Posted: Monday September 4, 2006 10:13AM; Updated: Monday September 4, 2006 10:21PM
Jon Kitna threw for threw for 3,591 yards and 26 touchdowns with the Bengals in 2003.
1. Detroit, 10-6: Just remember one free-agency and salary-cap era stat from this year's Sports Illustrated NFL preview issue: Over the past 13 years (since free agency with a cap came into play), 13 teams went from worst one year to first in their division. In the previous 26 years, 13 teams jumped from worst to first. Now, Detroit wasn't even worst in the NFC North last year. Green Bay was. But the Lions, as always, were close. Three reasons they turn around: Rod Marinelli is a my-way-or-the-highway guy, a desperately needed commodity in Detroit right now. Jon Kitna will make few of the glaring errors Joey Harrington made. And Mike Martz is the breath of offensive fresh air this stale offense needed.
2. Chicago, 9-7: The schedule says pick the Bears. Every expert says pick the Bears. I can't. I can't because they're too unsettled on offense. Who's the quarterback? Who's the running back? Who's the offensive weapon anyone fears? Love the defense, if the front-liners stay healthy. If the Bears do go down, they could go down on one of the freakiest schedule stretches ever. Chicago plays three straight non-division road games, all on I-95 in the Northeast Corridor, all in a 15-day November span: at Giants, at Jets, at Patriots. Weird.
3. Minnesota, 8-8: Chester Taylor's my Fantasy dark horse running back. I think he'll run for 1,500 yards behind a great left side of the line, which added Steve Hutchinson in free agency. Hutchinson will be sandwiched between Matt Birk and Bryant McKinnie. But Erasmus James had better be able to rush the passer, and Brad Johnson had better stay upright for 16 weeks. I like the ultra-organized Brad Childress, but I'd like the Vikings better if I could trust them on defense.
4. Green Bay, 4-12: I just don't see this being a better team. Brett Favre in the preseason looked like he's still going to try to do too much. (By the way, wouldn't it be interesting if the Pack won the right for the first draft choice, and GM Ted Thompson was sitting there next April with the ability to put Brady Quinn on the same team with his brother-in-law, A.J. Hawk?) I wish someone on that defense was scary to an offensive coordinator.
1. Carolina, 11-5: I'm not on the Panthers' Super Bowl bandwagon, but I like a lot of their offseason moves. I love the physicality Keyshawn Johnson will bring to a light-in-the-pads receiving corps, and I like DeAngelo Williams' toughness and durability added to the running game. I also think Maake Kemoeatu will be the horse in the middle of the defense that Carolina desperately needed. But I worry about Steve Smith's hammy and Kris Jenkins' everything.
2. Atlanta, 9-7: The most under-the-radar signing of the summer: DT Grady Jackson, who will be just what the doctor ordered alongside Rod Coleman inside. There's no such stat kept, but I bet offenses will call more three-step-drop passes against this defensive front (with Patrick Kerney and John Abraham rushing from the outside) than against any other team in football. If I trusted the offense more, I'd pick the Falcons to go far.
3. Tampa Bay, 8-8: I've raised this point a couple of times this summer: It scares me that five defensive starters -- SimeonRice, Greg Spires, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly -- are past their 30th birthdays. None was hurt last year. What are the chances that will happen again? And if the injury bug does bite, who's going to rush the passer, for instance, if the 32-year-old Rice goes down?
4. New Orleans, 3-13: I have a confession to make: I own four Saints season tickets. I'm an old softy, and I bought them last spring, carried away with the local fervor to keep the Saints in New Orleans. And I bet I'm the only Saints season-ticket-holder who's picking them to be this grim. But look at the defense -- which looks just awful -- and look at the schedule. They might go 1-5 in the division and the only home lock looks to be San Francisco on Dec. 3.
1. Seattle, 12-4: The Seahawks are the only NFL team that can say, with supreme confidence, "We're going 6-0 in our division.'' And even with road tilts at Chicago, Kansas City, Denver and Tampa Bay, I still think they'll win home-field advantage in the NFC.
2. Arizona, 7-9: "The culture here has changed,'' coach Dennis Green said the other day. I agree. What hasn't changed enough is an offensive line that will turn Edgerrin James into Chris Brown. Starters Leonard Davis, Reggie Wells, Alex Stepanovich, Milford Brown and Brandon Gorin are going to drive Green crazy this year.
3. St. Louis, 5-11: My problem with the Rams, the NFL's 30th-rated defense a year ago, is that they haven't fixed their run D, which surrendered a nightmarish 4.7 yards per carry last season. New defensive coordinator Jim Haslett can't put on shoulder pads and I wouldn't like the defense any more if he could. The Rams offense had better lead the league in time of possession.
4. San Francisco, 3-13:Alex Smith seems like one of the nicest guys ever to be jinxed with that first-pick-in-the-draft thing, and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner is a heck of a quarterbacks coach. But I don't see Smith leading the Niners out of the wilderness. I don't see him being Heath Shuler, either. But with a line that's going to get him pelted around pretty well this year, Smith is not going to have much of a chance.