A year ago, the Buffalo Bills surprised many during a 5-3 start with a devastating passing offense averaging 30 points per game. This was a far cry from the previous season, when the Bills went 3-13 and averaged just over 16.
What happened was a huge offseason makeover. The Bills added QB Drew Bledsoe and drafted LSU wideout Josh Reed on a team that already had WRs Eric Moulds and Peerless Price. With that kind of talent and pass catching depth, no wonder Buffalo suddenly put points on the board and was never out of any game.
Here’s a look at some NFL teams that could look different this fall.
BRONCOS: Mike Shanahan and Denver’s football mad Mile High fans are longing to return to the Super Bowl after winning consecutive championships during the 1997 and ’98 seasons. Those teams, of course, had John Elway leading the offense. Elway’s replacement, Brian Griese, is gone after an offseason divorce with Shanahan. With the Griese experiment over, the Jake Plummer era begins.
This will be fascinating to watch. As a pro, Plummer has been a tad erratic, with 90 career TDs and 114 interceptions. On the other hand, Plummer has been in the football wasteland of Arizona, with few offensive weapons, poor coaching and porous defense. He’s had to play from behind a lot, which, some say, is why he throws so many picks.
In Denver, Plummer will have plenty of weapons and a terrific coaching staff. The 2002 Broncos had the No. 3 offense in the NFL and No. 6 defense, so Jake won’t be asked to carry the load. Talented RB Clinton Portis (1,508 yards, 5.5 yards per carry), rookie RB Quentin Griffin (Oklahoma), TE Shannon Sharpe and WRs Rod Smith (1,027 yards), Ed McCaffrey and Ashley Lelie provide Plummer with a ton of skill position targets.
It could be a successful union between Shanahan and Plummer, unless Jake keeps throwing interceptions. Then it could be ugly and messy fast in the Mile High city.
LIONS: New coach Steve Mariucci has a history of helping develop great quarterbacks (Bret Favre, Jeff Garcia) and loves aggressive, wide-open offenses. This is in stark contrast to the fired Marty Mornhinweg, whose West Coast offense was boring and ineffective (ranked 28th in 2002). Mornhinweg was clearly in over his head and Mariucci can only help this franchise.
The new coach has a young QB in Joey Harrington and free agent WR Shawn Jefferson teams with speedy WR Charles Rogers (No. 2 pick in the draft.) Detroit may have a quick-strike, high-scoring offense this fall. Mariucci’s last win as an NFL coach was in January, a memorable 39-38 comeback victory for the ages over the Giants in the playoffs. Detroit fans will embrace Mariucci if he can provide that kind of offensive excitement, let alone a playoff victory.
PATRIOTS: Was it just two years ago this Cinderella team won the Super Bowl? After a 3-0 start in 2002 the bubble burst for the defending champs and they failed to make the playoffs. The reason they faltered was simple: an aging defense couldn’t stop the run, allowing a whopping 4.7 yards per carry and 137 ypg rushing (second worst in the NFL). Coach Bill Belichick made some interesting moves to shore up the "D."
Free agent LB Roosevelt Colvin, safety Rodney Harrison and rookie DT Ty Warren (No. 13 pick, Texas A&M) were added, joining All-Pro NT Richard Seymour. They may have seriously upgraded the "D" and Warren has the reputation as a serious, hard worker. He may not have been the highest rated defensive linemen in the draft, but appears to be the kind of selfless, team-oriented player Belichick covets (remember when he cut loose problem-child Terry Glenn and two months later won the Super Bowl?)
TEXANS: Houston finished last in the NFL in total offense (13 points, 210 ypg). Yet, the team made a slew of off-season signings and draft picks, primarily to bolster the offense. The Texans added OT Greg Randall, free agents Zach Wiegert and Todd Washington, and rookie tackle Seth Wand to mend a terrible offensive line. This is designed to provide better protection for QB David Carr, sacked an NFL record 76 times last year.
Houston has given Carr some more weapons in No. 1 draft pick WR Andre Johnson and TE Bennie Joppru. Bringing in RB Stacey Mack from the Jaguars can only help a running game that averaged 78 ypg, last in the NFL. Rookie RB Domanick Davis (LSU) has good hands and might be a valuable pass receiving option. With the expansion year out of the way, the Texans may be able to start lighting up scoreboards with more regularity.