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What lies ahead

Good, bad omens for season ahead for all 32 teams

Posted: Tuesday August 28, 2007 4:30PM; Updated: Tuesday August 28, 2007 4:49PM
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Randy Moss' addition appears on paper as if it will help the Patriots, but his lack of practice time this summer has prevented his potential from becoming reality.
Randy Moss' addition appears on paper as if it will help the Patriots, but his lack of practice time this summer has prevented his potential from becoming reality.

I've seen enough. Enough training camps, enough preseason games. With less than 10 days remaining until the NFL kicks off its 2007 regular season, the time is now to make some educated guesses about things to come.

First things first, next February's Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., will be a three-point win for New England over New Orleans. It'll be a fourth ring for the Patriots, and a historic franchise first for the Saints.

As I first wrote in May, I don't see anyone stopping New England, although the Chargers, Colts, Ravens, Jets and Broncos won't make the Patriots' trek through the AFC easy in the least. In the weaker NFC, I don't see anyone but Philadelphia capable of denying New Orleans. But in the end, the powerful Saints have too much offense for the Eagles to contend with.

Division by division, in order of finish, here's a 32-team look at how I predict the NFL will play out in '07, with playoff projections at the end:

AFC East

1. New England Patriots

A reason to believe: Nobody had a talent infusion like the one the Patriots received during the offseason. New England bettered itself on offense, defense and special teams (thanks to Wes Welker's return skills), and its coaching staff enjoyed some rare continuity.

The thing that makes you nervous: After Randy Moss' lost August, we don't know any more than we did in May, June and July regarding the receiver's impact. Were the Pats saving him for the season or are his legs just that iffy?

2. New York Jets

A reason to believe: The addition of running back Thomas Jones makes New York more balanced offensively, and gives the Jets a ground game they can win with when the weather turns nasty in the AFC East.

The thing that makes you nervous: Will Kellen Clemens pushing Chad Pennington at starting quarterback be a plus, or turn into a season-long sub-plot that the Jets couldn't probably do without?

3. Buffalo Bills

A reason to believe: With J.P. Losman, Lee Evans and Marshawn Lynch, the Bills have young, emerging play-makers in their impact positions on offense.

The thing that makes you nervous: The Bills are banking on all that youth on defense growing up quickly, and cohesively. That's a lot to ask in a league where experience is so critical.

4. Miami Dolphins

A reason to believe: The defense is solid enough to keep the Dolphins competitive while new head coach Cam Cameron gets innovative with the modest talent Miami does have on offense.

The thing that makes you nervous: We're still not buying that Trent Green will be the season-long answer at quarterback. He's 37 and coming off a year in which his play regressed dramatically after that severe concussion.

AFC South

1. Indianapolis Colts

A reason to believe: Despite losing four starters, the Colts defense is better. That's right, better. The unit has played stout against the run in August (2.7 yards per rush) and the tackling is noticeably improved. Nobody's missing Cato June, Jason David, Nick Harper, or even Anthony McFarland at this point.

The thing that makes you nervous: We all know what a quality offensive left tackle means for the health of your right-handed starting quarterback. The Colts are depending on rookie Tony Ugoh to handle the role previously held by Tarik Glenn. It's a gamble, and Peyton Manning's blindside is the stakes.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars

A reason to believe: The Jaguars can run on anybody and stop anyone's run. That's a pretty good starting point for any potential playoff team. The tandem of Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor gives Jacksonville two game-changing rushers, and on defense, the Jags' massive tackles, Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, set up the rest of the unit's success.

The thing that makes you nervous: I just get the feeling that the Byron Leftwich era in Jacksonville isn't in for a happy ending. He's in the final year of his contract, and the pro-David Garrard movement has already stirred to life this preseason.

3. Tennessee Titans

A reason to believe: The Titans' late-season six-game winning streak last year changed the equation in Nashville, and convinced the players that success wasn't years away from unfolding. Tennessee has proven coaches who get the most out of the talent at their disposal.

The thing that makes you nervous: As gifted as he is, quarterback Vince Young won't be immune to second-year struggles against teams that are more familiar with what he likes to do. He'll still flash his magic at times this season, but his passing game can't take a backseat to his running skills.

4. Houston Texans

A reason to believe: Matt Schaub looks like the real deal at quarterback. If the Texans can protect him better than they ever did David Carr, coach Gary Kubiak has the efficient and cerebral passer who can make his offense work.

The thing that makes you nervous: You have to like the young talent that the Texans are compiling on defense, but if 2006 No. 1 pick Mario Williams isn't disruptive early on, the pressure on the man who took Reggie Bush's draft slot could quickly build to a crescendo.

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