2005 Pigskin Preview
Strap in and hang on. A new NFL season is here and it guarantees all the hard-hitting action you crave. Which teams will make it to Detroit and Super Bowl XL? Our gridiron guru takes a closer look.
From the Print Edition:
Emeril Lagasse, Sept/Oct 2005
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3. Buffalo Bills
The Bills said goodbye to quarterback Drew Bledsoe after three mediocre years and have placed their hopes on young J. P. Losman, an athletic quarterback who provides more mobility, even after having his rookie year cut short by a broken leg. Head coach Mike Mularkey, who brought the Bills back from an 0-4 start to finish 9-7, has told Losman to study the movie Patton to learn about leadership. Willis McGahee, who overcame his own serious leg injury last year and ignited a 9-2 surge with 1,128 yards and 13 touchdowns, provides the Bills with a legitimate rushing threat. Wide receivers Eric Moulds (1,043 yards) and Lee Evans (9 touchdowns) are a dependable duo, and an opportunistic defense (24 interceptions and 15 recovered fumbles) won't make Buffalo a nice place to visit, especially when the weather turns cold.
4. Miami Dolphins
After failing to reach the Promised Land under Dave Wannstedt, the Dolphins begin a new chapter in their history: the Nick Saban era. Saban, who coached LSU to the NCAA championship in 2003, will need some time in south Florida, however. The Dolphins haven't had a quality quarterback since Dan Marino and there are doubts about A. J. Feeley, who cost Miami a No. 2 draft choice. Saban took Auburn running back Ronnie Brown with the second pick of the first round and he should have an immediate impact, even with a Ricky Williams return. Saban also solidified his defense by signing safety Tebucky Jones and defensive ends Kevin Carter and Vonnie Holliday. However, somebody should have told him about upgrading his offensive line, which was literally offensive last year, with opposing defenses blowing through it like a hurricane.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
How a team with a 15-game winning streak and the best record (15-1) in the league never reached the Super Bowl defies the imagination. Oh, yeah, the Steelers lost to the Patriots in the AFC championship on their home turf, the fourth time a Bill Cowher team has suffered such an indignity. At least Cowher found a quarterback in rookie Ben Roethlisberger, who took over in the second game and became a media darling. Jerome Bettis also took over, bouncing back from injuries to churn out 941 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. This year it's Duce Staley's time to bounce back, which will give the Steelers even more smashmouth. Virginia's Heath Miller, the No. 1—rated tight end in the draft, fills a void left by the defection of wide receiver Plaxico Burress, and under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, Pittsburgh will again be steel tough.
2. Baltimore Ravens
After starting 7-3 last year, the Ravens lost four of their last six and missed the playoffs. This year, running back Jamal Lewis, who missed four games in 2004, is looking to repeat his 2,006-yard rushing performance of 2003. But head coach Brian Billick and offensive coordinator Jim Fassel need quarterback Kyle Boller to break out. Free-agent wide receiver Derrick Mason and drafted wide receiver Mark Clayton are offensive upgrades, but can Boller, who had the second-worst quarterback rating (70.9) in the AFC, get them the ball? On defense, the Ravens boast all-world linebacker Ray Lewis and strong safety Ed Reed, who led the NFL in interceptions (9). They've added free-agent cornerback Samari Rolle to the mix, and 38-year-old Deion Sanders has signed for another year of "Prime Time."
3. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals finished 8-8 in 2004, but figure to be better this year after closing out the season with seven wins in their last 11 games. Most of the run was attributed to quarterback Carson Palmer (the No. 1 pick in 2003), who lost 20 pounds to increase his mobility, wide receiver Chad Johnson (95 receptions for 1,274 yards) and running back Rudi Johnson (1,454 yards and 12 touchdowns). The Bengals were glaringly weak against the run, a surprise since coach Marvin Lewis earned his stripes as a defensive coordinator. The team was 26th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, which is why Lewis made defensive end David Pollack and linebacker Odell Thurman, both from Georgia, his first two draft picks.
4. Cleveland Browns
There is some kind of jinx over this city, which new coach Romeo Crennel must exorcise. He takes over a 4-12 team that lost nine straight games and was so bad that coach Butch Davis resigned with five games left in the season. Crennel got a taste of the jinx during the off-season when tight end Kellen Winslow, the team's No. 1 pick in 2004 who missed 14 games with a broken leg, was injured in a May motorcycle accident that will keep him out in 2005. Crennel temporarily solved the quarterback dilemma by bringing in Trent Dilfer, who won a Super Bowl with Baltimore, and also drafted two gems, wide receiver Braylon Edwards from Michigan and quarterback Charlie Frye from the University of Akron. Frye is the future, but Edwards is the present, as is running back Reuben Droughns (1,240 yards), obtained from the Denver Broncos.
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