13. Buffalo. I like Trent Edwards having a full season to play quarterback; I like Paul Posluszny returning to anchor a young defense; I like Marshawn Lynch older, stronger and wiser. I even like the ability and cockiness of first-round pick Leodis McKelvin to win a starting job by October ... and I'm tempted to like a 6-foot-7 receiver who caught 16 touchdown passes in that non-passing-hotbed of Indiana University last fall, second-round pick James Hardy. This is an interesting team. If the youth plays at a B level, the Bills could win 10 games.
14. New York Jets. If Eric Mangini learned one thing from all those years with Bill Belichick, it's pressure or perish. Pressure the quarterback well or go 4-12. And the Jets' pressure was pathetic last year. The guys who were supposed to rush the passer (Bryan Thomas, Shaun Ellis, Keyon Coleman and Victor Hobson) combined for 11 sacks.
This year the Jets should have three sacks a game, easy, with first-rounder Vernon Gholston and expensive free agent, Calvin Pace, coming from the edge and Kris Jenkins pushing the pile and drawing attention in the middle. ("I want to thank the Jets for getting that guy out of our division and out of my hair,'' Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said last month.) One other thing, Jets brass: Give Kellen Clemens a chance to be the quarterback; don't put him through an eight-game trial. Don't you know what you have in Chad Pennington by now?
15. Seattle. I'm one of the few people who actually liked their draft. I loved them taking the best blocking back in college football (WVU's Owen Schmitt), the best long-snapper in college football (Tyler Schmitt of San Diego State) and a tackle (Red Bryant) for their defensive-line rotation.
Seattle did addition by subtraction by totally re-doing its backfield, and though Julius Jones is not a top-10 back, he's a hard runner who won't take 15 seconds to pick a hole the way Shaun Alexander did last year.
Not sure how the Mike Holmgren swan-song will work; generally a guy who says he's retiring at season's end spends more time than he should thinking about golf in Scottsdale. We'll see how the Holmgren/Jim Mora dance works over the next eight months.
16. New Orleans. Now we're getting to the "if only'' area. If only the Saints had gotten Jeremy Shockey, if only Reggie Bush were a more complete NFL back, if only they had Leodis McKelvin on an island this fall instead of Jason David, Randall Gay or Aaron Glenn ... you get the picture.
But this is still a team that, with the right breaks and good health, could easily win the NFC South. A quarterback, good lines on both sides of the ball and good-enough receiving weapons make New Orleans a threat every Sunday. But this team has to get off the roller coaster. The Saints started with four losses, followed by four wins, and ended the season with two wins followed by two losses. By the way, Drew Brees threw for 4,423 yards and 28 touchdowns last year ... and no one thought he played that well. That guy is one heck of a quarterback.
17. Tampa Bay. The Bucs might be the only team to open training camp with more quarterbacks than it will have wins at the end of the year. (By the way, could Gruden please put Chris Simms out of his misery and send him somewhere where he'd have a chance to play?) It's a pretty dangerous thing to rely on Jeff Garcia to make it through a full season and know that Brian Griese is warming up in the bullpen.
That's the reason I don't trust Tampa Bay to be an 11-win team. I don't trust the cast of thousands at quarterback, even with Gruden coaching 'em up. I do like a couple of things. The addition of center Jeff Faine shores up the weakest spot on the offensive line. (Other than Alan Faneca, Faine was the best guard/center who moved in free-agency.) And the return of Warrick Dunn should provide six or eight chances to break one every game. And I don't care about the terminally unhappy Brian Kelly being gone.
18. Washington. I can't think of a team in the NFL with more questions. With a big need at pass-rusher, the Redskins stayed out of the free-agent market totally and went receiver-tight end-receiver on their first three draft picks. I don't know if Jason Campbell is the long-term answer at quarterback; certainly the Redskins don't know either. Can Jim Zorn head-coach? Who knows? The one thing I do know is I like Dan Snyder getting off the Steinbrenner-esque spend-spend-spend merry-go-round and becoming a guy who just might be learning how to build a team. Might, I said.
THEY COULD WIN TEN OR SIX
19. Houston. Logic says an 8-8 team that finished 3-1 with a young quarterback and maturing defense should be ready to take the next step, particularly with a salty old hand like Alex Gibbs taking an underachieving running game into his capable hands this spring and summer. But Matt Schaub -- efficient (.664) but inexperienced in his half season at the helm -- is really still an unknown, as is the 28-year-old offensive coordinator who will mentor Schaub, Kyle Shanahan, the youngest coordinator in the league. We'll have to see the progress first to believe the Texans are much improved, particularly in a division and conference as tough as the one they have to conquer if they hope to play in January.
20. Tennessee. I want to like Vince Young, and his improvement from 52 to 62 percent in accuracy from his rookie year to his second season helps a little. But this is the year he's got to start being consistent if the Titans are going to make the playoffs again and again. He threw nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions last year.
He needed a good wide receiver this offseason and was given Justin McCareins in free agency (drops too many balls) and another running back in the draft, the fleet Chris Johnson. One more thing about Tennessee. If you think I've dropped them for no reason, think back to last year. The Titans were 7-6 entering the home stretch. They beat playing-for-nothing Kansas City by nine, the playing-for-nothing Jets by four, and the truly playing-for-nothing Colts by six. Those are the breaks of the schedule.
21. Arizona. Paul Zimmerman wanted me to put the Cards higher. But I don't know who's playing quarterback, nor how good that quarterback will be. I don't know how much Edgerrin James has left coming off a 3.8-yards-per-carry season. I do know a defense that allowed a gaudy 399 points will be a little better because of the arrival of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at corner. But every year for the past three or four, some wise man in the media (I think it was me two years ago) says, "This is Arizona's year.'' And in the last four of those Arizona years, the Cards have gone 6-10, 5-11, 5-11 and 8-8.