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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

The Boys of Autumn are back, and that means an instant replay of compelling theater, intense competition from start to finish, and more violent collisions than you will ever find on the NASCAR circuit.

This off-season was one of the quietest in years. The April draft was remarkably uneventful and a steroid scandal involving the Carolina Panthers gained little steam only months after commissioner Paul Tagliabue's stringent policy was applauded at the same congressional hearings that exposed Major League Baseball and commissioner Bud Selig as soft on the issue.

The loudest noise came when the Oakland Raiders acquired All-Pro wide receiver Randy Moss from the Minnesota Vikings; Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow wrecked his knee—and possibly his career—in a motorcycle accident; and controversial Terrell Owens pushed the Philadelphia Eagles to renegotiate his contract just one year into a seven-year, $49 million deal.

New head coaches took the helm of the San Francisco 49ers (Mike Nolan), Miami Dolphins (Nick Saban) and Cleveland Browns (Romeo Crennel); and a New Jersey real estate developer, Zygmunt "Zygi" Wilf, became the new owner of the Vikings. Brett Favre didn't quit, Jerry Rice, at age 42, wouldn't quit, and Ricky Williams, who quit last year, decided he wanted to return to the Dolphins.

2004 saw increased attendance and higher television ratings, which translated into more revenue for the league's coffers, and the NFL expects 2005 will attract the same fan interest. As the season kicks off, one question stands out above all others: can anybody prevent the New England Patriots from winning their fourth Super Bowl in five years?

I'm making the same preseason prediction I made last year: New England over Philadelphia. Once again, close but no cigar for Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens and head coach Andy Reid.



1. New England Patriots
The Patriots are the closest thing to perfection in the NFL and the model franchise other teams strive to emulate. It starts at the top with chairman and owner Bob Kraft and his son, and vice chairman, Jonathan. It continues with the league's best coach in Bill Belichick and the hottest player personnel guru in Scott Pioli, and together they've constructed the first dynasty in the salary cap era. The centerpiece is quarterback Tom Brady, who was rewarded for his Montana-esque poise and savvy with a six-year contract extension. Losing offensive coordinator Charlie Weis to Notre Dame and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to Cleveland, not to mention five starting players, is huge, but running back Corey Dillon (1,635 yards) and kicker Adam Vinatieri (31 field goals in 33 attempts) are back. The Patriots are like Noah's Ark—they have two of everything and remain favorites to reach the Super Bowl.

2. New York Jets
The Jets figure to give the Patriots the most trouble in the AFC East, provided quarterback Chad Pennington is healthy coming off rotator cuff surgery. Wide receiver Laveranues Coles returns after two years with the Washington Redskins and will be Pennington's primary target, along with wide receiver Justin McCareins and new tight end Doug Jolley. Mike Heimerdinger replaces Paul Hackett as offensive coordinator, which should make the offense more daring and unpredictable, something Pennington and Jets fans have been waiting for. Gang Green did lose running back LaMont Jordan to free agency, but Curtis Martin continues to amaze and, at 31, was the oldest player to lead the NFL in rushing with a career-best 1,697 yards. Defensively, the Jets are sparked by middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, the Associated Press's NFL Rookie of the Year, and on special teams, newly drafted kicker Mike Nugent should make fans forget last year's painful playoff memory of Doug Brien.

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