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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.
Danny Sheridan
From the Print Edition:
Emeril Lagasse, Sept/Oct 2005

(continued from page 5)



1. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks were expected to make a strong Super Bowl run in 2004, but they barely won the West with a 9-7 record. The team has talent in running back Shaun Alexander (1,696 yards, 16 touchdowns), quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (3,382 yards) and wide receiver Darrell Jackson (87 receptions, 1,199 yards, 7 touchdowns). Seventh-year coach Mike Holmgren brought in several free agents, including linebacker Jamie Sharper and defensive end Bryce Fisher, to upgrade the defense. Fans hope the newcomers will help the Seahawks make a serious January run; otherwise, Holmgren's future may be in doubt.

2. St. Louis Rams
The simple fact that the Rams beat the division-winning Seahawks three times last season gives them hope. St. Louis became the first 8-8 team to win a playoff game; it dominated the mediocre West with a 5-1 record, but faltered on the road with only two wins in eight games. Quarterback Marc Bulger was efficient (3,964 yards and a 93.7 rating) and wide receiver Torry Holt had a productive season, co-leading the NFC in receptions (94) that produced 1,372 yards. Steven Jackson will replace Marshall Faulk as the featured back. Coach Mike Martz, aware that this could be his last season if he doesn't get deep into the playoffs, grabbed free-agent linebackers Dexter Coakley and Chris Claiborne to stiffen his defense.

3. Arizona Cardinals
Despite having an owner who won't spend money, coach Dennis Green did a creditable job in his first year in the Valley of the Sun. Injuries to a solid receiving corps—Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson—contributed to a 6-10 season, but there is hope this year if they remain healthy, especially after Green brought in Kurt Warner to jump-start the offense. Of course, there's plenty of talk that Warner has little left after being sacked 39 times in nine games with the Giants. Green made two good draft picks: cornerback Antrel Rolle from the University of Miami and running back J. J. Arrington from California, who led the NCAA in rushing with 2,018 yards and could make the Arizona desert green.

4. San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco head coach Mike Nolan has an enormous challenge ahead of him and is light years away from success. There isn't much talent on this 2-14 team other than tight end Eric Johnson (82 receptions, 825 yards) and linebacker Julian Peterson. Nolan and the 49ers need Utah quarterback Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall selection in the draft, to become their Joe Montana. Otherwise, the 49ers are as bad as it gets in the NFL. v

Danny Sheridan is the sports analyst for USA Today and provides the daily odds on all sporting events.

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