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					                        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
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
Parcelswho 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

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

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
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 flukelook 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 performancegood 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

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
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

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

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

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 donebail 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 yearsomething 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 timewhich 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

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
yearamong 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
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 voidcoach. 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

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

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
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 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.

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