Mr. NFL Diagnostician’s 1999 Preview Changes O’ Plenty How about those free agent signings: Mike Holmgren, Dave Wandstat, Ray Rhodes, Bryan Billick, George Seifert; these all are perennial all-stars. What, you thought I meant the free-agent player market? Yea, that was real exciting. I‟m sure everyone spent the entire spring sweating over the status of Jets TE Kyle Brady. Nope, 1999 will be remembered as the year coaches took over the free agent market. Nine teams have new head coaches this year, and several of the leagues brightest have been courted to become assistants. Mr. NFL Diagnostician predicts that four more openings will occur before the turning of the leaves, or at least before Ryan Leaf turns up in San Diego. St. Louis Rams head Dick Vermeil is one more player complaint away from moving into the broadcasting booth. WFTS‟s Gary Hollern in St. Louis is reporting that the water faucets in the practice facilities are lukewarm. How Cincy head Bruce Coslet stayed on is the $50,000 question. WKRP‟s Les Nessman has more appeal in that city than Bruce. With all-time Bengal receiving leader Carl Pickens refusing to play, however, Bruce will have to do more than win a few Silver Sow awards to keep his job. “Good riddance.” Is that what New Englanders said to Bill Parcels? “How‟s the air down there,” I believe was his response. Pete Carrol‟s job was saved last year by bringing in offensive genius Ernie Zampeze. Good idea for the team, but bad for Carrol, who will be replaced by Ernie soon. Coslet‟s tenure was the $50,000 question, but for the whole Ball O‟ Wax, please explain to me in 10 paragraphs or less how Redskins dead-head Norv Turner kept his job? Use of diagrams is encouraged. The team‟s off-field ownership distractions last year helped Norv keep his scalp. This year, however, new boss Howard Milstein has a tomahawk with Norv‟s name on it. He already tried it out on GM Charlie Casserly, and it fits him well. With their first three games against Dallas, at NY Giants and at NY Jets, Norv will see the ax before their week 5 bye. With half the league having new coaches before mid-season, player performance should be at an all-time high, as players try to prove their worth. Little occurred in player movement this offseason. The Raiders relieved the Saints from duties as holder of the NFL‟s worst quarterbacks, after acquiring Rich Gannon, Heath Shuler and Andre Ware to join Wade Wilson. Running backs took a hard hit, as the Colts lost Marshal Faulk to a trade, the Pack lost backups Travis Jervey and Derrick Holmes to free agency, the Niners lost Garrison Hearst to an injury and Terry Kirby to expansion, the Redskins lost confidence in Terry Allen, the Eagles lost patience with Charlie Garner, the Lions lost Barry Sanders to bad karma, and the Giants won by finally giving up on Tyronne Wheatley. Second-rate wide receivers including the Ismael sisters, Leslie Sheppard, Mark Carrier, Billy Davis, Chris Calloway, Quinn Early, Willie Green, Torrance Small, and Charles Johnson, changed teams. While the Fins somehow, someway, gave up on Fantasy WR of the Year 1999 Ibeanyi Uwaezuoke, currently employed by the Panthers to accompany Mushid Mohammed. Too bad they gave up so soon on Rashid Ismael, they could have formed a United Nations inside Erickson Stadium. Under the “What else is new” column, the Steelers AKA Montreal Expos lost out again on the free agent market, letting go Carnell Lake and Charles Johnson. The Chargers continued their trend of acquiring horrible quarterbacks after a great one retires. Remember Ed Luther, Jon Friesz, Mark Malone, and Billy Joe Tolliver? All of them followed Hall of Famer Dan Fouts. Well, add Eric Kramer and Jim Horribaugh to the list of losers including Craig Wheelihan and Ryan Leaf trying to replace Stan Humphries. The Cowboys can‟t stay out of the headlines, toying between cutting or signing Deion Sanders, and torn between dumping or shooting Leon Lett. The AFC East Forget the Mets, here comes the Jets NY Jets: Few people expected QB Glenn Foley to start once Vinny Testaverde arrived in the big apple last season. An injury to “Axel” Foley made it easy for coach Bill Parcelswho received so many free meals in NY after taking his team to the AFC Championship that he‟s now called “The Seafood Platter”to bring in “V-man”, who had no intentions of giving the starting job back to Foley. “V-man” put up Pro Bowl numbers, but Fantasy Football Leagers (FFLs) should be weary that he also put up great numbers his first year at Cleveland and Baltimore. From there, there was a whole lot of floppin‟ going on. NY waived G Todd Burger, who played more like a Whopper Junior without cheese, and shed no tears when one-game-wonder TE Kyle Brady left for Jacksonville. Avoiding Brady‟s new contract paid for the addition of some much needed veteranship in S Steve Atwater, DE Roman Phifer, and TE Eric Green. The Jets are thick everywhere except for running back. Curtis Martin was supposed to carry the load last year, but instead looked more like he was carrying his laundry. Just 8 touchdowns and a 3.5 average is a pretty sad laundry list for a franchise back. And his one touchdown receiving looks like a big brown stain in his shorts. Behind Martin is Leon Johnson and Jerald Sowell, who combined for a laughable 350 yards last year. This clearly is Martin‟s show, but that might change if he doesn‟t get out of the rinse cycle. THE JETS WILL WIN 11 BECAUSE they have a good veteran corps, few weaknesses, and the best coach in the league. THE JETS WILL LOSE 5 BECAUSE the AFC East is the strongest division in the league, and Vinny is good for a couple 4-interception games. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR big numbers from both Wayne Chrebet and Keyshawn Johnson, and K John Hall. Be weary of Vinny early if he starts throwing interceptions. When he played with Green in Baltimore, they hooked up quite nicely. But don‟t take Green too early, after all, he‟s the reason my health insurance is so high. Martin is sketchy. Miami Dolphins: More than one source had „Fins savior Jimmy J. out the front door and halfway to the University of Miami. He was drawn back in after management dangled former colleague and unbearable coach Dave Wandstat in his face. JJ took the bait and is ready for another mediocre season. The Fins made some pretty suspect off-season moves, bringing in outcasts WR Willie Green, DE Rich Owens, FB Rosy Potts, RB Tyrone Wheatley and G Kevin Gogan. But the biggest move of all might be the one they didn‟t make, instead holding onto RB Kareem Abdul Jabbarski (his new name after the lawsuit with the original Kareem in my coffee). Jabbarski has had some pretty impressive fantasy numbers, but his team effort is lacking and he really tailed off the second half of „97 and „98. JJ will put Jabbarski on a very short leash, with sophomore John Avery, veteran Wheatley, and rookies Cecil Collins and James Johnson in the waiting. Knowing JJ, one of the rookies will get the nod and Jabbarski will be trade bait. Avery likely will return kicks. Whoever wins the back position, expect them to be fruitful behind an impressive line. Marino should be even more frustrated this year with his receiving corps of overcooked noodles, including Green, O.J. Mcduffie, Oronde Gadsden, Lamar Thomas, Troy Drayton, and Bernie Parmalee? How is he still in the NFL? This is the perfect mix for dropped ball soup. Even Flipper can see this as another motive by JJ to edge the Hall of Famer out. Miami defiantly won‟t win this year by the air. So look for a solid ground attack and a very tight defense with the addition of CB Greg Jeffries and holding onto LB Robert Jones and DT Shane Burton. THE „FINS WILL WIN 9 BECAUSE their defense will dominate and Marino will adapt to the gimpy hands of his receivers. Whoever the running back is should produce behind a solid line. THE „FINS WILL LOSE 7 BECAUSE their rushing defense still is shaky, and because Mcduffie is their go to guy down the stretch. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR TE Drayton to come up with big numbers. After all, he can catch the ball without bobbling it. Despite the running game tempo, Marino should be good for 2,500 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Who will lead this team in receiving/rushing is a crap shoot. Stay tuned to JJ-TV for the answer. Buffalo Bills: Now that Bills fans are suffering the hangover effects of Flutie Flakes, they can get back to reality. This is a real, real, old team. How old? Put it this way, team meetings are now held at Horn and Horn so players can get the early bird special and hit the sack. The Bills did little to add some youth to their elderly squad. Junior Antowaine Smith carried the load last year, but still had an average lower than Thurman Thomas, the Col. Potter of running backs. Andrew Reed is expected to be put on the respirator after complaining for more money. Rookie Peerless Price could move into his position. The Bills did lighten their veteran load by dumping WR Quinn Early, LB Wayne Simmons, and LB Chris Spielman. DL Mark Pike also retired, something the team should consider more often. Here are Buffalo‟s offseason acquisitions...QB Scott Cawley from the CFL, TE Eric Stocz from Detroit, and C Dusty Ziegler from the bar down the street. Throw in rookies Price and TE Bobby Collins and you have yourself a mountain of useless movement. What, do they get extra cap room if they bring in guys with the letter “Z” in their name? THE BILLS WILL WIN 8 BECAUSE Flutie is full of magic. I wouldn‟t be surprised if he pulled a rabbit from his center‟s legs rather than a football. Hooking up with WR Eric Moulds should be another friendly relationship. Their defense is still rock hard, and having a weak schedule doesn‟t hurt. THE BILLS WILL LOSE 8 BECAUSE with Reed and Early out of the picture, defenses can key on Moulds. Smith hasn‟t done much to prove himself as a top back. And as stated before, they‟re in the AFC East. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR a big year from Moulds, but don‟t take Flutie too soon, he still has a lot going against him. Buffalo defense will be one of the league‟s strongest, and K Steve Christie can knock it thru in any stadium. Rob Johnson is a good late round pick, in case Flutie falters. TE Jay Riemerma is a sleeper, but not the way you think, he‟s just tired a lot. New England Patriots: The offseason proved to be a snooze-season for the Boston/Hartford/Wal*Mart Patriots. They zonked out in the free agency market, opting not to get some much-needed offensive line help. They were passed out during the draft, letting division rival Miami take RB James Johnson. And they made trades as if they were in REM. The result: This team has two 180-pound wide receivers, a rarely used running back, no offensive line, and a highly suspect defense led by Tedy “bring me another” Bruschi. Maybe the whole team should have a couple brewskis before the game, it will make it a lot more fun when they‟re down 35-10. New England is banking on its future Hall-of-Fame quarterback, all-pro all-the-time tight end, one of the top kickers in the league, and some pretty good cornerbacks. They are still decent enough in these positions to compete in a division lacking running backs, which is their weakest aspect on both sides of the ball. They have no rushing offense, defense, middlefense, paint the fence, you name it, it‟s lacking. This is not the offense desired by real genius Ernie Zampeze, played in the movie by Val Kilmer, who banks on a strong running game inside the red zone. With his corps of running backs, he‟s better off running through the Twilight Zone. The Pats might make a last ditch effort to pick up often injured but never bitter Terry Allen. But anyone behind that offensive line will be a sitting duck. As usual in New England, it‟s in the air. THE PATS WILL WIN 7 BECAUSE the AFC East lacks proven running backs, so they won‟t get run over until late October against Denver. Bledsoe and WRs Terry Glenn, Shawn Jefferson, and Coats have played together long enough to make for a very strong air attack. How long, or actually, how short Drew has to throw the ball could be a problem. THE PATS WILL LOSE 9 BECAUSE Pete Carrol can‟t coach, and Ernie can‟t work his magic without an offensive line or a proven rusher. New England is built to compete in the East, but will get demolished outside their division. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR whoever emerges as the featured running back. No matter how bad he is, he‟ll get playing time. The air attack will be in full effect this year, so taking Drew, Terry, Shawn, or Ben is a safe call. Team defense? Don‟t even think about it. K Adam Vinatieri has a better kicking percentage than Pele. Indianapolis Colts: Indy was one of the busiest teams in the offseason, which was both good and bad. The good news is their defense got a lot better with the addition of Shawn King, Cornelius Bennet and Chad Bratzke and resigning Mark Thomas. More good news, Darick Holmes, a good, young running back, was lured away from the Pack. Even more good news, coach Jim Mora has another year under his belt to form the team to his liking. Now, the bad news. Rik Smits is heading towards retirement. Larry Bird is thinking upper management. And the RCA dome keeps skipping. Oh, and Mr. Offense Marshall Faulk left, did I mention that before? How about Torrance Small leaving? Don‟t forget about “no longer ironhead” Hayward, who‟s tumor operation surely Zestfully cleaned him out of his bank account. Late news: Holmes is out until Yom Kippor. Question: Why was Peyton Manning such a better rookie than Ryan Leaf last year? Answer: It wasn‟t manners classes. It was receivers. Manning had Faulk, the best handed running back in the game, top receivers Small and Marvin Harrison, and sure handed but slow TE Ken Dilger. That‟s four very good receivers to throw to. What did Leaf have? Charlie Jones, Natrone “doesn‟t Means receiver”, Mickal Ricks, and Webster “why am I still playing?” Slaughter. Coach Mora was smart to give the rookie some good hands to throw to, and it worked. Faulk and Small represented nearly half of Manning‟s completions and touchdowns. That‟s a big void to fill, and I don‟t think Derrick Holmes is going to do it. The Colts are banking on rookie Edgerrin James to supply hands out of the backfield. Harrison will take the front of the load, but has very little backup behind him. E.G. Green, and Jerome Pathon could get the start opposite Marvin, which means a lot of double teaming the veteran whose caught 130 passes the past two years. THE COLTS WILL WIN 6 BECAUSE they‟re schedule is awfully weak, playing the Chargers, Eagles, Giants, Bengals, Browns, and downgraded Chiefs. Mora has the smarts to win close games, and his defense certainly will help. THE COLTS WILL LOSE 10 BECAUSE they don‟t have what it takes to compete in the East, where they might go 2-6 if they‟re lucky. Manning has to get used to a lot more dropped balls this year. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR not much here. Offense will be a premium at the RCA dome. Harrison will be keyed on by cornerbacks, and Manning will have a rough season. E. James should be the featured back in the absence of Holmes. Dilger should get more involved in the offense. AFC Central Jags Leap Ahead In Crowded Central Jacksonville Jaguars: Entering just their fifth year, Jacksonville already has made it to the playoffs twice and been to the AFC championship game. Quite the outlook compared to recent expansion teams Carolina (1996 was a flukelook at their other three years), Seattle and Tampa Bay, and newly relocated teams St. Louis, Baltimore, and Oakland. With Pittsburgh‟s demise, the Jags are a shoo-in for their second consecutive division title. But that‟s a given for coach Tom Coughlin, he wants the Super Bowl. This year he should get it. The Jags began last year at 4-0, blowing out teams. Then they went into Mile High Stadium and got a licking. That blow, along with injuries to Mark Brunell and several key defenders put this team on crutches the rest of the year. Although the Jags are still considered a new team, their base squad has been together longer than most NFL teams. Their offense is structured around a huge offensive line, Mark Brunell, one of the best quarterbacks, and a league-leading WR tandem in Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell. The departure of TE Pete Mitchell won‟t hurt this offense a bit, and in fact give the WR tandem more looks considering newly acquired TE Kyle Brady is a better blocker than catcher. The Jags passing game has always been smooth. Last year, they improved their smash- mouth running game. It didn‟t matter who Coughlin threw into the lineup, James Stewart, Fred Taylor, or Tavian Banks, they all proved why Natrone Means‟ career was resurrected in Florida. The Jags offensive line is arguably the best in the league. On defense, the Jags also brought in CB Carnell Lake from Steeltown, and resigned basically their entire defense that ranked 25th last year. Look for them once again to post up, and give up, big numbers. THE JAGS WILL WIN 11 BECAUSE they are healthy, experienced, and ran under a great coaching staff. Their offense far outweighs their suspect defense in a conference scant in point scorers. THE JAGS WILL LOSE 5 BECAUSE their offense will break down here and there, and there defense isn‟t nearly strong enough to hold up. Road games against the Jets, Steel, and Falcons, coupled with home stints versus San Fran and Denver will prove how far this team has come. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR Brunell to have another solid performancegood for 300 yards, 2-3 touchdowns, and 30 yards rushing per game. He‟s been injured every year he‟s been a starter, but he‟s worth taking a chance on. Coughlin likes the running game, so taking either Stewart or Taylor is a good backup pick. Cardell and Smith have been the two most productive receivers the past three years. Don‟t be surprised if Bryan Kinchen catches some TDs. Tennessee Titans: How much of an idiot is coach Jeff Fisher? That‟s what Oiler/Titan/Earl Campbell fans haven‟t figured out yet. It wasn‟t until week 9 last year that Fisher finally understood that his team wins when RB Eddie George has the ball. The first half of last season was a personal effort by Fisher to turn QB Steve McNair into a fantasy quarterback. Didn‟t happen. George averaged 21 carries per game last year, but in reality, those numbers went way up during the second half of the season. That‟s when Tenn. made their playoff run. Coincidence Jeff? Tennessee is not the place for fantasy receivers. None of the seven receivers caught more than 40 passes last year. That‟s because McNair takes off too soon and then looks for a big body in the middle to throw to. With TEs Frank Wycheck (who played back in the day when Earl Campbell introduced the foot-in-the-helmet move) slowing down, McNair should look for Yancy Thigpen and Kevin Dyson more often. Should doesn‟t necessarily mean that he will, however. But the franchise is George, not McNair. Steve is a great runner, but still hasn‟t learned to read defenses, and still holds onto the ball too long. Having a so-so offensive line doesn‟t help either. George is young and good. I think Jimmy Johnson put it best in 1990 when, referring to a prime Emmit Smith, he said “I‟m gonna run him until his wheels fall off,” or something to that effect. George is tall, strong, powerful, a dasher, a slasher, a dancer, a prancer, even a donner, but not a blitzen. He can handle 40-45 carries per game, and if he got that, they‟d get deep into the playoffs (he also would be eligible for Medicare by 35). THE TITANS WILL WIN 9 because George will get 45 carries a few games, and those they will win. The rest of the wins will come against the rest of the Central, minus Jacksonville. THE TITANS WILL LOSE 7 because Fisher still puts too much stock in McNair, and their secondary is a sad, sad shame. If they play anyone in the East, it‟s bombs away. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR George to put up huge numbers. If he doesn‟t get the ball, Fisher should get his brain checked at Midas. McNair was awfully shaky last year, and there has been no view that his confidence is back in workouts. Still, he does run and pass for touchdowns, which drastically takes away George‟s fantasy points. Wycheck is old. Baltimore Ravens: Who in their right mind would put the Ravens ahead of the Steelers? Mr. NFL Diagnostician, and here‟s why. The Ravens got rid of their biggest problems last year: a coach who couldn‟t remember his name, a wide receiver who couldn‟t remember how to catch, a tight end who couldn‟t remember his way out of a doctor‟s office, and a quarterback who couldn‟t remember what he was doing in the NFL. Marchibroda, gone. Jackson, see ya. Green, take your first-aid kit with you. Harbaugh, you were replaced by Scott Mitchell. Scott Mitchell? That‟s reason enough to take the Steelers. However, this team has so much more upside than their previous three seasons because they finally have a coach who‟s not 103 years old. Brian Billick surely has his work cut out for him. His quarterback was last seen smoking a cigar, putting a pillow underneath his shirt, and doing Wayne Fontes impressions. His running back ran for 1000 yards last year, 770 of them came against Cincinnati. His wide receivers run routes like their running away from cops. He has four new tight ends, none of which are proven. And his kicker uses the Pythagerum Theory to line up his field goals. should I continue? Aright, so lets look at the plusses. The Ravens defense is exceptional. Aside from having the best linebacking corps in the league, behind Peter Boulware, Ray Lewis and Jamie Sharper, they shored up their cornerbacks by bringing in James Trapp from Oakland and resigning untoasted Corey Harris. The Ravens again should rack up major points with Jermaine Lewis returning kicks. Now Mitchell is more like Richie Cunningham than Randall. And the Raven receivers look more like Leather Tuskadaro and the Suede‟s than Randy Moss, Jake Reed, and Chris Carter. But give Billick some credit for shaking things up in B-more. If he can get his offensive line to play every down and install some confidence in Mitchell, they‟ll still suck, but at least they will keep their defense from being on the field the entire game. THE RAVS WILL WIN 7 BECAUSE the Central is weak, and so is their outer-division schedule. Adding Quadry Ismail to their outside burners should give defenses troubles. Harry Swayne should help improve disappointing offensive line. THE RAVS WILL LOSE 9 BECAUSE their receivers look more like Emanuel Lewis and Arnold from Different Strokes. Defensive line was picked apart via free agency. Ravs still lack a running game, and Mitchell isn‟t nearly good enough to pick up the slack. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR Mitchell to put up pitiful numbers. He will be as conservative as a Nun at a Bar Crawl. Look for Priest Holmes to again tear up Cincy, but get bagged the rest of the year. He could lead all backs in receptions, though. Eric Rhett should regain his starting position shortly. The Rav defense are masters at turning the ball over and special teams are tops. TE Aaron Pierce? You heard it here first. Pittsburgh Steelers: The City of Pittsburgh has long been known for creating the steel industry, then sitting and watching as Japan learned to make it cheaper and faster. The long term results have been devastating. The football team bearing the same name as the product that once thrived here is suffering from similar results. The Steelers had a remarkable run in the 90s under steel-chinned coach Bill Cowher. However, the mortar and slate of this team has been lured elsewhere since the free agent market opened in 1993, leaving this team with little more than scrap iron. Whereas, most teams have lost [and gained] a small handful worth of significant players to free agency, Pittsburgh has become the NFL warehouse. Darren Perry, Carnel Lake and Charles Johnson join the late-departed group including John Jackson, Leon Searcy, Rod Woodson, Yancy Thigpen, Ray Seals, Kevin Green, and Eric Green. Steel lost even more this year with the retirement of OL Will Wilford. Years of watching prized possessions take the Pittsburgh expressway out of town have left this team with too many holes to fill on both lines. After last season, odds are Cowher wouldn‟t have minded if Kordell Stewart and Jerome Bettis took off as well. Stewart threw 11 TDs to 18 Ints, while Bettis scored only 3 touchdowns. What kind of bus can‟t make it to the endzone? The team has lost all confidence in Stewart‟s quarterbacking ability, and the addition of Kevin Gilbride will make things worse. Kordell could once again occupy a plethora of positions (wide receiver/running back/special teams/massage therapist). Backup Mike Tomzack won‟t fare much better, as his receiving corps is dismal. Steeltown will be banking, once again, on their iron Bettis and his mirror images Chris Fuamatu Ma‟afala and Amos Zereoue. Expect Cowher‟s chin to take a good beating again this year. STEEL WILL WIN 7 BECAUSE Cowher is that good a coach. This might be one of the least talented teams in the league, but Cowher has always put together a strong defense. No matter how bad they get, Three Rivers is still a tough place to play. STEEL WILL LOSE 9 BECAUSE the talent just isn‟t there. This team has become a doormat in fourth quarters because of laying it all out the first three quarters. While they have dropped, most of the division has upgraded. This could be the end for Cowher unless some duckets are put in the team. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR a lot of yardage gained on the ground. Don‟t be surprised if Bettis‟ playing time drops, so think about taking Ma or Ze. TE Mark Bruener is intriguing. Then again, so is the stuff growing behind my toilet. Cleveland Browns: Or San Fran East, as they should be called. Players love it in San Francisco because management takes care of them. They have the best trained conditioning and health staff, the best practice and recuperating equipment, and best facilities in football. Carmen Policy created that environment, and odds are he‟ll do the same for Cleveland. Cleveland based its assembly on strong lines, both sides of the ball, and laid out minimal dough for marquee position players. Tim Couch, once his butt is hauled into camp, will lead the way here. Ty Detmer might start a game or two, but this team is Couch‟s. If Tim is smart, he‟ll throw preseason and watch the first half on the sidelines. That way he can learn as Detmer throws to inadequate receivers, hands the ball off to pure back-up Terry Kirby, and runs for his life after his line finally breaks down. The Browns re-enter the AFC Central, where the offense, or lack of, remains the same. Besides Jacksonville, teams in this division will be lucky to score 13 points per game. That‟s right up Cleveland‟s alley. New Coach Chris Palmer likely will play to the division, banking on a strong running game, with emphasis on defense. Leslie Shepherd leads a weak group of receivers. Look for him and TE Irv Smith to catch the bulk of Couch‟s passes. THE BROWNS WILL WIN 6 BECAUSE Dwight Clark assembled some good, veteran players, and the Browns have the easiest schedule in the league. Policy is smart, picking the pockets of the NFL‟s top teams including six ex-49ers and four ex-Vikings. THE BROWNS WILL LOSE 10 BECAUSE they are indeed, new. Perhaps the only bright quote ever to come out of Redskins coach Norv Turner‟s mouth was that players need time to develop, to learn team strategies, schemes and plays. Cleveland has 45 guys learning a new system, so time is a huge factor. Usually it takes two full years for players to understand their role, so count this season as a wash. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR another team to pick up players. Couch won‟t last long if this team loses their first three games against Steel and at Titan and at Rav. Detmer might be a better fit with small, quick receivers. Kirby, albeit slow and easy to take down, could be the best fantasy player on the team. Smith hooked up well with Ty last year. Cincinnati Bengals: The three hardest questions to answer in sports. Why did the Seattle Supersonics sign Jim MacIllvaine to a 7 year-$35 million deal? Why did catcher Mike Piazza leave beloved Los Angeles for hate-town Florida? And why on earth did Cincy management refrain from firing coach Bruce Coslet? This guy is a joker, a smoker, and a midnight toker. Compare him, looks along, to other coaches and tell me Cowher wouldn‟t beat the crap out of him. He is a male version of Velma from “Scooby Doo,” right down to the orange socks. Cincy is a team knee deep in problems. QB Jeff Blake has been pulled from the starter‟s role so many times he plays with his hanger still in his uniform. TE Tony McGee forgets to use a napkin when he eats cheeseburgers on the sidelines, so footballs just slip out of his hands. The secondary is still trying to bring David Fultcher back after CB Ashley Ambrose left. Leading receiver Carl Pickens would rather do a 1-800-CALL-ATT commercial as David Arquette‟s male lover than put on a Bengal uniform again. And that rushing defense couldn‟t stop Herb Tarlek riding a big wheel from coming through. What‟s the deal, Big Guy? This team needs an Andy Travis to save the day. Their only bright point is Jonny Fever, AKA Jonny Cool, Jonny Dark, Jonny Sunshine, Corey Dillon. Dr. Dillon was shackled last year behind an open-gate offensive line. His numbers were beefed up, however, when the team fell way behind. Expect more of the same this year. THE BENGALS WILL WIN 3 BECAUSE no one loses every game. Their offensive line should improve with Brian DeMarco. Rookie Akili Smith can‟t be worse than Blake, Neil O‟Dorkness or Paul Justin. THE BENGALS WILL LOSE 13 BECAUSE they have nothing. Who‟s running this team, Mrs. Carlson? If so, she better tell Arthur to quit playing with his fishing pole and fire Coslet. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR Dillon to gain 1,200 yards and 6-8 touchdowns. As stated before, he‟ll gain yardage once his team‟s down 35-3. K Doug Pelfrey won‟t get a chance to score often, but when he does he‟s automatic. Blake is to fantasy football as caster oil is to ice cream topping. AFC West Gone Is Elway, But Broncs Stay Winning Way Denver Broncos: Good-bye John Elway, hello Bubby Brister. Got a problem with that? Anyone who watched Bubby play last year realized two things: 1) Coach Mike Shanahan could throw a baboon in at quarterback and not miss a beat. 2) He did. Shanahan has his team running on cruise control, and it doesn‟t look like he‟s gonna need to take it off until the AFC Championship. The Broncs may have the hardest schedule in the league, but they‟re playing in a watered-down AFC West, against a rebuilding Central, and an offensive-struggling East. Once again, this team is too much for the rest of the league. The only foreseeable problem for this team is distributing the ball equally. Expect RB sensation Terrell Davis to slow down a bit, with strong assertion by Shanahan. Davis will still get 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns, but his backups Derek Louville and rookie Olandis Gary will give him more breathers. As for Brister, don‟t laugh if he is taken in the first round. The Broncs still have a great offensive line, the best running back in the league, and three of the best hands in the game in Shannon Sharpe, Rod Smith, and Ed McCaffrey. To makes things even more unfair for the rest of the league, Shanahan prides himself on throwing in a usual mix of quarterback bootlegs, reverses, cross routes, and shuffle passes. We haven‟t even gotten to Jason Elam, the best kicker in the game at the end of last season. No doubt he‟ll score many points again this year. Add that to a terrifying defense with no apparent holes (Darrien Gordon and Steve Atwater were tough losses in the secondary, but Dale Carter‟s presence should help). Perhaps the Broncs only weakness is special teams, which should be used often considering this team‟s offensive firepower. THE BRONCS WILL WIN 13 BECAUSE they are still the best team in the NFL, and Brister proved last year that he can at least match Elway‟s statistics. THE BRONCS WILL LOSE 3 BECAUSE the Raiders always beat them at least once, and they have a very tough schedule. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR anything with an orange Bronco on the side. Receivers, running back, defense, quarterback, kicker, this team was made for fantasy football. Be the smart guy, take Brister first. As for Davis, don‟t expect his numbers to match „98. Seattle Seahawks: How Seattle didn‟t make the playoffs last year with the talent they had is a low damn shame. Ex-coach Scott Erickson must have been using a playbook derived from kindergarten class. Well, Erickson is gone, and in comes Mike Holmgren. Good-bye gradeschool, hello playoffs. It‟s no secret that respect is gained with winning. Just look at Phil Jackson, who rode M.J. for six titles and is now reaping the benefits in L.A. Holmgren is a white-collar coach with a blue-collar clipboard, for now we‟ll bypass his pink-collar undershirt. He built a very good team in Green Bay, and should do even better in Seattle, where winning is as frequent as droughts. Holmgren adopts a team already in place to reach the playoffs. He is very high on QB Jon Kitna, but has also been impressed with Glenn Foley. RB Ricky Watters tore up much yardage last year, 1600 combined with 9 TDs, proving he‟s far from being washed up. A new barrage of receivers should take the heat off speedy, but small Joey Gallaway. Expect bigger Sean Dawkins and Michael Jackson to fill in those slant positions that Holmgren loves. The Hawks unloaded a truckload of disappointments, including WR Brian Blades, S Eric Stokes, QBs Warren Moon and John Friesz, RB Steve Broussard, and DT Dan Saleumoolah. None of their releases should alter the Hawks defense from being tops in the league in turnovers. Perhaps their only weakness is a point man in the offense. Holmgren credits himself for molding Brett Fa-re-vara, so if Jon Kitna is even a shade of Brett, Seattle will stay close to Denver. If he faulters, however, there is not much behind him. THE HAWKS WILL WIN 10 BECAUSE Holmgren is an offensive-minded coach. The defense needs no help, so Mike can focus on Kitna and getting the ball to Watters as much as possible. THE HAWKS WILL LOSE 6 BECAUSE, like the rest of the league, they‟re far from Denver. Seattle still has a hard time winning in the west, so expect them to drop games at Arrowhead, Oakland, and even Qualcomm. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR their defense to crush once again. Watters is always a safe bet for 1,700 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns. Kitna is a question mark. If he doesn‟t perform early, Holmgren will yank him in favor of a Foley. Kansas City Chiefs: Marty did what Cowher should have donebail ship. Marty saw this puppy sinking fast so he bolted at just the right time. Now it‟s up to his colleagues to sustain the damage. The Chiefs have been flirting with disaster for years in sticking with the simple game plan of running the ball, minimizing turnovers, and relying on defense. Last year, KC saw Elvis Grrrrback cough up the ball behind a shaky offensive line, running backs running backwards more than forwards, and their Swiss cheese defense get ran and passed over. This year expect worse. KC‟s best defender, Dale Carter fled to rival Denver, and their once potent linebacking corps now looks more like Flintstone vitamins. Elvis is ready for another disappointing, injury-laden, season. There was a reason why he was a #3 quarterback in San Fran. KC obviously went to the bay-area well once too often. KC actually has a decent receiving tandem of Andre Rison and Derrick Alexander. But they are taking a lot of stock in Crackhead Morris, who has his own cell in Texas. As one noteworthy 80‟s rap group put it, “Your heading for self-destruction.” THE CHIEFS WILL WIN 6 BECAUSE Gunner Nelson will stay the mark, steering clear of passing and turning the ball over. So teams are going to have to beat them the old fashioned way, by driving 80 yards in 8 minutes of play for a touchdown. This take-your- time style of play should give Chief‟s fans plenty of time to make it back home for the 4:00 games. THE CHEIFS WILL LOSE 10 BECAUSE they‟ll slug it out with the bottom of the AFC West, but won‟t keep up with teams with some offensive firepower. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR Grback to average 140 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions on a good game. Morris, when healthy and free of charges, is a touchdown fiend. He‟s worth taking early, but keep an eye on the crime reports. Alexander should be the go-to-receiver, but that‟s not saying much with this team. Oakland Raiders: Was Al Davis for real when he brought Rich Gannon, Andre Ware and Heath Shuler into camp to fight for a quarterbacking job? Why not just bring in the Pep Boys, at least people love them. WR Tim Brown should have bolted Oakland two years ago when he had the chance. Now he‟s stuck in quarterback larvae with three of the worst in the league. Despite the quarterbacking flaws, the Raiders should play decent this year...if they listen to head coach and MADD sponsor Jon Gruden. Gruden won the battle against Jeff George, but will now be inclined to just win baby or just take the next bus out of here, baby, by owner Alex Davis. Just a thought, bus tickets are cheaper if you buy them three months in advance. The Raiders have gotten old very fast. Tim Brown comes off his least productive season of his career. Gruden realized early that James Jett doesn‟t have the size or hands to be a full-time receiver. Harvey Williams has “chicken neck” disease. And franchise RB Napoleon Kaufmann likes to Kauf up the ball too much. The Raiders offensive line is one of the biggest, but not the strongest. Maybe Gruden should enforce a two twinkie minimum before games. Their defense isn‟t much better, with the exception of their cornerbacks. The Silver and Black will take a lot of flack this year as Gruden filters out the old. Rebuilding year? That‟s an understatement. THE RAIDERS WILL WIN 6 BECAUSE they are a veteran team and still full of talent, although those glory days are fading fast. With Barry gone, Kaufmann could be the quickest back to turn a corner. Gannon isn‟t half bad. THE RAIDERS WILL LOSE 10 BECAUSE Gannon is all bad. Their defense, to put it eloquently, will down right stink this year. With the departure of James Trapp, even the Raiders secondary, longtime their cornerstone, is a question mark. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR Brown and Jett to split time, with Brown getting more yardage and Jeff having more touchdowns. Neither will be impressive. Kaufmann had a slow year and should speed up with a new contract. Don‟t be surprised if some new faces appear in these positions as Gruden tries to infuse some new blood. TE Ricky Dudley is one dropped ball away from the Arena league. San Diego Chargers: Talk about rebuilding years. What is this, the Wilson Bridge renovation project? What ever happened to GM genius Bobby Beatherd? Is he spending too much time at La Jolla Cove? Drinking too many margaritas in Tijuanna? Learning how to surf, what? San Diego has made some awful chess moves the past two years. Replacing Tony Martin with Webster Slaughter. Bishop takes knight. Throwing rookie Ryan Leaf on a team with no hands. Pawn takes bishop. Bringing in Jim Horribaugh and Eric Kramer to solve the quarterbacking problem. Queen takes out left side of board. Letting go Darien Gordon. Pawns take everyone taller. Hiring Kevin “look out for Buddy Ryan‟s left” Gilbride as coach. King commits suicide. The Bolts are so far away from making the playoffs they might as well place Qualcomm stadium in the Pacific Ocean. Let‟s see what new coach Riley can do here. San Diego did little, and I mean little, to improve their situation. They‟re banking on Natrone Means arriving in camp in good shape for a second straight yearsomething he hasn‟t done since McDonalds began its 2 for $2.22 promotion. Behind Natrone is undersized and slow Terrel Fletcher, and behind him is the hot dog vender. The Bolts receiving corpse of Mikheal Ricks, Charlie Jones, Bryan Still, and Jeff Graham could be the league‟s worst. If Seau takes on TE duties, as Riley has mentioned, this defense will crumble. THE BOLTS WILL WIN 5 BECAUSE I don‟t know, because of strong will and desire. With Harbaugh in, they‟ll turn the ball over a lot less than last year, which should keep them in games longer. THE BOLTS WILL LOSE 11 BECAUSE they got royally screwed by the schedulemakers by placing their bye week at week 1. The key players on this team will be taking a huge beating, and without a mid-season break, will be on the IR early and often. Riley needs receivers before he can get his offense off the ground. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR Natrone to mean injuries. He‟s been injured every year since his sophomore season. Harbaugh has always had a soft spot for tight ends, so Freddie Jones should get a lot of looks. Junior at TE? Awfully intriguing. K John Carney doesn‟t like to miss. It‟s In The Cards NFC East Arizona Cardinals: Anyone who wants to see how good this Cardinal team really is will find out by mid-season. Arizona plays its toughest schedule since Dan Dierdorf was wreaking havoc on running backs while the team was still stationed in St. Louis. The Cards take on the league‟s fourth hardest schedule in „99, where for the first time, they‟ll be looking forward to playing inter-division games. Coach Vince Tobin‟s team put together an excellent season last year, going to the second round of the playoffs after humiliating Dallas at Laundry Stadium. The Cards made some smart moves in the offseason by making hardly any moves at all. Instead, they resigned 16 players, most of them on defense, and picked up aging LB Rob Fredrickson to replace Jamir Miller, who went to Cleveland. Arizona‟s offense should improve as QB Jake Plummer puts another year under his belt. Plummer has turned into a pretty good fantasy quarterback who can throw the bomb, make the big runs, and take some hits. Still, Tobin knows Jake must reduce his rate of 35 interceptions the past two years if the Cards wants to beat playoff teams. Wrs Frank Saunders and Rob Moore will get some much needed help this year with the drafting of David Boston. Boston has a lot of upside. He comes from a good school, Ohio State, home of Cris Carter, Joey Galloway and Terry Glenn. He has the makeup and ability that mirrors Randy Moss. He‟s got a good attitude. And he‟s got a tall, strong quarterback that likes to haul it downfield. Adrian Murrell‟s season seemed a bit of a wash, considering he barely hopped over 1,000 yards. Backup Mario Bates scored six touchdowns, but none from without three yards. Murrell needs to have a better season, so defenses won‟t stock their secondary expecting „Zona to throw every timewhich they are inclined to do. THE CARDS WILL WIN 10 BECAUSE there‟s a lot of upside to this team. Their defense is stacked, and their offense has a good balance of youth and veteranship. Expect a lot of passing and aggressive plays that will shake up this downgraded division. THE CARDS WILL LOSE 6 BECAUSE they are, after all, the Cards. They won‟t get blown out of any games, but they will stick to their true form and lose a few heartbreakers. The Cards also are putting a lot of stock in Murrell by letting Larry Centers go. Their offensive line may be their weakest point, which should make the undersized Murrell linebacker bait. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR the Snake to put up a lot of yards, points, and interceptions. A weaker line means he‟ll get rushed more. And Jake still tries to make the play instead of wisely throwing the ball away. Murrell should get back to 1,000 yards, but don‟t expect more TDs than his 8 last year. TEs Johnny McWilliams and Chris Gedney are battling three others for that position. Doesn‟t matter because Jake only threw to tight ends 50 times all of last year. Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys are old, I mean really old. Remember how I mentioned that the Bills were aging, well this team is just a couple players away from Trembling Hills Old Age Home. The addition of Raghib Ismail to the receiving corps already with Ernie Mills, who fit in nicely last year, and Irvin make this offense still potent. TE David LeFleur (pronounced La-Yogurt) had surgery in May, so is questionable. Coach Chan Gailey likes using Emmitt out of the backfield as a receiver, which should bolster his stats this year compared to last, when he scored 15 TDs. Chris Warren didn‟t‟ do much last year, but should take a much stronger role since he‟s healthy from the beginning. Warren is a solid back, but is running behind a line that‟s eligible for Medicaid. The Dallas defense is just as old, and banged up. Leon Lett is out for several weeks due to his addiction problems, Neon Deion Sanders has a hurt little, whittle, toe, and is out for several weeks. They lost Nate Newton to free agency. The rest of the defense is cashing social security checks. THE BOYS WILL WIN 9 BECAUSE their schedule is soft, and they play the Skins, Giants, and Eagles twice. Their offense still has some firepower left, but that line is gaining wrinkles fast. THE BOYS WILL LOSE 7 BECAUSE Aikman again has to get used to a new receiver. He did well with Mills last year, but lost Irvin in the transmission. Troy‟s gonna have a lot less time to get rid of the ball. And Big D really can‟t play a ball control offense with their highly suspect defense. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR Smith to put up decent rushing and receiving numbers. Troy and Mills looked good last year, so stay high on Ernie. But Aikman‟s never been a fantasy quarterback. What makes you think a much worse line will help? Richie Cunningham can kick the ball through Fonzi‟s window into the kitchen sink. Washington Redskins: Ever wonder why things can‟t get done in the Nation‟s capital? Well, don‟t look at the sports teams there for answers. The Redskins have been run be a partisan committee ever since Joe Gibbs left. This team has been pulled in every direction...but up. Expect that to continue under the watchful eye and acne face of Norv Turner, who enters his fourth straight do or die season, still yet to make the playoffs. This year should nail the end for Norv, but I say should because at 0-7 last year, I thought not even being chained to the field goal posts would keep Norv from being hauled out of there. Well, Norv is back, but his cast of Sweathogs has left him. The Skins vetoed all three of their quarterbacks (Gus “Fore-not”, Trent Greene, Jeff Hostetler), their leading running back (Terry Allen), their rising receiver (Leslie Shepherd) and starting tight end (Jamie Asher). That‟s just on offense. They also gave a Congressional pardon to safety Jesse Campbell, DE Jamal “Duff Beer”, LB Marv-cus Patton (why not just Marcus?) and CB Chris “Who‟s guarding that man, oh I am,” Dishman. In return the Skins brought in an omnibus group of players including DE Marco “POLO!” Coleman, S Sam “Out of the” Shade, LB Fred “Don‟t call me Rod” Strickland, and QB Brad “the real Richie Cunningham” Johnson. All these players, in addition to half the remaining team of starters, are injury prone, which is a saying heard around here as often as “intern.” THE SKINS WILL WIN 7 BECAUSE they have assembled a good amount of talent, and their schedule is much easier than 1998. Their offense will struggle without proven wide receivers, a new QB, and second-rate backs, but their defense has improved remarkably. THE SKINS WILL LOSE 9 BECAUSE defenses win superbowls, but offenses get you there. Brad Johnson is a great leader, but he hasn‟t consistently played in 3 years. Coming into training camp in crutches isn‟t a good sign of things to come. RBs Skip Hicks and Stephen Davis should carry the load...of laundry that is. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR second year TE Stephen Alexander to lead this team in catches and possibly TDs. Westbrook is yet to string three strong games together in his entire career. If he simmers, look for way upper management to press for Connell to move up. Irving Fryer might be a good late round pick. NY Giants: Let me get this straight. The Giants get rid of safe, but effective QB Danny Kanell for dangerous and drunk Kerry Collins. Then they say “see ya” to leading receiver Chris Calloway and resign leading loser Fred Brock. Then they lose a veteran TE (Alfred Pupunu-Sununu) and a great prospect (Aaron Pierce) and gain two no names (Scott Pollack and Scott Dragos) and Pete Mitchell, who‟s legs are way beyond 7 years-150,000 miles. Since when does Wes Unseld provide consultation to the NFL? In short, the Giants took a, well, giant step backwards in the offseason. One could argue that at least they lightened their running back load. But they drafted Joe Montgomery and Sean Bennett to challenge Gary Brown, Charles Way and Tiki‟s Bar and Grill. Expect Brown to win outright. Don‟t put too much stock in Ike Hilliard or Amani Toomer, except when playing Scrabble and having to use up all your vowels. Please don‟t forget that you have to have someone throw you the ball in order for it to be a reception. And Collins and backup Kent Graham aren‟t exactly spiral-throwing quarterbacks, now are they? The Giants will again do it with defense, which is fine because no team in this division has the sparks to light up the scoring table week in and out. Jim Fassel likes to play conservative, so expect a lot more rushing than passing, and for them to punt on every 4th and inches. THE GIANTS WILL WIN 5 BECAUSE minus a couple teams, none of which are in the East, the NFC is scarce on offensive talent. The past few years NY has dominated their division, so even with a downgrade they should win a few. THE GIANTS WILL LOSE 11 BECAUSE their defense is a lot thinner with the departure of Corey Miller, Carlton Gray, and Chad Bratzke. Their offense is going to have to come up with points sooner or later, but that will only happen if they pick up another QB. Collins has shown no signs that he can be a team leader, but he sure can kill a two-liter of JD. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR Collins to struggle, get benched, then return after Graham struggles. Tiki Barber has turned into a nice receiving back and could lead this team in total yards. Brown‟s 1,000-yard season last year is the reason why gaining 1,000 yards in 16 games is no longer impressive. K Brad Daluiso took only 27 field goal attempts last yearamong the lowest in the league. Keep in mind that all six of his misses were inside 45 yards. Philadelphia Eagles: Unlike their conference counterparts, the Eagles had a very productive offseason, but don‟t get too excited, they‟re still a ways from winning. The mid-90s Eagles that consistently went to the playoffs and lost in the first round are gone. Even longtime Eagle and longertime Pat Irving Fryar has hung up his cleats, or at least asked someone to do it for him. The Eagles are banking on youth to put them back into the playoff race. New coach Andy Reid is high on ex-Pack Doug Pederson, but don‟t take too much stock in that. Rookie Donovan McNabb should see plenty of snaps. Last year‟s starter, Bobby Hoying, should see plenty of towel duty. With the promotion of Duce Staley to starting RB, the exit of Jeff Graham and Freddie Soloman, and the retirement of Fryar, Philly is banking on some new hands to give their quarterbacks some help. WRs Charles Johnson and Torrance Small both came on strong the second half of last year, and immediately pose problems for opponent‟s backfields. This is far from the hard-nosed team that Ray Rhodes built. Philly‟s defense has been sliding downward, and could record more errors than their colleagues who occupy the Vet in the summer. While Reid has restructured and spent most of his time on offense, he will soon learn how bad his defense has gotten. THE EAGLES WILL WIN 5 BECAUSE they have two good prospects in Pederson and McNabb, and a lot of responsible hands to throw to. Their offensive line should give them time to look off primary receivers and find holes in the secondary. THE EAGLES WILL LOSE 11 BECAUSE Duce Staley is not a starting running back. He‟s not big (220 pounds), not fast, and is prone to injury. Don‟t expect any help from the kicking department. Chris Bonoil puts the excitement back in the extra point, and David Akers wasn‟t good enough to replace Chip Loemiller in Washington. As said before, forget about the defense. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR a good year from Johnson and Small as the Eagles open up their offense for the first time since Ron Jawarski. Pederson is the opening day starter, and should keep McNabb on the bench for the better part of the season. If Duce doesn‟t do it on the run, he‟ll do it through the air. Behind Staley is a whole lot of nothing. Vikes Have The Arms To Go With The Hands NFC Central Minnesota Vikings: Ironic, isn‟t it? K Gary Anderson makes a record 46 straight field goals, including a perfect 35-35 during the season, then misses a 38-yard boner shot to go to the Superbowl. I wish there was a morale to this story, but it‟s just plain bad luck. The Vikes didn‟t take the loss lightly. They plan on storming through the season once again, ignoring the fact that they play the sixth hardest schedule. The difference this year, coach Dennis Green maintains, is Moss. Not Randy Moss though, it‟ll be tough for him to top last year‟s 1,300 yards and 17 TDs, but resigned OL Eric Moss. Falcs QB Chris Chandler exposed the Vikings too-aggressive defense in the NFC championship. Atlanta didn‟t get fazed by the high-energy Viking offense, and instead played a ball-control precise offense that cut up the Vike defense. This year could be different, with „Sota bringing in LBs Corey Miller and John Burrough, and persuading DT Devin Wyman to leave Patville. The additions leave the Vikes heavy in the middle, which should keep teams from beating them with slants and draws. Do I even need to mention the offense? Cris Carter, Jake Reed, TE Andrew Glover, and the other Moss will once again destroy secondaries. RB Robert Smith was heavy on yards last year, but light on touchdowns, thanks to yet another injury and good running by Leroy Hoard. Then again with this offense, 350-pound Denny Green could bring home 1,000 yards. Perhaps the only thing this offense lacks is clarity. Have you heard Randy talk yet? THE VIKES WILL WIN 13 BECAUSE this offense is crazy-good. To think that Jake Reed is their third option is scary. Minnesota won‟t even need their defense until the playoffs, which gives Moss and company plenty of time to fill in that shallow secondary. THE VIKES WILL LOSE 3 BECAUSE no one goes undefeated. But if they are still without a loss after a Mile High date on Halloween, members of the „72 Fins better start worrying. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR anyone in purple to pick up. Even Glover is good for 500 yards and 5 touchdowns. Expect Moss‟s numbers to reduce a little, and CC to once again catch many touchdowns. The Vikes tried to unload Jake Reed, so his time might again be diminished. Randall Cunningham is a good first round pick, but backup Jeff George is a great third rounder. Green Bay Packers: The Pack ain‟t back. Green Bay did a lot of ho-hum shuffling in the offseason. But one position is still voidcoach. Mike Holmgren left a huge hole when he left for silver and blue pastures in Seattle. Now it‟s up to Ray Rhodes and Sherman Lewis to keep this team from further degrading. Many say that Sherman was the brains behind the GB offense, but keep in mind that Holmgren still called the shots. Rhodes will give Sherman total reign on offense while he nails down a defense that lost Reggie White, Lamont Hollinquest, and is dealing with a very old Santana Dodson. The Pack will still survive and do well with a veteran offense. QB Brett Favre comes off his worst season, where he still threw for 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns. Green Bay should have a better offensive line this year with the acquisition of Raleigh McKenzie. RB Dorsey “unLevens bread” is one of the best pass-catching backs and should be fully recovered from his injury last year. With the departure of Travis Jervey and Darick Holmes, GB is awfully thin behind the vulnerable Levens. Robert Brooks wasn‟t a factor last year, so his retirement shouldn‟t affect one of the leagues best receivers. THE PACK WILL WIN 10 BECAUSE many of these guys know the clock is ticking and this could be their last shot. Coach Ray Rhodes is an excellent motivating coach, so should keep this team rolling during the season. Even with a weak defense, this team still has the best quarterback and best hands-receivers in the game to keep them ahead. THE PACK WILL LOSE 6 BECAUSE they still can‟t beat Dallas, and they‟ll be lucky if they win one against the Vikes. As good as Rhodes is at motivating, he‟s be no means a technical coach, which is why Philly lost so many close games. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR the same numbers you always see from Favre...but with fewer Ints than last year. With no one behind him, Levens should be the most productive back in the league...until he pulls a hammy. TE Mark Chmura is canned like sardines. Pick up Tyrone Davis instead, he‟s got some young legs. K Ryan Longwell didn‟t hit a field goal over 45 yards all last season, and missed two PATs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: What can you say about the Bucs? Are they the toughest villain on the high seas? Put it this way, they might cut their way through the Raiders, but they have as good a chance as Capt. Hook defeating the giant crocodile as surviving a Viking ship. The Bucs are loaded with defensive talent, which is a true testimony to their defensive-oriented coach, Tony Dungy. No doubt the Bucs have the nastiest defense in the Central. And playing at Raymond James Stadium with the huge Pirate ship is quite an advantage. But as far as offense goes, this team is as scarce as a sober two-eyed pirate with all his teeth. The Bucs have been waiting for QB Trent Dilfer to earn his parrot, but instead he looks like he‟s got a mouse on his shoulder. Dilfer had a good preseason, but new mate Eric Zeier had a better one. Zeier has a bullet arm, good mobility, and can read defenses as well as any starter. But he‟s short, and after averaging 4-8 batted balls per game in Baltimore last year, he was giving his walking papers, off the Inner Harbor plank. Tampa‟s wide receiving corps could be the NFL sorriest. Reidel Anthony led the team with just 700 yards, and no other receiver had more than two touchdowns. TE Dave Moore is a good red-zone receiver, but his catches are limited. Expect the Bucs to do it on the ground again, with Warrick Dunn gaining 1,300 yards and Mike Alstott scoring 8-10 touchdowns. THE BUCS WILL WIN 8 BECAUSE they get a lot of help from their defense. Both Zeire or Dilfer are conservative, and neither Dunn or Alstott fumbles much, so the Bucs should once again be tops in least offensive turnovers. Expect at least 6, if not all, of those wins to be at home. THE BUCS WILL LOSE 8 BECAUSE they have no firepower. Bringing in WR Tony Bland from Minnesota won‟t make this group any tastier either. Expect defenses to put 8 men on the line and force their unproven quarterbacks to throw deep. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR the TB defense to be picked right behind Seattle. K Michael Husted was released in favor of rookie Martin “Give me a G for” Gramatica. Anything should be an improvement from Husted, who missed a quarter of his field goals in „98. As for other offense, check the next ship. Detroit Lions: Well, the post-Barry era begins...a bit sooner than motor city fans were expecting. I wouldn‟t say good riddance, but how about thanks for the memories. Barry may have been the best back ever constructed, but it wasn‟t easy for his teammates, who had to constantly guess where he was moving and try to get out of his way. It was equally hard for Wayne Fonts and Bobby Ross to deal with someone who can break one open at any time, but in the meantime gets negative yards. But don‟t count Detroit too low. QB Charlie Batch was quietly the most productive of all the rookies last year, throwing for 2,000 yards and 11 TDs in this running-oriented offense. Coach Ross should give him the green light this year to heave it up to two of the bigger receivers in the league, Herman Moore and Johnny Morton. Neither did much last year in touchdowns, but then again, neither did the rest of the team. The entire offense scored fewer touchdowns than Brett Favre, who notably had an off year. Detroit‟s running game will seriously lag this year, with Ron Rivers or rookie Sedrick Irvin picking up the slack, and touchdown Tommy Vardell gone to San Francisco. Don‟t expect a very mediocre defense to sustain the offenses inadequacies. THE LIONS WILL WIN 5 BECAUSE I don‟t know why, because I like the way Charlie Batch‟s mom wears those Jerry-curls. THE LIONS WILL LOSE 11 BECAUSE Batch needs another year of polishing and this team has an awful running game. If Detroit can pick up a decent back, it‟ll improve them slightly. Detroit defense is solid, but they don‟t force turnovers. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR Batch to have an awful passing year, but post good TD numbers lobbing it up to Moore and Morton and running it in himself. Rivers was impressive when he ran last year, and Ross likes the running game, so he could be a good pick. If Barry is available in the later rounds, pick him up. Chicago Bears: The Bears spent many years bashing heads as the toughest team in the Black and Blue division. As if you haven‟t noticed, now is payback time. The „99 Bears have an entirely new coaching staff, including new head Dick Jauron and offensive coordinator Gary “Air „em up” Crowton. They also have a bright, young quarterback in Cade McNown, and no one to challenge his position. Expect Crowton to give Cade plenty of slack in his growing pains, and expect the Bears to post up some huge turnover numbers. Although two of the most talented WRs in the league, Curtis Conway clearly has lost his confidence and Bobby Engram can‟t catch anything underneath. The Bears have no back that can catch 50-60 balls per game, and brought in a few no names to compete for the number 3 spot. This is defiantly a try-out year for the new-look, pass-happy Bears. Which surely will lead to a lot of old-feeling, frequent frown faces from Jauron. THE BEARS WILL WIN 4 BECAUSE of El Nino, and a little help from RB Curtis Enis. THE BEARS WILL LOSE 12 BECAUSE new quarterback + shaken receivers + unproven back + no defense = cellar. And you thought the „98 Bulls were bad. FFL‟s SHOULD LOOK FOR Cade to air it out, and watch defenses to run „em back. Enis should take a large load, but who knows how injury prone he is. A lot of responsibility should be put on Conway to help out the rookie quarterback. Chicago hasn‟t had too much good fortune with Alonzo‟s, so don‟t expect much from last year‟s holdout TE Alonzo Mayes. K Jeff Jaeger“meister” is a safe pick, no matter how many shots you‟ve had. Changes Have West Watching Their Backs The NFC West San Francisco 49ers: Whoever thought that the NFL‟s best backs could be in the NFC West? Amazing, but true. The West overnight turned a pass-happy division into a ground-controlled style. Well, let‟s not go that far. But with the addition of Ricky Williams, Marshall Faulk, Lawrence Phillips joining Freddie Lane and Jamal Anderson, expect all these teams to get more yardage on the ground. Speaking of whoever thoughts, who the heck ever thought San Francisco would see another 1,500 yard back? Garrison Hearst took advantage of defenses squaring on the pass by busting through shallow defensive lines and dragging safeties around. Expect Lawrence Phillips to do the same in his place. San Fran won the firesale sweepstakes this year by watching nearly their entire second team go to Cleveland. That was in addition to losing Chris Doleman to retirement and Kevin Gogan to Miami (notice how San Fran never loses players to other teams in their division?) Luckily their starters are pretty much in tact. San Fran again will make a strong bid for most powerful offense. QB Steve Young scored a ridiculous 42 touchdowns last year, representing 70 per cent of their scores. He also gained nearly 5,000 yards on the ground and in the air. Whether Jerry Rice accepts a second receiver role or not doesn‟t matter. Even when complaining, he catches 6 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. The only question mark is Phillips, who besides having social problems, didn‟t exactly tear up the field while in St. Louie or Miami. Phillips is a strong back with Eric Dickerson qualities, but he‟s been marked as easy to take down. Backup Travis Jervey isn‟t an everyday back and FB Tommy Vardell won‟t get the ball that much inside the 5, so this is Phillips‟ show. THE 49ERS WILL WIN 10 BECAUSE they are easily the second best offensive team in the league. Even if their defense gives up 28 points, they averaged nearly 31 per game last year. Losing CB Antonio “toast” Langham and DB Marquez Pope can only improve their D. THE 49ERS WILL LOSE 6 BECAUSE the West is getting tougher. Whereas two years ago you could ink them for going 7-1 in the division, this year they might not even go 4- 4. Other teams will play ball control against San Fran, which will leave their offense on the sidelines. FFLs SHOULD LOOK FOR this offense once again to explode. TE Greg Clark resumes solo duties after Irv Smith went to Cleveland. San Fran TEs are always good for 500 yards and 5 touchdowns. K Wade Richey made only 66 percent of his field goals last year, and missed two extra points. He‟s not even automatic on Sega Madden „99. Atlanta Falcons: A concussion-happy quarterback, a holdout running back, an aging defense and overrated wide receivers. Is this 1998 revisited? Not much has changed for Hotlanta, and why should it, they did go to the Superbowl, didn‟t they? Once again, they‟ll be depending on their offensive line to protect Chris Chandler, Jamal Anderson to carry the load, for their receivers to run precise routes, and for their defense to give it one more go around. To think that coach Dan “Elway Sucks” Reeves pondered benching Anderson last preseason in favor of Byron Hanspard. Jamal took care of that in a hurry, on his way to close to 2,000 yards and 14 touchdowns. He‟s an absolute monster at running back, shades of Natrone Means in the Chargers „93 Cinderella season when he bowled over linebackers and left safeties grabbing air. With Tony Martin gone, Atlanta loses a lot of speed. So expect a lot more passes to TE O.J. Santiago down the middle and slants for WR Chris Calloway. It‟s been said time and time again that when healthy, Chris Chandler is tops in the league. And he proved that last year by throwing for 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns....but with only 12 ints. If Chandler goes down, and he will, trust me, don‟t expect Danny Kanell to pick up the slack. In fact, the only thing Kanell will be picking up is himself off the lawn after waiting too long to throw the pass. THE FALCS WILL WIN 10 BECAUSE although a bit weaker and less motivated than last year‟s dream season, this team still has a workable defense and the second best back in the game. As long as Chandler‟s at the helm, defense‟s can‟t put 8 men on the line. He did a good job at staying healthy most of last year, and has found new life under Reeves. THE FALCS WILL LOSE 6 BECAUSE even in his best seasons, Chandler is good for missing a couple games. When that happens, they will lose. The loss of Martin really puts a hurtin‟ on this team‟s deep game. Safeties now can move up to help out on slants and running plays. FFLs SHOULD LOOK FOR Mathis‟ numbers to drop as Atlanta incorporates more receivers into their game plan. Conversely, Santiago could catch 50 balls this year. Anderson is a top pick, but Chandler has too much sick-leave to be an early selection. 80- year old Morten Anderson can still split the uprights, he just needs some Geritol first. New Orleans Saints: Welcome to the NFL quarterback Hall of Shame. Over to the left, we have Billy Joe Hobert, best known for passing notes during practices in Oakland. Next to Billy Joe, is well, Billy Joe, Tolliver that is, who‟s main achievement was passing on a quick selling hair gel scheme comprised by former teammate Junior Seau. Over here is Heismann trophy winner Danny Wuerffel, a top guy in passing the buck, so his teammates say. And finally, lets not forget about Jake Delhomme, who‟s the master at passing gas. As bad as this lineup is, it‟s hard to believe that it was worse last year when they also had Kerry “my favorite inning is the bottom of the fifth” Collins and Heath “the ground is not a receiver” Shuler. Any wonder why this team barely completed half their passes last year and scored only 19 touchdowns through the air? Who they pass to will be just as scary. Gone is Quadry Ismail and Sean Dawkins. New O. is left with a cast of second-rate hands, none of which will gain more than 800 yards and score more than 5 touchdowns. The true gem in this offense is TE Cam Cleeland, who had a monster rookie year, leading the team in catches and receiving touchdowns...by far. Cleeland once again will be a highlight in this passing game. But don‟t expect coach “Iron stomach” Mike Ditkca to eat a lot of turnovers this year. Instead, he‟ll turn to the ground and Ricky Williams, who he traded his entire draft, a few backups, Walter Payton‟s rookie card, and Bulls season tickets to get. NEW O WILL WIN 7 BECAUSE Williams will carry the load, which means fewer 3- and-outs and fewer interceptions. The Saints time consuming offense should allow their underrated defense to rest up and keep high octane offenses out of the red zone. NEW O WILL LOSE 9 BECAUSE Williams will be confronted often with 6-men lines with safeties cheating way up. Expect Williams to have to fight for every inch of yardage, and the air-attack to be grounded. FFLs SHOULD LOOK FOR Cleeland to lead the team again in catches, but not as many touchdowns as he‟ll be a marked man in this offense. Keith Poole, Lamar Smith, Andre Hastings, Eddie Kennison-take your pick at receiver, none will get you much. The only time Williams won‟t get 25 carries a game is during half-time. Carolina Panthers: Are there any players that Carolina didn‟t pick up in the offseason? 16 players from 12 different teams entered Panth camp in „99, many of whom could win starting jobs. Many believe that new coach George Seifert had it too easy in San Fran, and his nap sessions as a CBS analysts last season didn‟t help his cause. It will be hard for Seifert to produce a Panth team worse than last year‟s that was plagued by injuries and dealt with a number of off-the-field problems en-route to a 4-12 record. Most of those injuries came from the defense, which ranked close to last in „98. This year the team is healthy, and with much better reinforcements after gaining a host of free agents and only losing LB Lamar Lathon. Seifert said he will focus his attention on defense, yet another smart move by the sly one as no one wants to touch this offense with a 100-foot field goal post. The quarterbacking job will go to either Steve Burlein or Jeff Lewis, whichever one can last a full week in practice without needing a brace, cast, or injection. WR Mushid Mohammed heated up only after defenses began double teaming Raghib Ismail, now in Dallas. Rae Curruth has small hands and Wesley Walls looks as old as that Elvis impression he does in the end zone. Freddie Lane supposedly had a great year in „98, but the numbers don‟t lie--700 yards, 5 touchdowns, and one crotch grabbing. THE PANTH WILL WIN 5 BECAUSE the defense is strong, as is Seifert‟s confidence and Kevin Green‟s breath. THE PANTH WILL LOSE 11 BECAUSE Steve Bono is their healthiest quarterback. Losing OT Blake Brockemeyer should place this offensive line below some recreational teams. George, you are far, far, away from San Francisco. FFLs SHOULD LOOK FOR a lot of questions to be answered on offense...just not now. Currently, the team has no starting quarterback, no starting running back, and a trio of receivers that could lead the team. Walls is always a safe bet, but wait on everyone else until positions get settled. St. Louis Rams: You can‟t say that the Rams are back, because they‟ve never been good. However, this team should provide as many homeruns as Big Mac himself with the addition of QB Trent “air it out” Green. Now Green is no Vince Farragomo. And he‟s about as smooth as Vince Neil. But unlike Vinny Vincent in Kiss, Green should be a good fit with homertown U.S.A. Green‟s numbers were impressive last year, but you have to take into consideration that half the games he played they were down by 30 and the other half was against the NFL‟s bottom o‟ the barrel. Still, his cannon arm and fearless style of airing it out intrigued boss Dick Vermeil into signing him. The addition of RB Marshall Faulk means opposing secondaries will have to cheat towards the scrimmage line. In Indy last year, Faulk‟s great running and catching ability out of the backfield opened the field up for mediocre receivers Torrance Small and Marvin Harrison to post big numbers. With Green‟s arm, the Rams should send Isaac Bruce and rookie Torry Holt deep early and often, forcing defenses to single team the receivers or let Marshall roam just beyond the line of scrimmage. THE RAMS WILL WIN 6 BECAUSE the offense is a hundred times better than last year, when Amp Lee led the team in receptions and only one offensive play went for more than 47 yards. In Faulk, the Rams get one of only three elite pass-catching, ground producing backs in the league. THE RAMS WILL LOSE 10 BECAUSE their defense received a massive overhaul in the offseason. Players will need at least a season to get a feel for one another. Green has tremendous upside, but Ram fans might say “Oye vey, it‟s Deja Vu” to his tendencies to fumble and hold on to the ball too long. FFLs SHOULD LOOK FOR Green to go over 3,000 yards and throw 20 touchdowns. Most of those will go towards Marshall, but Bruce and Holt will score some big gainers. Backup RB Greg Hill was having a marvelous season until he broke his leg last year. Deep threat WR Az-Zahir Hakim could be a late round sleeper. The only tight end worth picking up here is owner Georgia Frontier.