NFC EAST CHAMP-PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
KEY ADDITION: Reggie Brown. He is just a rookie WR...but he looks to get some time if Terrell Owens indeed holds out. Freddie Michell is gone and Todd Pinkson and Greg Lewis are just adequate. Young receivers aren't to Andy Reid's liking...but he's gotta do what he's gotta do.
KEY SUBTRACTION: Jermane Mayberry. Mayberry was a hoss at RG for the Eagles...but he's now in New Orleans. His replacement will be second year guard Shawn Andrews, who broke his leg in the first quarter of Week One last year. The line is still solid, but Mayberry will be missed at times...especially if Andrews struggles with injury.
KEY PLAYER: Todd Pinkston. While Owens and Brian Westbrook had awesome years....Pinkston couldn't benefit. He completely dropped passes all season long and fans really got on him [he was wiiiiiiide open deep against Washington one game and dropped a pass]. It is very, very important for him to step up since his job is to stretch the defense so guys like Owens and Westbrook can get the underneath stuff.
OUTLOOK: There is no reason to believe that Philly won't repeat their division or conference title. They did lose a few guys...but have drafted their replacements over the past few seasons. A key will be what happens with Owens and what kind of distraction it will be. The Eagles did navigate thru two months without TO....but that was a team that pretty much had everything locked up. It would be in Philly's best interest to get something finalized before September. Still, there is no one on the Eagles level right now.
KEY ADDITION: Drew Bledsoe. A cardboard cutout of Bledsoe will be better than what they had last year. After the Quincy Carter debacle, the Drew Henson mistake and a guy named Tony Romo out there....the team had 70 yr old Vinny Testeverde starting. So, Bledsoe makes sense. He knows Parcells from New England, can make all the throws and has a running game that will keep him from being a savior.
KEY SUBTRACTION: Dexter Coakley. The long time LB was released to make room for drafted players. Coakley seemed to always be in the mix...having a nose for the ball. That is something you learn over time...something that his replacements won't have as their advantage.
KEY PLAYER: Julius Jones. He isn't Emmitt Smith...but he's darn good. The guy that people were slaying Jerry Jones about drafting turned in a quite impressive rookie season. He is so important this year...for a coach that loves to run the ball and with a QB that has had problems with holding the ball too long. The more that the Boys can keep it on the ground...the better off they will be.
OUTLOOK: Dallas isn't great or anything...but they are on an upswing. They have a very young defense that will seem to be leaned on quite a bit if Bledsoe slumps. They will be incorporating the 3-4 defense [popular again] but may switch in and out. One important factor will be how Roy Williams [changing positions] responds to the new horsecollar rules the NFL enacted. He is the glue of that defense...and if he has another Pro Bowl season...then Dallas could see a wildcard birth in their grasp.
3-NEW YORK GIANTS
KEY ADDITION: Plaxico Burress. Last year, Armani Toomer and Ike Hillard had a combined ZERO TD CATCHES!! Burress should top that easily...as hebrings a deep threat for Eli Manning to turn to.
KEY SUBTRACTION: Ike Hillard. With Burress in town...Hillard was dropped. That leaves the Giants a tad bit thin on the receiving front. That isn't a good sign for Eli Manning who needs all the help he can get.
KEY PLAYER: Eli Manning. There are so many names I could put here [Jeremy Shockey was my #2 pick], but honestly it is Manning's development that will be key in this season. The G-men can't rely on Tiki Barber to bail them out like last year..and Manning really does have some options to work with. His advancement in Year 2 will be the key to the Giants season.
OUTLOOK: The Giants 2004 season was a two parter. It started with a 5-2 record that saw them win in Green Bay, Dallas and Minnesota. They then lost their next 8 games before beating Dallas in the final week. So who are the real Giants?? Hard to say...since the 5-2 record had Kurt Warner as the starter and a pretty healthy team. Ah...health. If the Giants stay healthy...they should be a tough out on the schedule. But that schedule is where I feel New York will have problems. They go out west 4 times and have no lulls anywhere in the season. Good luck Eli.
KEY ADDITION: Santana Moss. Joe Gibbs loves those speedy receivers who can get down the field and allow his offense to make big plays. The thing is, do they have a QB that can get it down the field that far.
KEY SUBTRACTION: Fred Smoot. One year after losing Champ Bailey, the Redskins lose their other starting CB. This leaves Washington with Walt Harris and Shawn Springs, along with rookie Carlos Rogers. All pretty good....but if injuries could be a major problem.
KEY PLAYER: Patrick Ramsey. No one is asking Ramsey to be Brett Favre...but at least be Kyle Boller. The job isRamsey’s for now...and Skins fans need to hope it stays Ramsey’s. Mark Brunell showed nothing last year and Jason Campbell isn’t ready for this yet. Not to mention if Ramsey plays well then Clinton Portis’ lanes open up.
OUTLOOK: To most Skins fans, Joe Gibbs is a god. However, Gibbs hasn’t shown anything to make anyone believe that this ship is staying afloat. His offense failed in 2004....even with a surprisingly stingy defense which was Greg Williams' doing [oh, and they actually kept the D-coordinator for the first time in, like, a decade]. The schedule isn’t too daunting...and a run of good luck could net them an 8-8 season. Most likely, the team finishes with 5 or 6 wins.
NFC NORTH CHAMPS-MINNESOTA VIKINGS
KEY ADDITION: Pat Williams. This huge DT will lead the Vikings defensive resurgance. He will gobble up blockers and free up his line-mates, as well as blitzers, to force the QB into touch reads.
KEY SUBTRACTION: Randy Moss. Duh. Despite his "issues"...he just produced for the Vikings. It will be interesting to see how well this offense clicks without him being opposing defense's focal point.
KEY PLAYER: Nate Burleson. The job is yours! Burleson played well last year even with Moss out with injury. That fact made it a tad easier to deal Moss. But Burleson must perform to stretch defenses a least somewhat like Moss did.
OUTLOOK: While the Vikings took a hit on offense with the Moss deal and Onterrio Smith's Whizzinator Fiasco...they worked very hard at getting a respectable defense. Really, they are the only team in this division that can boast about talent on both sides of the ball. Williams, along with Fred Smoot, Sam Cowart, Darren Sharper and Napolean Harris, should give the Vikings enough push to get them back into the playoffs.
KEY ADDITION: Marcus Pollard. It only seems that Pollard isthe first TE in Lions history...but he's the best they've had in quite a while. Pollard will be a key ingredient to this offense. With the Williamses and Rogers stretching the defense, either Harrington or Garcia can dump down to Pollard for first downs or big plays.
KEY SUBTRACTION: Brock Marion. A disappointing 2004 led to his release...but his replacements are unproven.
KEY PLAYER: Joey Harrington. He has three excellent WR, nice TE and a tough RB to work with. There are no excuses. If Harrington starts slowly....look for Garcia to take the reigns quickly.
OUTLOOK: This team has a load of talent on offense. Well, I should say "potential" talent. Injuries to the receivers and inconsistency at QB has meant the Lions don't really know how well they can click. The team did well with some defensive moves too. Detroit has the talent to get back into the playoffs....but it remains to be seen if everyone can stay on the field and actually make it happen. They will make a push for a wildcard.
3-GREEN BAY PACKERS
KEY ADDITION: Adrian Klemm. Klemm takes over for the departed Mike Wahle at LG. That's important, since Green Bay uses the left guard on a lot of running plays....especially the power pulling plays. Wahle was great at it....and Klemm needs to be a quick learner.
KEY SUBTRACTION: Darren Sharper. This Packer secondary is sketchy at best. Losing Sharper sure didn't help. The team will rely on some spare parts and draft picks to plug this hole.
KEY PLAYER: Ahman Green. Green didn't have a horrid season....but he didn't have the season Packer fans are accustomed to. To many fumbles and nagging injuries killed him momentum. He is in a contract year [as is his backup Najeh Davenport] so expect Green to add an extra bit of effort to each run. They'll need him to produce so defenses won't try to tee off on Favre.
OUTLOOK: Let's see: Brett Favre will throw about 30 TD and make several great plays to lead his team to victory. Other than that...nothing is certain. An iffy offensive line...a horrible defense....and a receiving corps that seems to be in flux. Favre will do his best to make his last hurrah one that ends with a playoff spot, but don't hold your breath. Teams with this bad of a defense won't last in the NFC...and certainly not againt the Lions andVikings.
KEY ADDITION: Mushin Muhammed. He gives them a legit threat. He is a big target and very physical. Last season, he had a breakout last 2 months and led the NFL in catches. Oh, and he is one of the best downfield blockers you will see in the NFL, which adds to Chicago's rushing attack.
KEY SUBTRACTION: David Terrell. Just 4 seasons after becoming the #8 overall draft pick...and the Bears sent him packing. This may be a symbolic gesture that the franchise is moving on from this apparant mistake.
KEY PLAYER: Rex Grossman.I am still not sold that he's a legit NFL starter. But he has some tools around to show us. He has yet to show he can actually stay in the game...as he played in just 3 games last year. If he can stay healthy...he should be confident that he can keep his job as his backups are horrible.
OUTLOOK: The Bears have a lot to prove. Lovie Smith will most likely choose to run the ball a lot....use conservative passing...and try to hold teams at bay on defense. Not really the Rams way of doing things...but probably the best idea for these Bears. Chicago doesn't have a tough schedule which may bank them a couple extra wins....they just aren't as good as the other teams in this division.