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tiggerpolice 07-21-2005 07:54 AM

It's never too early to predict how divisions shake out
It's never too early to predict how divisions shake out
By Chris Colston, Sports Weekly
You cannot predict what will happen in the NFL because, every year, something goofy happens.
Take last year. If you flip through all the preseason magazines, you will note that these geniuses — our publication included — predicted dire straits for San Diego. We had the Chargers No. 32 in our preseason Power Rankings. Last time I checked they went 12-4 and everybody who ripped Drew Brees was blubbering hummina-hummina-hummina.

So don't think of these as predictions but a look on how teams are shaping up with training camps set to begin in the next two weeks.

NFC East

With or without Terrell Owens, Philadelphia is the class of the NFC. What's scary is that, through all of the Eagles' recent success, they've been riddled with injuries. If coach Andy Reid's crew stays healthy, the Eagles might not lose.

There is no way Dallas is going 6-10 again. I can see them inverting that record, easily. They had such a terrific draft, coach Bill Parcells could start four rookies on defense — and be happy about it. Now if quarterback Drew Bledsoe can just find tight end Jason Witten on a regular basis ...

The Giants will struggle while Eli Manning struggles. But a pair of free agent signees, wide receiver Plaxico Burress and linebacker Antonio Pierce, will step into big roles here.

Washington didn't really seem to help itself in the offseason, and off-field controversies involving LaVar Arrington and Sean Taylor must have coach Joe Gibbs muttering to himself. And you have to wonder what's going through quarterback Patrick Ramsey's head. Last year Gibbs brought in has-been Mark Brunell; when that experiment bombed, Gibbs traded three draft picks to get rookie quarterback Jason Campbell. The thought process behind all this is right up there with, "How did gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson ever get approved for car insurance?"

•Predicted order: Philadelphia, Dallas, N.Y. Giants, Washington.

NFC North

Minnesota has plenty of offensive weapons, even without Randy Moss, and revamped its defense. It will be interesting to see how new middle linebacker Sam Cowart channels coordinator Ted Cottrell. Detroit has improved its win total for three consecutive years, but that says more about how awful the Lions were than anything else. Chicago finally has some offensive oomph with Muhsin Muhammad, Cedric Benson and Rex Grossman. Green Bay seems to be in the twilight of its glory.

•Predicted order: Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago, Green Bay.

NFC South

As long as Michael Vick is healthy, Atlanta will be a force. Nobody has more fun coaching football than Jim Mora. With Kris Jenkins and Steve Smith healthy and a fortified offensive line, Carolina is going to bounce back in a big way. I see both teams in the playoffs. New Orleans is too schizophrenic to impress me, and Tampa Bay just has too far to go.

•Predicted order: Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay.

NFC West

If San Diego could do it, why not Arizona? The Cardinals had a good draft (stealing Elton Brown in the fourth round) and coach Dennis Green has cultivated a solid nucleus. Kurt Warner won't have to be an MVP to get this team into the playoffs. St. Louis will be in the mix, simply because nobody knows what Mike Martz is thinking, so how do you game-plan for that? I was all excited about Seattle last year and the Seahawks let me down. I ain't falling for that ruse again.

•Predicted order: Arizona, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco.

AFC East

This division is loaded. New England is to the aughts what Pittsburgh was to the '70s. And the other three teams are no slouches either. But what makes things interesting is that the Patriots lost their two coordinators, said goodbye to playmaking defensive back Ty Law, have a disgruntled superstar in Richard Seymour and probably will be without their heart-and-soul linebacker, Tedy Bruschi. Plus, you just gotta think the odds have to go against them eventually. I think they're going to lose six games.

Miami won 10 games two years ago. Last year the Dolphins lost a bunch of close games. And now they have the second coming of Bill Belichick in coach Nick Saban — at least that's what everybody says. Running back Ronnie Brown, who is my early pick for Rookie of the Year, will make everybody forget Ricky Williams. And for a team in dire need of a big nose tackle to anchor their new 3-4 defense, Miami showed remarkable restraint in waiting until the fifth round of the July 14 supplemental draft to select Southern California defensive tackle Manuel Wright. What a bargain: He's a guy with potential first-round talent and he's huge (6-5, 329 pounds). The biggest question is at quarterback, where two career backups, A.J. Feeley and Gus Frerotte, will battle it out. That's the only thing keeping me from picking the Dolphins first.

In New York, I love Curtis Martin. But at 32, can he duplicate his monster 2004 production (1,697 yards rushing)? Plus I worry about Chad Pennington's shoulder. Buffalo is headed in the right direction — but it will take quarterback J.P. Losman at least a year before he's ready to lead the Bills to the playoffs.

•Predicted order: New England, Miami, N.Y. Jets, Buffalo.

AFC North

Three teams here will be serious playoff contenders. None of them are Cleveland.

Baltimore is a playoff lock. I only say this because Brian Billick handed out his playbook to the media, so now I love him. But look at that roster: Jonathan Ogden, Jamal Lewis, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Todd Heap, Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle, Derrick Mason, Johnny Unitas ... OK, so Kyle Boller is no Johnny Unitas. But he should be serviceable.

The best quarterback in this division is Carson Palmer, who has an arsenal of talent. What's more, he's familiar with it; the Bengals kept their starting offense intact — no easy accomplishment in this day and age.

Most experts will tout Pittsburgh here. The Steelers went 15-1 last year and return the bulk of that team. They will be good, but down the stretch last year, teams picked up on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's tendencies. He'll struggle this year if he can't adapt.

•Predicted order: Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland.

AFC South

If only Peyton Manning could win home-field advantage just once, maybe he could beat those Patriots. And that sentence is what's wrong with Indianapolis — it's always on Manning. The Colts are the class of this weak division, but they're never going to make it to the Super Bowl unless they solve their defensive woes.

Jacksonville and Houston are young, improving teams, but their standing is precarious. It will be interesting to see how the Jaguars' Jack Del Rio matures as a head coach this season. The best thing he has going for himself is quarterback Byron Leftwich and two great defensive tackles, John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. Houston must refine its offensive line to protect its top asset, quarterback David Carr.

• Predicted order: Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Houston, Tennessee.

AFC West

Can San Diego do it again? The Chargers return pretty much intact, and they added two big-time defensive players in rookies Shawne Merriman and Luis Castillo. What's interesting is that they went 12-4 last year and their best player, LaDainian Tomlinson, was bothered with a sore groin for all but the first month.

Oakland is going to be a blast to watch, and I can't imagine a more perfect fit than Randy Moss in silver and black. The shoddy defense ensures there will be a lot of shootouts this season, which is good for TV.

There are too many ex-Browns in Denver for me to get excited about the Broncos. One thing they need to work on is field position; The Denver Post pointed out that the Broncos began 48 drives inside their 20 — 15 more than their opponents. Kansas City finally woke up and tried to address its defensive woes, but now the offense is getting creakily old.

•Predicted order: San Diego, Oakland, Denver, Kansas City.

tiggerpolice 07-21-2005 07:55 AM

RE: It

saintswhodi 07-21-2005 08:52 AM


And for a team in dire need of a big nose tackle to anchor their new 3-4 defense, Miami showed remarkable restraint in waiting until the fifth round of the July 14 supplemental draft to select Southern California defensive tackle Manuel Wright. What a bargain: He's a guy with potential first-round talent and he's huge (6-5, 329 pounds).
Why would this have been a bad idea again? Didn't they say A-Mac had first round talent and we selected him in the 5th? Even I will admit DT is a bigger need position, although I am estatic we have A-Mac.

But I am with you tigger. I do HOPE we win the division, and smack everyone in the face, including me. I will gladly take that smack. :D

ScottyRo 07-21-2005 09:31 AM

We never had the opportunity to take him in the 5th round of the supp. draft.

saintswhodi 07-21-2005 09:54 AM


Originally Posted by ScottyRo
We never had the opportunity to take him in the 5th round of the supp. draft.

We had the opportunity to take him in the 4th.

papz 07-21-2005 10:46 AM

It would be great if we could take the division... but you really couldn't argue with our ranking based on our performance for the past couple of seasons either.

spkb25 07-21-2005 05:37 PM

our ranking and the comments are justified no doubt. i disagree that the eagles are the class of the conf. with or without t.o. they are in trouble if he doesn't come back. i mean yeah they may be able to make the playoffs but i don't think they make it without t.o. their o line needs a little help too. their a little banged up. i listen to the sports radio station wip610am from up in philly on the internet and a lot of people are asking them to pay t.o. if they start off bad and he is still holding out they are going to pay him bet on it. problem is i don't see anyone besides dallas challening them for the div. though. i see carolina if smith is back to naormal and minn. challenging them in the playoffs though and beating them if they don't have t.o.

spkb25 07-21-2005 05:39 PM

when i said the don't think they make it without t.o. i meant to put to the super bowl

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