarterback back in 1997, Kordell's been trying to make himself a "regular" quarterback.  Last season saw him set career highs in passing yardage and quarterback rating, but people are still laying blame on Kordell for the Steelers not going to the Super Bowl last year.  They're better than the rest of the Central, they have the best defense in the AFC (if not the NFL), and they have a workhorse back in Jerome Bettis.  If Bettis can stay healthy this season, and Kordell makes another step in improving himself at quarterback, then the Steelers could be Super Bowl bound.

    2. Cleveland Browns

    Suddenly asking itself to be the New York Mets of the 2002-3 NFL season, the Browns keep adding to their starting lineup through free agency.  Eight of the current 22 starters on the Browns were acquired through the draft, or two for every year of the new Browns existence.  The Browns will be starting every first round pick so far, but each of the picks has a big question mark on them going into this season.  Former #1 overall pick Courtney Brown only played in 5 games last season, and some have said that he lacks the desire to play.  William Green, this season's first round pick, battled injuries through the preseason, and came out of nowhere last year to vault to the top of the running back class in this year's draft.  Most people seem to think it's a given that he'll run for a thousand yards this season and make everyone stare in awe, but I'm not convinced yet.  Gerald Warren, last years first rounder, had a strong rookie season, but will be looking to shake off the sophomore jinx.  However, all eyes this season will be on Tim Couch.  An injury will keep him on the bench for the first game this season, and it seems that if the Browns are to succeed, it'll be on Couch's shoulders.  This is a make-or-break season for Couch, and if he can't come through this season, the word "bust" will start being attached to the first ever new Browns draft pick.

    3. Baltimore Ravens

    A lot of people have the Ravens as plunging into the depths of 4-12, being flushed down the toilet due to salary cap problems and the purging of an otherwise good team.  But the Ravens aren't that bad, although they're not the 2000 Ravens by any stretch.  People are already knocking Chris Redman and his lack of experience, but all quarterbacks don't have experience until they finally play, and Redman is getting the chance this year.  It's not as if the Ravens have had stellar quarterbacks in the past (Tony Banks, Trent Dilfer, Elvis Grbac), so it would take a decent effort for him to be more mediocre than them.  Either way, they have Jeff Blake backing up, so it's not like all hope is lost if Redman starts stinking up the place.  Jamal Lewis is back, recovering from knee surgery that cost him the 2001 season.  People seem to think that Edgerrin James will be fine and pick up where he left off last season with the same injury as Lewis, but Edge plays half his games on turf, which isn't going to be good for him, while at least Jamal gets to play his home games on grass.  Plus, Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, and Michael McCrary are still there.  They're not that bad, guys.

    4. Cincinnati Bengals

    I had the Bengals in last before I even looked at the team this year.  That's how much I'm used to them constantly sucking.  And, to be honest, it's not like the Bengals do anything year in and out to make me think "hey, this might be their year this year!"  I'll have to give them credit this year, though.  They managed to sign all their draft choices this year, something they couldn't do last season until the season started and something three teams haven't managed to do as of the time I write this.  However, when you have a quarterback battle involving Jon Kitna and Gus Ferrotte, you look at the Ravens situation with envy.  The Bengals have one of the five best running backs in the NFL right now in Corey Dillion, and all paths to success in Cincinnati go straight through him.  With Darnay Scott gone, Peter Warrick has to become the playmaker that he was at Florida State that he hasn't been in the NFL.  Michael Westbrook joins him in a battle of underachieving wide receivers.  The Bengals hope that Westbrook's lack of interest this offseason during free agency will inspire him to play how he's capable pf playing, but will Ferrotte be enough to get him the ball?

    AFC South

    1. Tennessee Titans

    I mentally had Indy in the #1 South slot, but this Titans team still is the team to beat.  I'm not overly crazy about coach Jeff Fisher's offensive system, and if Eddie George has the mediocre season that he did last season, the Colts could leapfrog over them.  But Steve McNair lit it up last season, posting career highs in yardage, touchdowns, and quarterback rating in George's absence.  Adding Lance Schulters this offseason was a solid move for the Titans, and not just because he's from Hofstra.  Schulters is a hard hitter who also has good hands, and fits in well with the Titans defense.  Now, if Kevin Carter can play the way he was supposed to when he came over from the Rams, he'll make Javon Kearse twice the player he already is, and the Titans can look towards a Super Bowl again, just like they were supposed to last season.

    2. Indianapolis Colts

    Edgerrin James is back, so Indy fans are looking for the 2000 Colts who lit up scoreboards and took the AFC East with no problem.  Plus, add in the mindset that a coach like Tony Dungy who makes defenses better to a team whose defense was the biggest reason it didn't appear in a Super Bowl, and you've got a championship team, right?  Well, not so fast.  As mentioned earlier, Edge is coming off of knee surgery, and looks to be heading back to the RCA Dome where eight of his sixteen games will be played.  You can say that Edge is young and will be alright, but people thought that about Jamal Anderson, and he's currently sitting at home not believing in himself or his knees held together by duct tape.  If you're a Colts fan, or just an Edge fan, don't watch the Colts/Philadelphia game on November 10th.  Philly's turf could eat Edge alive.

    3. Jacksonville Jaguars

    What, you expected me to put the Texans here?  At this rate, though, the Texans will be battling the Jags to stay out of the AFC South cellar.  The Jags offense was bad during preseason, and while nothing should be judged during preseason, one look at the listed starters at WR for the Jags coming into the first game of the season (Micah Ross & Patrick Johnson) screams "shutout".  Mark Brunell has to be wondering what he did to deserve this punishment.  Fred Taylor can carry the load for the Jags, just as he's done in the past, but Fred is yet another running back held together by duct tape and made out of balsa wood.  Stacey Mack and Elvis Joseph both saw considerable playing time last season, and if you're a Jags fan, that's something you don't want to happen.  Note to Jags front office: when your placekicker starts calling your team crap (Mike Hollis, now with Buffalo), maybe it's time to bring in some new blood.

    4. Houston Texans

    The team with the most redundant name in football gets to finally lose this season.  Why?  Because they're an expansion team, and that's what expansion teams do.  Despite having a Hofstra alum on their roster (guard DeMingo Graham), the Texans aren't going to be competitive this season.  They did everything relatively right, starting eight players drafted in the expansion draft and having a total of thirteen expansion draftees on their roster, possibly a record in recent expansion, and they drafted a franchise player with their first pick (David Carr).  Carr looks to be a good NFL quarterback, and has the right attitude going into the season.  The starting lineup is young, allowing players to learn on the job, which is going to cost the team wins this season.  However, the team is doing the right things, and depending on how this (and future) drafts turn out, the Texans look to be a promising team in the future.

    AFC West

    1. Denver Broncos

    Sure, it's easy to say that the Broncos are on a downward spiral this season.  Fingers are pointed to Brian Griese's season last year and the loss of Terrell Davis to retirement and suddenly the bandwagon breaks down and everyone jumps ship to Oakland.  But to face facts, we see that receiver Ed McCaffrey missed almost all of last season due to injury, while Rod Smith, Griese's best receiver, played through injury the entire season, at times playing with two sprained ankles.  The Davis retirement issue actually clarifys the Denver running situation a bit.  Last season, you had three running backs trying for the same spot, with each claiming a right to be the starter.  This season, however, Terrell Davis is retired, Mike Anderson is the starting fullback, so the only question that remains is whether to start veteran Olandis Gary or rookie Clinton Portis.  Gary looks to be getting the start to begin the season, but Portis, if he works on a fumbling problem, might muscle his way into the lineup.  This is the team that the Colts wish they were.

    2. Oakland Raiders

    The Oldland Raiders are a popular pick this season, solely on the names that are on the roster.  Tim Brown, Rich Gannon, Jerry Rice, Bill Romanowski, Rod Woodson, and John Parrella are all All-Pro players, but not a one of them is under the age of 30, with Parrella being the only one under 35.  That's going to lead to a lot of rotation and substitution, at least on the defensive end of the ball, something a no-huddle offense can easily exploit.  Also, keep in mind that this isn't the Jon Gruden Raiders this season, but the Bill Callahan Raiders, and first year coaches generally don't make a team overly better except in rare circumstances (hear that, Indy?)  The Raiders are a good team, especially offensively, but they aren't a great team, nor are they a championship team.

    3. Kansas City Chiefs

    The good news in Kansas City last season was that they found a stud running back in Priest Holmes.  The bad news was that they needed him to carry the team.  Coach Dick Vermeil brought over Trent Green to run a Rams-like offense in KC, but forgot to bring over any wide receivers of quality.  This season is no different, with Eddie Kennison (he of five teams in seven seasons) being a "main target" in the Chiefs offense.  Johnnie Morton, on the other hand, might be the type of receiver the Chiefs need for this offense.  Tony Gonzalez sits out the entire preseason and comes back just in time for the regular season opener, and he's already named starter.  I'm not sure if that's a sign of how good Gonzalez is (he is) or how bad the Chiefs tight end situation was without him (it is.)  With the Chiefs bungling contract talks with Gonzalez and first round pick Ryan Sims, one has to wonder why a franchise like this isn't poised for last place in their division.

    4. San Diego Chargers

    Oh yeah.  Probably Chief fans second favorite team, just because it makes their team management look superb.  Let's put it this way.  The Chargers take Quentin Jammer with the fifth overall selection in the NFL draft.  However, their contract offer to Jammer is considerably lower than the deal signed by the player selected fourth in the draft, and the contract offer is even lower than the one given to the sixth selection in the draft.  Add onto that the stance of the Chargers, which say that the contract offer currently on the table to Jammer decreases every day that it isn't signed, and that they are willing to let Jammer go back into the draft next season, and you have an example of this franchise that once actually made it to the Super Bowl.  However, just as I was writing this, ESPN reported that Jammer has signed with the Chargers.  So possibly a step in the right direction for the Bolts, added onto recent right-direction steps as making second year quarterback Drew Brees the starter over resident fossil Doug Flutie this preseason and making sure every single play went through running back LaDainian Tomlinson last season.  However, one look at the Chargers starting wideouts (Curtis Conway and Tim Dwight) lets you know there are still quite a few steps for the Chargers to take.



    NFC East

    1. Philadelphia Eagles

    Oh, as tempting as it would be to pick the Redskins here, it's pretty hard to go against the Eagles.  The Eagles are a very good all around team.  Everyone wants to look at Donovan McNabb and swear that he's one step away from the Hall of Fame, but I'm not that overly impressed by McNabb.  However, after two full seasons starting at quarterback for the Eagles and looking at the wideouts he's had during that time, you have to know he's doing something right.  Doing something wrong, however, might be the front office when they saw Jeremiah Trotter looking for a big contract.  The Eagles brass slapped a franchise tag on the 25 year old middle linebacker, then determined that they couldn't sign him, so instead of signing him to a one year tender or working on a trade, the Eagles took off the franchise tag and let Trotter go without any compensation, taking his Pro Bowl talent away for absolutely nothing.  On top of that, where did Trotter go?  To the rival Redskins, where the Eagles will get to face him twice a season.  Trotter's replacement, however, ended up being veteran Levon Kirkland, who will fill the hole nicely and allow the Eagles to not lose any ground on the defensive end.  But if the Eagles want to be the NFC team in the Super Bowl this season, their receiving corps needs to step up.  James Thrash is a good young receiver, but Todd Pinkston is average, at best, and Freddie Mitchell, who was thought to be a first round steal last season, still doesn't seem to be grasping the offense, causing the Eagles to go out and sign Antonio Freeman, making coach Andy Reid's team Green Bay East, with Freeman joining fellow former Packer Dorsey Levins with former Packer assistant Reid.

    2. Washington Redskins

    It was the popular thing to say in NFL previews across the land.  New Redskins coach Steve Spurrier's offense, which worked so well in college, will never work in the NFL.  Never.  Mind you, Spurrier's offense wasn't exactly the wishbone or the halfback option.  It was a passing-oriented offense that put up big numbers on the scoreboard and allowed his former team, the Florida Gators, to be a top team in the nation almost every season, sending countless players into the NFL.  However, since Florida quarterbacks seemed to fail, it was assumed that the offense itself wouldn't work in the NFL.  Then came the preseason, where Spurrier's Redskins began piling up points in preseason games.  Teams complained, saying that he was running up the score.  Players made excuses, saying that the points were against second string players, and how the preseason meant nothing, and that the real games would come and we would truly see the Spurrier offense fail.  In all honestly, there is no reason it should fail, though, and the main reason people point the finger is the talent, or lack thereof, that Spurrier is putting together to accomplish this.  Quarterbacking castoffs Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews, both former Spurrier quarterbacks in Florida, are leading the charge.  Jacquez Green, an underachieving failure in Tampa, became yet another former Gator to play under Spurrier.  The thought that these NFL failures were getting the opportunity to start again in the NFL made the Redskins look weak, but one has to remember that certain players work in a certain system.  Wuerffel, Matthews, and Green all flourished in the Spurrier system in the past, so what makes anyone think they won't flourish in a Spurrier system now?  Players play well in certain systems, which is why free agents fail (receivers and quarterbacks more often than any other position) so often, going to another system and another type of gameplan.  Better players adapt to a gameplan, but some can't.  There is no reason that the Redskins offense shouldn't succeed.  The Redskins defense, however, is one of the nest in the league.  Fred Smoot and Champ Bailey are an impressive set or corners, and the Skins might have the best linebacking corps in the NFC.  They might not be better than the Eagles or the top tier teams this season, but they are capable of beating any team at any time this season, and the playoffs aren't out of the question.

    3. Dallas Cowboys

    Quincy Carter is doing his best to make people shut up.  Last season, the decision to draft Carter was mocked by draft experts as being too early, and then the decision to start him was even more amusing, added by the possibility of running the option in Dallas to use Carter's speed.  Well, Quincy got hurt, and the Cowboys sucked.  But when Quincy came back, and the spotlight was off of him, he didn't do as bad as people might want to think he did.  Carter started the last five games of the Cowboys season, and looked like a quality quarterback in two of those five.  Keep in mind, however, that this wasn't a good Cowboys team.  The team is better now, although not so much on the offense, but Carter still has had to deal with the spotlight.  This offseason, the Cowboys brought in free agent mediocre baseball player Chad Hutchinson.  Hutchinson, a highly regarded college quarterback who played minor league baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals system for a few years, is a more "natural" pocket quarterback, and some feel that the Cowboy shave a better chance to win with Chad running the show.  However, Quincy has time, as Hutchinson isn't ready yet for a NFL starting gig.  Quincy is going to have to show the league that he is a NFL quarterback, or else be destined to a life as a backup quarterback as the Cowboys go with Hutchinson in the future.  For now, he'll do ok, but even with a good Quincy Carter, the offense doesn't drive fear into the hearts of their opponents.  The defense should keep them in games, which makes them better than...

    4. New York Giants

    I've never understood how it's fun to be a Giant fan.  Through all my years of watching football, the Giants have had the most boring offensive teams in football.  Plod plod plod, run the ball, throw for 7 yards, work the clock.  All of it won games, at least when the Giants were good, but it was like watching paint dry.  That offense is no different now.  Kerry Collins has never been a great quarterback since coming out of Penn State, and with receivers like Ike Hilliard, he won't be any time soon in New Jersey.  Tiki Barber is the only exciting player the Giants have had on this offense in years, which is proven by the amount of excitement that rookie tight end Jeremy Shockey is causing in New Jersey.  You'd think this guy shot hundred dollar bills out of his butt the way people talk about him.  He's still a tight end, not matter how good he catches and breaks tackles.  He's not a superior blocker, but he will be a good player.  He's not a gamebreaker, however, not yet at least.  On the defensive side, the Michael Strahan watch is officially in effect.  Already alienating his offence's best player by his contract demands, Strahan got what he wanted; a huge contract based on one season.  There's no doubt in my mind that Strahan is a good defensive end; probably one of the better ones in the game.  However, Strahan's demands caused the team's chemistry to waiver a bit, and for all those who say he's worth every penny, remember that Strahan's sack total in 2001 was more than his sack total from the two seasons previous combined.  Strahan will be 31 at the end of November, and with the Giants spending a good chunk of their money keeping their sack man happy, they'll have a hard time making this team any better without restructuring that contract a few times in the years to come.

    NFC North

    1. Green Bay Packers

    Admit it, you didn't pick the Bears last season, and you're probably going to pick them now.  Feel free.  I know a winning team when I see it, though.  The Packers still have Brett Favre, who at last check was still one of the best quarterbacks on the planet, and they still had Ahman Green, who is still 25 years old and getting better every season.  Meanwhile, they picked up Terry Glenn, who might or might not end up being the wideout that the Packers have needed the past few seasons.  Either way, they have Robert Ferguson and rookie Javon Walker developing, and Donald Driver impressing the Packers staff enough to let their three top receivers go this past offseason.  Add onto that a dominating defense that made itself even better by signing free agent DE Joe Johnson to add to an already frightening pass rush, and Hardy Nickerson to man the middle linebacking duties.  This is a very good team, and if the receiving corps turns out as good as it could be, they could be pushing towards a Super Bowl berth.

    2. Chicago Bears

    If there's one thing that we learned from the 2001 NFL season, it's not to underestimate teams that play well as teams, and work hard, regardless of their talent or star power.  New England was one of those teams last season, and Chicago was the other.  The thing about those "out of nowhere" teams is that they have a tendency to play over their head, then start reading their own press, and it all goes downhill from there.  I don't think the Bears are that bad, but I don't think they're a 13-3 team.  First of all, no offense to Jim Miller, but the Bears passing game leaves a bit to be desired.  Last year, starting more games than he had in his entire career, Miller barely threw more touchdown passes than interceptions.  His high pass completion percentage can be traced back to a great offensive line that game Miller plenty of time to throw the ball.  This is what made Anthony Thomas a 1000 yard rusher as well.  Miller is already on the hotseat with Chris Chandler as his backup, a quarterback who has been to a Super Bowl, and has had more success in running a powerful offense than Miller.  The Bears defense is good, but not overly great, especially in the secondary.  Players played over their potential, and a player like R.W. McQuarters screams out "Terrell Buckley" to me.  I'm not saying they'll roll over and die, because a well coached team that plays well together shouldn't do that, but I'd be shocked to see a repeat performance of last season.

    3. Minnesota Vikings

    Another one of those teams that everyone was jumping on the bandwagon of that the wheels fell off of in 2001.  One of only two teams that haven't signed their first round selection, the Vikes are dealing with their second tragic event in two seasons, as offensive lineman Louis Kelly's wife and unborn daughter died during pregnancy complications during preseason.  Added onto last season's death of offensive lineman Korey Stringer, the Vikings have had to deal with a great deal emotionally.  However, games are meant to be played, and a good team still needs to focus itself on the field.  They have the best receiver in football in Randy Moss, and a budding young quarterback in Dante Culpepper, but the loss of Cris Carter to retirement and a offensive line that still is looking to find an identity weakens this team greatly.  There is talent here, and with a new coach running the show, things will be different this season, but the Vikes are still some time away.

    4. Detroit Lions

    The Lions really shouldn't have been that bad last season.  In all honesty, they weren't.  But they weren't that good anyway, and they didn't get much better during the offseason.  The Lions drafted franchise quarterback Joey Harrington, but didn't give him the starting job in preseason, instead deciding to go with last season's part-time starter, Mike McMahon.  In free agency, the Lions went out and picked up backups and specialty players and placed them in starting positions.  Az-zahir Hakim and Bill Schroeder don't exactly strike fear into the hearts of opposing secondaries.  Then again, little on the Lions offense does.  They have no running game, not much of a passing game, and possibly their best offensive player, Harrington, sits on the bench.  Is there any reason you can think of that should make this team win?

    NFC South

    1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    They've got a new coach, they've got a new running back, but they're still basically the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; a team that will live by its defense and hope to score enough points to catch up.  With the departure of defensive specialist Tony Dungy and the arrival of a West Coast offense, Buc fans have the dreams of Super Bowls in their heads.  Not so fast, my friend.  Michael Pittman, everyone's sleeper superstar (because if you come over from the Cardinals, you have to be better than you were), will find himself battling injury and Mike Alstott for playing time.  Alstott is listed as a fullback on the depth chart currently, but it's a position he isn't really suited for, as Alstott wants the ball, not to run blocking patterns 40 plays a game.  The Bucs defense has never been a question, and should keep the team in games all season, but it's key for Brad Johnson to get on the same page with Keyshawn Johnson (one TD catch last season) and new arrival Keenan McCardell to make this team a top tier franchise.

    2. New Orleans Saints

    The Falcons and the Saints will battle here for second in the weakest division in the NFC.  Neither team is better than 9-7, and both could probably end up under .500.  The thing that puts the Saints over the Falcons right now is their passing attack.  The Saints last year showed that Aaron Brooks is the real deal.  Even with Joe Horn having a slow first half, Brooks picked it up and made Willie Jackson, discarded from many teams in his career, a quality player.  And while Jackson took his year long highlight reel to the Falcons, the Saints replaced him with former Colts wideout Jerome Pathon (an improvement) and rookie Donte' Stallworth is waiting in the wings.  Stallworth is a breakout superstar who has amazing speed, but whether Stallworth makes it in New Orleans pretty much depends on him; wide receivers fail so much easier than any other position than quarterback coming out of college to the NFL.  The pressure spotlight is squarely on halfback Deuce McAllister, though.  Deuce, who goes into this season as Ricky Williams' replacement, has the ability to break long runs that Ricky doesn't appear to, but the question still remains if McAllister is healthy enough to play a full season and be an every down back.

    3. Atlanta Falcons

    The Falcons gave it a year, but it's finally time for the Michael Vick show.  Vick, the 2001 #1 overall selection in the NFL draft, saw bench and clipboard time as fellow quarterback Chris Chandler led the Falcons with a balanced passing attack and  pocket presence.  But Chandler made too much money, got too old, and got hurt too often to be the Falcons quarterback any longer, and with Vick making his money on the bench, Chandler was released during the offseason.  Vick showed flashes of greatness last season, but he doesn't have much of a team around him.  The Falcons receiving corps, once one of the best in the league, now consists of castoffs Shawn Jefferson, Willie Jackson, and Brian Finneran.  With their biggest need being receiving, the Falcons went out and drafted a running back in the draft; Michigan State's T.J. Duckett.  The Duckett pick would have been fine, had the Falcons not signed former Tampa Bay Buc running back Warrick Dunn to a five year deal worth a bunch of money.  You have to feel sorry for Dunn, though.  A legit good guy who gives to the community, he's gone from having to fight for the ball in Tampa with Mike Alstott to Atlanta, where he's probably going to have to share the ball with Duckett.

    4. Carolina Panthers

    Oh Carolina.  For the sake of time, I could explain Carolina's future by telling you about one of their players.  Rodney Peete married Holly Robinson, of former 21 Jump Street fame.  After coming out of college, he was drafted late by Detroit, given the opportunity to start, and did decent for the run and shoot Lions.  He fell out of favor with the Lions, and went to Dallas to be Troy Aikman's backup.  From there, he went to Philadelphia as a backup, where he managed to steal the starting job from Randall Cunningham.  He lost the starting job, however, and spent the six seasons after that as the clipboard holding third string quarterback for the Washington Redskins and the Oakland Raiders.  He signed with Carolina this offseason.  He hasn't started a game since 1995.  Until week one, where he'll be starting for the Carolina Panthers.  How many games do you think this team is going to win?

    NFC West

    1. St. Louis Rams

    There's nothing that you can say that hasn't been said about the Rams.  A team that came out of nowhere a few years back just exploded into the team that could go undefeated at any minute.  The Rams combine all the positive aspects that were mentioned before.  They have a team that works well together (New England), they have players that fit well into their system (Washington), but most importantly, they have a hell of a lot of talent.  The only things that scare Rams fans this season are the health of their main players.  Quarterback Kurt Warner and running back Marshall Faulk have both missed games due to injury, and in Warner's case, his injury kept affecting his play even after returning.  Don't let his injured thumb make you believe that the Rams losing in the Super Bowl was due to that.  The Rams flat out choked, and they've got something to prove this season.

    2. San Francisco 49ers

    There's a lot of talent on this 49er team, but there's also a lot of strife (without the donuts to balance it out.)  Not so much as the Giants, but when your best wide receiver (Terrell Owens) comes flat out and shows that he has no respect for your head coach, you've got a team with some issues.  They've got a great comeback story in Garrison Hearst in the backfield, but one has to wonder how much Hearst will be able to handle the job in the backfield.  Quarterback Jeff Garcia has shown, though, that he can throw to anything at any time, and has looked great doing it.  This 49ers team looks a lot like past great 49ers teams, and if the Niners can manage to keep their focus on the game and not what's going on around them personally, then this team has the ability to challenge the Rams for top spot in the division, and possibly the conference.

    3. Seattle Seahawks

    Did you ever play a football video game and decide to take over a crap team thinking of how nice it would be to make them good for a change?  After all, you were good with the team you used to play with, why can't you be good with other teams you pick?  That only works with video games, as coach/GM/overlord Mike Holmgren is finding out in Seattle.  Learning the hard way that Matt Hasselbeck was young Green Bay backup that wasn't actually good (in contrast to New Orleans starter Aaron Brooks and Jacksonville starter Mark Brunell, both former Brett Favre backups in Green Bay), Holmgren attempted to go back to the NFL's biggest good luck charm and resident god-boy, Trent Dilfer.  But he let Trent play in preseason, and Trent got hurt, so back to Hasselbeck we go.  Add onto that the inability to sign their franchise-designated left tackle to a tender sheet (it's a one year contract that is predetermined!  Offer it!), and you've got problems.  On the plus side, Shawn Alexander finally got playing time last season, and exploded the way so many people thought he would after seeing him in limited time the past few seasons.  With Seattle's tackle situation going down the tubes, though, Alexander's season may only be great instead of incredible.  The team has talent, but so have past Seahawk teams, and they've never managed to win more than 9 games in a season recently.  The new uniforms are cool, but they're not going to help Seattle this season.

    4. Arizona Cardinals

    What can you say about Arizona?  Well, when one of your starters chooses not to re-sign with your team to join the Army, you have to wonder how much fun it is to play for your franchise.  "Arizona" and "winning" have only recently started to go together, but only in baseball; their football franchise has managed to maintain mediocrity for quite a long time now.  At least they're in the right division now; Arizona spent quite a few seasons playing in the NFC East, where they were assured of playing teams like Philadelphia and the Jersey Giants every season on the east coast.  But the thing with Arizona is this.  If you look at the past few seasons, there's always been this team (or teams, in last season's case) that have come completely out of nowhere, predicted by every "expert" in the world to go 4-12 and fail miserably.  Teams like the Ravens, Giants, Rams, and Patriots were all teams that managed to blindside us and end up in a Super Bowl.  Not necessarily because they were full of players without talent, but because we were so used to them losing that we didn't see the talent that they had on their team, and once the pieces fit into place, all those first round picks slammed that team into the upper echelon of franchises.  I'm not saying that the Cardinals are Super Bowl bound this season, but a team that has David Boston, Jake Plummer, and Thomas Jones on it might not necessarily be a bad team.  It's a shame they're in the NFC West, though.  If they were in the NFC South, they might be worth a pick for a division championship.


    So what does it all mean?  Well, according to this, we've got the Dolphins, Steelers, Titans, and Broncos making it from the AFC, and the Eagles, Packers, Bucs, and Rams making it from the NFC.  We need wild card teams, so throw in the Raiders and the Jets on the AFC side, and the 49ers and the Redskins (dare I say?) on the NFC side.  When the smoke clears, it looks like you could see the Titans and the Rams in the Super Bowl, and I think I'd be dumb not to pick the Rams as the eventual Super Bowl champs.

    But what do I know?