What can I say? I'm sick as a parrot. Although the 49ers were dominant on offense and defense it was the Raiders inability to take advantage of turnovers that proved to be their undoing, twice getting the ball inside the 49er 30 in the second half and only getting field goals. The 49ers defense had a superb day, stuffing the Raiders on the ground giving Billy Joe Hobert all sorts of headaches. Both opening kickoffs were returned for touchdowns (surely some sort of record) as special teams cancelled each other out - the score was 7-7 before the first play from scrimmage.


The Packers were a surprise, not because they won but because they dominated the game. They even managed to overcome four turnovers and six penalties, compared to two and two for the Cowboys. Dallas were unable mount a serious threat to the Green Bay defense, settling for three field goal attempts and going three of thirteen on third downs.


Arizona Cardinals

1) DL 3 DBZ 2) LB 2 DRI 3) DB 2 DRO

The Cards obviously have the intention of becoming the top defense in the NFC. Could have done with some offensive help, especially on the line for their 'Red Machine' ground attack. GRADE: B

Seattle Seahawks

1) OL 3 OQB 2) DB 1 DPL 3) DL 2 DBZ
Free agents: LB 7 2 DPS

Will definitely be among the top offenses again next year with the addition of a great offensive lineman. Weak link pass defense was addressed, but it is hard to understand why a one strength DB was taken in the second round when two strength DB's were available. GRADE: C

Miami Dolphins

1) DL 3 DBZ 2) OL 2 ORI 3) LB 2 DRO
Free agents OL 8 1 ORI LB 6 1 DRO

The Dolphins were mainly concerned with the running game, on offense and defense. Major strides were taken here, but they may live to regret neglecting their pass defense. GRADE: B

St Louis Rams

1) QB 3 OPS 2) PN 1 OPN** 3) OL 2 OQB
Free agents: TE 4 3 OPS OL 6 2 OQB

The Rams had the league's third best offense last year, but many of their offensive veterans retired. The Rams chose to rebuild their offense while neglecting defense, pass defense, in particular, could have done with help. GRADE: C

New York Jets

1) TE 3 OPS 2) WR 2 OPL 3) DB 1 DPL

The league's best defense will not have to work so hard next year as the Jets have now got some receivers to go with their passing game. GRADE: B

New Orleans Saints

1) OL 3 OQB 2) QB 3 OPS 3) LB 1 DBZ

Offense was not this team's weak link, so it is hard to explain this draft. There were plenty of DB's available, which should have suited the Saints. GRADE: D

Cincinnati Bengals

1) DB 3 DPL 2) OL 2 OQB 3) DL 2 DBZ
Free agents: DL 7 1 DRI

Addressed their major need, pass defense, in the first round, then set about adding to their strengths. GRADE: B

Oakland Raiders

1) DB 3 DPL 2) OL 2 OQB 3) QB 2 OPS
Free agents: OL 6 1 ORI

Upgraded their secondary, and picked up an understudy to the veteran Billy Joe Hobert relatively cheaply. GRADE: B

Chicago Bears

1) OL 3 OQB 2) WR 2 OPL 3) LB 1 DRI

Run based offense will be even more formidable next year with the addition of an extra blocker and a passing option downfield. May live to regret the lack of defensive help, but can't argue with the track record. GRADE: B

San Francisco 49ers

1) WR 1 OPL * 2) OL 2 OQB 3) QB 2 OPS
Free agents: LB 6 2 DRO

League leading return unit will only be strengthened by this draft. The addition of a veteran LB will make the league's fourth best defense even more formidable. GRADE: B


Before reading this I should point out that last year my predictions were garbage. Notable bloopers included picking the Bills and Patriots to finish ahead of the Jets and the Dolphins and the Bucs to win the NFC Central (and the Pack second, and the Lions third and the Bears last (whoops)). The tables for each division shows the net results of draft and free agent acquisitions for each team, along with the shift (positive toward offense and negative toward defense), thanks to Ian Rothwell for this information.

AFC East
  Off Def +/- Sp Tot
Jets 5 1 +4 0 6
Dolphins 3 6 -3 0 9
Bills 6 2 +4 0 8
Patriots 5 3 +2 0 8

The Jets faded at the end of last season, while the Dolphins romped into the playoffs - narrowly missing the division title. It will be close but I think the Jets again have the edge. The Bills will be in with a shot at the wildcard, but will not challenge either of the big two. New England do not have the pass protection to go with their long ball passing game.
1) Jets 2) Dolphins 3) Bills 4) Patriots

AFC Central
  Off Def +/- Sp Tot
Bengals 2 6 -4 0 8
Jaguars 0 6 -6 0 6
Steelers 4 3 +1 1 8
Browns 5 2 +3 1 8

The Bengals performed well under their new coach late last season, and there is no reason not to expect this to continue. The Jaguars will struggle against the strong running games of their main rivals, but will always be a threat to score. Expect the Steelers, with their more balanced lineup, to be the main threat to the Bengals. Cleveland will once again be vying for the top draft pick.
1) Bengals 2) Steelers 3) Jaguars 4) Browns

AFC West
  Off Def +/- Sp Tot
Raiders 5 3 +2 0 8
Seahawks 3 5 -2 0 8
Broncos 3 6 -3 0 9
Chiefs 3 5 -2 0 8

The AFC Champion Raiders will definitely struggle against the strong run defense of the Broncos, but should be good enough for the rest of the division. The Seahawks will be looking for more consistency this year, after a strong start they faltered in the big games at the end of last season. Denver will struggle against the passing game of the Seahawks, but will be challenging for a wildcard again. Kansas City will be improved but are still likely to finish last in a strong division.
1) Still 2) no 3) predictions 4) here.

NFC East
  Off Def +/- Sp Tot
Cardinals 0 7 -7 0 7
Cowboys 1 6 -5 0 7
Redskins 4 5 -1 0 9
Eagles 4 6 -2 0 10

This looks to be the most open division in the NFC. The Cardinals and the Cowboys both moved to improve their defense in the offseason, but while the Cards drafted for their whole defense the Cowboys went exclusively for the secondary. The Eagles also had a great draft, and with some better luck will be challenging for the playoffs this year. The Redskins still look weak defensively, especially against the run. This will be a major handicap against the three good running teams in their division.
1) Cardinals 2) Eagles 3) Cowboys 4) Redskins

NFC Central
  Off Def +/- Sp Tot
Bears 5 1 +4 0 6
Lions 6 3 +3 2 11
Packers 9 0 +9 2 11
Bucs 6 0 +6 1 7

The Bears went on a huge winning streak last year, while they are unlikely to repeat that they will still be tough to beat. The Lions suffered twice at the hands of the Bears last year, and will need to beat them this year to have a chance. Green Bay were much improved over the second half of last season, and a strong draft should put them in playoff contention this year. The Bucs were one of the biggest disappointments of last season, but they should at least score some more points this year.
1) Lions 2) Bears 3) Packers 4) Bucs

NFC West
  Off Def +/- Sp Tot
49ers 5 2 +3 1 8
Saints 6 1 +5 0 7
Rams 10 0 +10 3 13
Panthers 0 9 -9 0 9

San Francisco will again be the team to beat in this division, as all their rivals look to have weaknesses of one sort or another. The Saints still don't have a pass defense, which will be a liability as more coaches figure out how to take advantage. The Rams appear to have lost a lot of veteran talent, notably their QB - they will need to establish a strong ground attack to help out their rookie starter. The Panthers made no moves to improve the league's worst offense, but will at least concede fewer points this year.
1) 49ers 2) Saints 3) Rams 4) Panthers

No doubt you will all disagree vehemently with my predictions, so now is your chance to write in and set me straight. The address is:

Robert Crowther
2 Lily Terrace
EH11 1PN

I already have some predictions from Martin Devine and also an offseason summary from Pat Ratcliffe, these will be appearing next issue. If you want to have your say, now's your chance...