A sampling of 31 flavors NFL has to offer

Posted: Sunday, September 02, 2001

Keys to the season for the 31 NFL teams, in predicted overall order of finish:

1. Tennessee: Eddie George's toe and Kevin Carter's attitude.

2. Baltimore: Without Jamal Lewis, Elvis Grbac is the offense. Don't worry about the defense.

3. Miami: Look to a new deep-passing game, featuring rookie Chris Chambers, the former Wisconsin Badger.

4. Tampa Bay: The Johnsons -- Brad must stay healthy to keep Keyshawn happy.

5. St. Louis: Aeneas Williams is the leader and the blender of the new mix-and-match defense.

6. Oakland: If Charlie Garner can duplicate the last two seasons across the Bay, the offense will be one of the best. Jerry Rice is a nice toy to have as a ''possession receiver.''

7. Denver: Tom Nalen. The Pro Bowl center is the critical figure on the OL and the OL is the key to the Broncos.

8. New York Giants: Second-year guys Cornelius Griffin; RB Ron Dayne, minus 20 pounds; and Ron Dixon, coming on at receiver and one of the NFL's most dangerous return men.

9. New York Jets: John Abraham is the Jets' outside version of Griffin and the best player on an otherwise bland DL.

10. Philadelphia: Duce Staley. If he stays healthy and runs for 1,000 yards or so, Donovan McNabb won't have to.

11. New Orleans: Deuce McAllister. Drafting him seems to have motivated Ricky Williams.

12. Indianapolis: Rob Morris, Christian Peter, Idrees Bashir, who have to be better than the defenders they're replacing.

13. Green Bay: Brett Favre as always. He's healthier this season.

14. Minnesota: Chris Hovan. Second-year DT is leader of defense that caused last year's late-season collapse.

15. Pittsburgh: Kordell Stewart, of course. Playoff shot if he returns to '97 form.

16. Seattle: John Randle and Levon Kirkland, leaders of the over-the-hill gang brought in to solidify the defense. Matt Hasselbeck will be fine at QB.

17. San Francisco: Garrison Hearst must provide a running game after missing two years with a broken ankle and complications from it.

18. Jacksonville: Jimmy Smith. He's back working out after a variety of ailments. The Jags (what's left of them) aren't the Jags without him.

19. Detroit: Charlie Batch. He either does it here this season or tries elsewhere next year.

20. Kansas City: The Chiefs still depend on defense and Eric Hicks must be completely healthy to provide a pass rush.

21. Buffalo: Rob Johnson. No Flutie in the wings, so he must stay healthy.

22. San Diego: LaDanian Tomlinson can provide instant offense for a team that might be the NFL's most improved.

23. Washington: Jeff George. If his arm hurts or his bad attitude resurfaces, Dan the Fan's Skins are shot.

24. Atlanta: Jamal Anderson. Two years after knee surgery, he's flashing his old form.

25. New England: Terry Glenn. His absence improves team chemistry.

26. Arizona: Jake Plummer. For the Cardinals to win more than a handful of games, he must return to his 1998 level.

27. Cleveland: Butch Davis. His presence as coach could double last year's win total.

28. Cincinnati: The Bengals have three second-string QBs. Chad Johnson, the rookie wide receiver from Oregon State, can make one or all look better.

29. Chicago: Jerry Angelo. The new GM has a good track record that could pay off. But not this season.

30. Carolina: Steve Beuerlein. His absence guarantees the Panthers will go through the season with three third-string QBs.

31. Dallas: Quincy Carter. If the athletic but terribly inexperienced QB makes a few plays, the Cowboys might win a game or two.

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