AFC NORTH CHAMP: Baltimore. The Ravens could win the division with a 9-7 record. There is no “great’ team in this division. Cincy may again give the Ravens the toughest push….but they’re counting on basically a rookie to do that. Watch out for Pittsburgh!
AFC SOUTH CHAMP: Indianapolis. The Colts are just a little bit better than the Titans in my book. Their defense needs to tighten up for them to be Super Bowl bound, however. Jacksonville has got some talent on offense and have worked on getting their defense better. Houston should take another step up.
AFC WEST CHAMP: This is tough…but I’ll stay with KC. Denver’s defense is much improved, but their receiving corp isn’t a good as it was a year ago…..and Portis isn’t there anymore either. At least KC has enough on offense to slug it out with teams to make up for their iffy defense. Ya never know about Da Raidahs.
NFC EAST CHAMP: Philly. The Eagles are just on a different level than everyone else. They have good coaching [which every team in the division does], experience, and now a playmaker at receiver. If McNabb can avoid a slump…they should win this division fairly easily. Everyone else has too many questions…especially at the QB spot. The Skins most likely are the biggest hurdle....but that team may need a year to get Gibbs offensive system down. The Giants will be starting Eli and Dallas may end up giving Henson the nod.
NFC NORTH CHAMP: Minnesota. Yet, you can’t discount Green Bay. But, if Minny can figure out how to not cave in after Halloween…they’ll be alright. Remember, it did take a miracle play to keep them out of the playoffs to begin with. They have Culpepper and Moss to go with a nice stable of backs. The Pack do have Favre and Green.....and the Lions are many people's sleeper pick. The Bears could surprise as well.
NFC SOUTH CHAMP: So tough. I’ll pick Carolina. Why? Well, Atlanta’s defense is horrible…but they do have Vick. T-Bay is turning into Oakland…and they lost Sapp and Lynch. N’Awlins should be there…but lack leadership. Carolina is mentally tough, experienced, and still hail the best defense in the NFC. Carolina pretty much kept their entire NFC Championship team intact. And now John Fox has confidence in Delhomme's passing ability that he may elect to open it up a little to take the burden off of Davis...who wore down as the season went along.
NFC WEST CHAMP: Seattle. That offense has weapons….and their defense is just good enough to keep the Rams at bay. Hasselbeck, Robinson, Jackson and Alexander are scary together. They should only need to worry about the Rams....but we obviously saw how much faith Martz has in Marc Bulger by not letting him pass in the playoffs. There should be no worry about the Cards and Niners.
AFC SURPRISE TEAM: Jacksonville. If Fred Taylor can stay healthy and Byron Leftwich can build on last year’s lessons as quietly having one of the best rookie QB seasons ever….this team has talent all over the field to get the job done. They do have a rather tough schedule though.
NFC SURPRISE TEAM: New Orleans. If Aaron Brooks can cut down on the fumbles…they could win the division and go far in the playoffs. McAllister is a stud! If Joe Horn keeps his mind on making the plays and not the celebrations afterwards….this season could be a treat for the Bayou Boys.
AFC DISAPPOINTMENT: Cincinnati. I’m not sold on Rudi Johnson as their #1 back. And the decision to start Carson Palmer this year reeks of upper management. Also, people downplay how well the Steelers could play with a healthy [and trying to keep his job] Maddox and Duce Staley as the featured back. Cincy does have weapons....but their offensive core hasn't played together yet.
NFC DISAPPOINTMENT: Tampa Bay. With Sapp gone…so are the single blocking schemes for McFarland. And with Lynch gone….so is the fear of receivers going over the middle. Brad Johnson has shown the ability to get himself removed from places after having great seasons. Griese and Simms are sitting there waiting for a shot to take his job. McCardell is holding out….and Galloway is the new Keyshawn.
AFC’S WORST TEAM: San Diego. I wanna say Miami with the Ricky Williams retirement…but their defense is still solid. San Diego isn’t. Their receivers are horrible and they will most likely start either a rookie or a 46 yr old at QB. At least they have Tomlinson who may be the best back in the league.
NFC’S WORST TEAM: San Francisco. And why did they fire Mariucci?? This mighty franchise has now fired a great coach, cut their Pro Bowl QB [Garcia] and dealt their All Pro wide out [Owens]. Salary cap problems have bitten them on the backside…and they are one of those franchises that NO ONE will take mercy on when playing them. They were a 7-9 team that lost a bunch of guys...and only got 3 guys in return. They have young QBs and younger WRs. And, yes...Arizona will be better than them.
FIRST COACH FIRED: Dave Wannestadt. He held onto his job by a thread in the off season…and with Ricky Williams quitting….he seems to have had the tread already cut. The franchise under minded him by hiring Dan Marino as the main guy…then him quitting due to the flack everyone was getting for the hiring. Dave was relieved of his office duties to concentrate on coaching….so he has no excuses. Also, keep an eye in N’Awlins for Jim Haslett’s noose.
WHO WILL BE IN JACKSONVILLE IN FEBRUARY: New England v Philly. Philly couldn’t possibly lose 4 NFC Title games in a row…..could they? The Pats are just too strong and smart to get past a game Colts team.