Rams, Broncos will return to big game

August 21, 2001 6:14 AM
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The television networks may stage all sorts of survivor programs, but the real survivor game is the NFL season.

Football is violent and, even before the exhibition games began, teams were losing players to injuries. The two teams that will eventually reach the Super Bowl will be teams that managed to avoid injuries to key players.

It’s a case of survival of the fittest. But injuries cannot be specifically predicted and so in analyzing teams, you just consider them at full strength and hope that things even out.

AFC EAST

1 ”” Indianapolis: QB Peyton Manning, RB Edgerrin James and WR Marvin Harrison are picked to provide enough scoring to overcome a dubious defense and boost the Colts to the top of a week division.

2 ”” Miami:  The Dolphins surprised a year ago with unheralded QB Jay Fiedler and a decent running game. Look for an improved receiving corps to give Miami a shot at another divisional title.

3 ”” NY Jets: Herman Edwards is the new coach, but Vinny Testaverde is still the No. 1 QB. But how long for Testaverde? Look for Chad Pennington to take over for Vinny as the Jets move in a new direction.

4 ”” New England: Drew Bledsoe is surrounded by Lilliputians.

5 ”” Buffalo: The Bills will resurrect the ancient Statue of Liberty play as QB Rob Johnson is the nearest thing to an immobile statue when he drops back to pass.

AFC CENTRAL

1 ”” Baltimore: Signing free agent QB Elvis Grbac is calculated to improve the Ravens. But, how much improvement? Last year, with Trent Dilfer at QB, the Ravens went 11-1 including the Super Bowl triumph. Defense is this team’s strength.

2 ”” Tennessee: Definitely a playoff team, but unless QB Steve McNair can improve on his passing, Titans will fall short of being a champion.

3 ”” Jacksonville: Some impressive players on offense ”” QB Mark Brunell, RB Fred Taylor, LT Tony Boselli ”” give the Jaguars a chance for a wild card berth.

4 ”” Pittsburgh: Not with Kordell Stewart at quarterback.

5 ”” Cincinnati: RB Corey Dillon is worth the price of admission, but the team’s three QBs ”” Akili Smith, Jon Kitna, Scott Mitchell ”” offer scant hope for a successful season.

6 ”” Cleveland: The guys who put this expansion team together ”” President Carmen Policy, VP Dwight Clark and head coach Chris Palmer ”” did a lousy job. New coach Butch Davis starts from scratch.

AFC WEST

1 ”” Denver: Brian Griese is the quarterback, there is great talent and depth at running back and wide receiver and the defense has been upgraded. The Broncos are primed for a run at the Super Bowl.

2 ”” Oakland: An aging team got no younger with the addition of WR Jerry Rice.

3 ”” Seattle: Matt Hasselback, the backup to Brett Favre at Green Bay, is the quarterback and there are six new starters on defense. It’s all part of a rebuilding program that hardly will come to fruition this year.

4 ”” Kansas City: Dick Vermeil, last seen on the sidelines when his St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl, is the new coach. Vermeil acquired his former backup QB Trent Green to run the Chiefs offense. Green has a great target in Tony Gonzalez, the best tight end in the league. KC, 7-9 last year, could better this rating but hardly appears to be a playoff team.

5 ”” San Diego: The Chargers were 1-15 a year ago. New QB Doug Flutie will furnish some exciting moments but the hope of the future lies with new general manager  John Butler, who had a successful tenure at Buffalo.

NFC EAST

1 ”” Philadelphia: The rebuilding is past. Donovan McNabb emerges as one of the league’s top quarterbacks and the Eagles should do as well or better than last year’s 11-5 mark.

2 ”” NY Giants: The same cast that won the conference championship is back, but it’s hard to erase from memory the Super Bowl in which QB Kerry Collins played like a frightened fawn and overpublicized CB Jason Sehorn couldn’t cover his grandmother.

3 ”” Washington: Marty Schottenheimer is the new coach, but so what? Brad Johnson is gone, so the quarterback position rests with the Typhoid Mary of losers, Jeff George. The Redskins will again disappoint its fans and nobody ”” but nobody ”” will have any sympathy for owner Daniel Snyder.

4 ”” Dallas: RB Emmitt Smith is all that’s left from the Cowboys glory years. Brash owner Jerry Jones will be forced to eat humble pie. Having Washington’s Snyder in the league actually makes Jones seem likeable.

5 ”” Arizona: The Cardinals won only three games last year and will be hard-pressed to equal that record this season.

NFC CENTRAL

1 ”” Tampa  Bay: For the past two years all the ingredients except one were in place for a shot at the Super Bowl. The missing ingredient was a top-flight quarterback. Now that the experienced Brad Johnson has replaced young Shaun King, everything is truly in place.

2 ”” Minnesota: Hard to tell what effect, if any, the death of OT Korey Springer will have on the Vikings. Minnesota packs plenty of scoring punch with QB Daunte Culpepper and WRs Randy Moss and Cris Carter, but the defense must improve before the Vikes can aspire to championship status.

3 ”” Green Bay: If QB stays healthy, the Packers could make the playoffs.

4 ”” Detroit: Former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is the new coach. Mornhinweg brings a new attitude and there’s some talent on hand, but not enough to get the Lions into the playoffs.

5 ”” Chicago: Pick a QB from these five ”” Cade McNown, Jim Miller, Danny Wuerffel, Shane Matthews and Billy Joe Tolliver. Like a bag of lemons, they all look alike ”” and are just as sour.

NFL WEST

1 ”” St. Louis: The defense will be very much improved over last year with lots of new faces. The key to the Rams success is RB Marshall Faulk, the best player in football. If he can avoid injury, the Rams go to the Super Bowl. If not, the season goes downhill.

2 ”” San Francisco: QB Jeff Garcia is an emerging superstar. The 49ers have a good receiving corps, but the running game is iffy. The defense came on strong the latter part of last season.

3 ”” New Orleans: Jim Haslet has done a remarkable job in cleaning up the mess left by Mike Ditka. He now must decide whether to play Aaron Brooks or Jeff Blake at quarterback. The defense is strong.

4 ”” Atlanta: The Falcons were 4-12 last year, but should do somewhat better this season despite being overloaded with aging veterans. Rookie QB Michael Vick, when he gets to play, will be exciting and is a future star.

5 ”” Carolina: Veteran QB Steve Beuerlein was released, which leaves unproven Jeff Lewis, Dameyune Craig, Matt Lytle and rookie Chris Weinke, last year’s Heisman Trophy winner from Florida State. The Panthers won seven games last season, but won’t equal that total.

POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS
AFC champ ””
Denver Broncos
NFC champ ””
St. Louis Rams
Super Bowl champ ””
St. Louis