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The Prophecies (My Predictions from August, 2001):
1) Yes, they look terrible on paper. Yes, they can't run the ball. Yes, their defense is questionable. Yes, there are too many distractions on this team. However, I believe the multiple small additions by the Patriots will pay off.
2) San Francisco 49ers, 12-4. This is my breakout team of the year.
3) If the Rams stay healthy and rank in the Top 20 in Run Defense, they should return to the Super Bowl.
4) I think a lot of people are forgetting that this team (Steelers) finished the season 9-4.
5) Those are two MAJOR blows to a team (NYJ's Jason Ferguson and Santana Moss) that has trouble stopping the run and connecting on deep plays.
6) Tampa Bay; I am so sick and tired of hearing about this team. They want to win the Super Bowl right now instead of concentrating on taking the season one game at a time. At the first sign of trouble, loudmouths DT Warren Sapp and WR Keyshawn Johnson will start blaming everyone in sight and cause separation in the locker room.
7) However, asking the OL of Lomas Brown, Glenn Parker, Dusty Ziegler, Ron Stone, and Luke Petitgout to remain healthy and play at their '00 level may be asking too much.
8) I have no confidence in Rob Johnson to stay healthy, their OL is still terrible, they have no featured back, and their losses in the Front 7 will hurt big time.
9) Mike Holmgren is an excellent offensive mind. However, he can't demand greatness out of a simply average team.
10) Despite the upgrade at QB, the running game and defense will no longer be able to go hand-in-hand (Ravens).
1) Vikings and Titans #1 in each conference. 'Nuff Said.
2) Why does everyone underestimate this team every year? The combination of Daunte Culpepper to Randy Moss and Cris Carter is all this team needs to remain competitive.
3) One question remains for the New Orleans Saints: Why not?
4) This team is on the rise, but won't make the playoffs until Dick Jauron is fired
5) The Cowboys can't stop the run or the pass
6) While Tomlinson signed on Aug. 22, it's possible that his rookie season will be a washout.
7) Once thought to be a great division battle between the Titans and Ravens turned lopsided when Jamal Lewis tore his ACL.
8) Look for WR Tai Streets and a RB currently on the roster other than Garrison Hearst (Paul Smith, Jonas Lewis, or rookie Kevan Barlow) to have breakout seasons, and look for DE Andre Carter to record double digit sacks and win Defensive ROY.
9) don't be surprised if Freddie Mitchell makes a pitch for ROY.
10) Yep, another rebuilding year for the Browns.
The Predictions for This Year
1) New York Jets.
I hate to admit it, but I am impressed with this team. Thanks to sound fundamentals, this team won 10 games and secured a playoff spot in the final week. This year, there are more reasons for optimism on both sides of the ball. WR Santana Moss isn't the quintessential receiver for Paul Hackett's WCO, but his blazing speed will open things up underneath. TE Anthony Becht and WR Laveranues Coles should have their best seasons yet. Six new starters will take the field on defense, notably LB Sam Cowart and CB Donnie Abraham. All are great fits in Herman Edwards' cover-2 scheme.
Record: 12-4, AFC East Champs
2) Miami Dolphins
It's hard to believe the Dolphins went 11-5 last year considering all the deficiencies they had. They couldn't run the ball, their rush defense was below average, they were decimated with injuries on both sides of the ball, and they were one of the worst in the league as far as giveaways and takeaways. The additions of OC Norv Turner and RB Ricky Williams imply a jump into elite status, right? Well, maybe. If games were played on paper, the Redskins and Bucs would have come away with Lombardi Thophies the last two years and the Dolphins are a clear contender for the AFC crown. When I look at this team, I see two reasons to worry: expectations and the trenches. The Dolphins can't get beaten up on both front lines like they did last season. You can be sure of one thing, though. Defeating the New York Jets, even once, will shake the "here we go again" mentality that has haunted this team in late December.
Record: 11-5, Wild Card
3) New England Patriots
TSN's NFL Preview said it best: "It usually takes a year to figure a team out, but they WILL figure you out." The problem with this comment, though, is that prior Super Bowl Champions were dominant on at least one side of the ball. Many are predicting the '02 Patriots to be one of the league's disappointments, including yours truly. No, I will not attempt to belittle the accomplishments of this team last year because I believe the phrase "You got lucky" is a poor excuse for a team's success. Some teams have won Super Bowls with great offenses and great defenses; the Patriots did it with savvy. It worked last season but simply playing smart is hardly a symbol of a dynasty. On paper, this team should be even better. But, as the Patriots showed last season, there is no such thing as a "paper champion". I respect this football team, but I really question how these players will react to the aftermath of a Cinderella season. It will be interesting to see how Tom Brady, Antowain Smith, Troy Brown, and Ty Law handle the pressure.
4) Buffalo Bills
Anyone that has watched Buffalo Bills football over the last two seasons knows that the Quarterback position was unsettled and often times a distraction. Enter Drew Bledsoe, who unlike Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie can make all the reads and all the throws. Eric Moulds should benefit the most. The fact that has averaged 1075 yds over the last 3 seasons with three backup caliber QBs under center is nothing short of amazing. However, if the last two seasons have told us anything, it is that a team must run and stop the run in order to be competitive. As of right now, there are question marks in both areas. I can't say enough about the determination of free agent acquisitions London Fletcher and Eddie Robinson, but the Defensive Line is in complete shambles. Other than Pat Williams, every player along the front four has the same resume: young player with potential. Unless some of this mush turns into muscle, Pat Williams will face constant double teams and the LBs will have their hands full.
1) Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have the key ingredients for a run at the super bowl: run and stop the run. With Bettis expected to make a full recovery and a young front 7 on the verge on dominance, these components should stay in place. Though QB Kordell Stewart silenced a lot of critics last season, he has to show that his intangibles can be the X-factors in important games. Stewart collapsed in the playoffs to the Patriots, the only game that the rushing offense and defense failed to provide adequete support.
Record: 12-4, AFC Central Champs
2) Cincinnati Bengals
There have been three constants with the Bengals for as long as anyone can remember: QB and CB positions will be nightmares, Corey Dillon will make the pro bowl, and the Bengals will have a Top 10 draft pick. This year, I have reason to believe things will be different. LT Levi Jones, a heavily criticized #1 pick, has the potential to be a special run-blocker and should be an improvement over the savvy Richmond Webb. Dillon should have a monster season, perhaps the best in his 5-year career. But the main reason I like this team is their young defense. Takeo Spikes, Brian Simmons, Justin Smith, Steve Foley, and Artrell Hawkins are the nucleus of a defense that could become a cohesive unit. Keep an eye on second-year WR Chad Johnson, whom I believe will be the #1 wideout by the end of the season.
Record: 10-6, Wild Card
3) Cleveland Browns
"Wait `till next year" was a legendary quote of the Brooklyn Dodgers but it's just getting plain old for the Cleveland Browns. Developing fresh faces to aid Tim Couch appears to be a goal that eludes the team every year; this year may be no different with Quincy Morgan struggling with consistency and William Green and Andre Davis buried on the depth chart just weeks before the start of the season. The loss of Jamir Miller hurts, but the success of the defense will depend on the health and development of DE Courtney Brown, DT Gerard Warren, and a young secondary that played light years above expectations last season.
4) Baltimore Ravens
Talk about a team decimated by the salary cap. Elvis Grbac, Sam Gash, Qadry Ismail, Shannon Sharpe, Sam Adams, Rob Burnett, Tony Siragusa, Jamie Sharper, Duane Starks, Corey Harris, Rod Woodson are no longer with the team, forcing a plethora of unproven youngsters into the lineup backed up by late round draftees and practice squad bodies. Had this team retained Sam Adams, I could say with a straight face that the Ravens Defense could remain a consistent force. Instead, undersized Kelly Gregg has the responsibility of tying up double teams; not exactly an ideal situation. I have the utmost respect for Ray Lewis, but I doubt he'll continue to be a dominating force without Adams and Siragusa tying up blocks for him. If Jamal Lewis stays healthy, this team has a chance. If not, this team will struggle just to stay out the cellar.
1) Tennessee Titans
Has Eddie George already hit the wall at age 28? I highly doubt it. He carried the ball 1763 times in his first 5 seasons and was due to hit a roadblock on the fast track to Canton. George's injury-plagued may actually prove to be a blessing in disguise as Steve McNair proved in '01 that he could carry an offense on his oft-injured shoulders. This offense has the potential to be extremely effective all while keeping the turnovers to a minimum. The defense, though, is a different story. The team may live to regret the day they passed on CB Phillip Buchanon, who could have given the team a viable #2 guy to Samari Rolle; I don't think Andre Dyson is that guy. With Kevin Carter already on board, the last thing this team needed was an underachiever like Albert Haynesworth.
Record: 10-6, AFC South Champs
2) Indianapolis Colts
Is it ESPN? Is it his nice-guy personality and award-winning smile? WHY is Tony Dungy considered a top-notch NFL head coach? He should make the defense better… I'll give him that. But this is an underachieving ball club that needed a swift kick in the backside. Although Edgerrin James is back in the huddle, don't forget that a RB very rarely comes back at 100% in the season following a torn ACL. Suddenly, the Colts don't have Dominic Rhodes as a fallback option following a season ending knee injury. The defense should be better (how could it not?) but there are still major question marks at virtually every position. Speed rusher Dwight Freeney will prove to be nothing more than a situational rusher.
3) Jacksonville Jaguars
Tom Coughlin has such an intense look on his face that sometimes I get a sharp feeling on anxiety just watching the Jaguars play. With Keenan McCardell in Tampa and Jimmy Smith ailing for a new contract, Mark Brunell is in for a tough season that could be traumatic if Fred Taylor fails to stay healthy. DTs Gary Walker and Seth Payne packed up and left for Houston, leaving youngsters John Henderson and Marcus Stroud at the DT position. They have the potential to be a dominating tandem, but probably won't bring the consistancy of their predecessors.
4) Houston Texans
GM Charlie Casserly had a good gameplan heading into his first off-season. He wanted to build from the trenches out on both sides of the ball and add talent in later years. Unfortunetly, injuries to Tony Boselli and Ryan Young have turned the OL from strength to a liability. That doesn't bode well for David Carr, who lacks a proven wideout to throw to or a RB to carry the load. Defensively, nearly every player on the Texan front 7 played in a 4-3 alignment last season, which could result in some growing pains. If there's one good thing about this team, it's the CB tandem of Marcus Coleman and Aaron Glenn.
1) San Diego Chargers
Mike Riley, who had the look of a morning recess teacher, will be replaced by Marty ball and the results should be tremendous. Marty likes to run the ball and he should get a lot of mileage off LaDanian Tomlinson, who could challenge the 1500 yd mark. The additions of CB Quentin Jammer (when he signs) and Schottenheimer-favorite Donnie Edwards should markedly improve the defense. Watch out for this team.
Record: 12-4, AFC West Champs
2) Denver Broncos
To say that the Broncos thought they could improve on offense this year would be an understatement, with 7 players on offense having made at least one pro bowl in their careers. But Terrell Davis' injury could have a ripple effect on the entire offense if neither Clinton Portis or Olandis Gary can get the job done. Frankly, I like this offense but I'm not a big Brian Griese fan because a great offensive core is needed around him for success.
3) Oakland Raiders
It shouldn't take long to figure out if Bill Callahan is the right man for the job as the player-friendly coach inherits a ball club filled with veteran talent. This team got a whole lot better with the 1-year rent of DT Sam Adams, who will team with John Parrella to form a potential dominating 1-2 tandem. But offensively, I have a lot of quesitons and I see the possibility of major regression. QB Rich Gannon and RB Charlie Garner were Jon Gruden players and you always have to worry about Jerry Rice and Tim Brown slowing down. Plus, where's the deep threat?
4) Kansas City Chiefs
On the other end of the state that Dick Vermiel brought a world championship to, Chiefs fans mayibe finding out that it took Dicky-V 3 years of failure before he did it. DT Ryan Sims was expected to be the cornerstone of an improved defense, but an ongoing holdout means Derrick Ransom and John Browning assume the position again. That's not good news for a defense that has lost two of its best players, LB Donnie Edwards and FS Jerome Woods. I like the pickup of Johnnie Morton… just wondering what Eddie Kennison has done to warrant a starting job. The Chiefs will be looking for another starting QB after the season; Green will struggle again.