In this issue...
SUPERBOWL REVIEW The Raiders intercepted Green Bay on each of their first two drives, unfortunately the Raiders could not capitalize, forced into a punt then a long field goal attempt. The Packers ran the ensuing kickoff back 61 yards and immediately took advantage, going the thirty yards for the touchdown in nine plays. Into the second quarter and the Raiders got their offense moving, 66 yards in ten plays - helped by a fifteen yard penalty, to get back into the lead. The Packers were also having some trouble moving the ball but a good punt pinned the Raiders at their own three. After running out of trouble the Raiders fumbled, giving the ball to the Pack at the one. Green bay wasted no time, scoring on the first play. The Packers got the ball back at the two minute warning and drove to the Raiders 36 with 51 seconds remaining, but a sack and a fumble ended the threat. The third quarter was uneventful as the defenses took command and the stalemate continued until late in the fourth. The Packers drove from their own 22 to get first and goal at the Raiders ten, the Oakland defense, with the season on the line, held them to a field goal. In a surprise move Jeff George replaced Billy Joe Hobert and the effects were immediate, George went four of five for 61 yards as the Raiders drove to tie with 24 seconds left. Given one last chance the Green Bay kick return unit was ready, a 66 yard run back left the Packers in field goal range. An incomplete pass and a five yard run used up what was left on the clock before the final blow was delivered.


The Bengals, heavy favourites, had little trouble in dispatching the Bucs. Cincinnati scored 24 in the first half and this was always going to be too much for the Tampa low octane offense, who didn't make any impact until the fourth quarter.


This draft analysis is courtesy of Pat Ratcliffe.

New England Patriots (Coach Ball) - An additional running back, making 3, and an additional QB, before the more urgent need of O line and run defense, plus no use of free agency, seems a little short sighted. (E)

Kansas City Chiefs (Coach Ashton) - I've always been told that solid defense must come before anything else, and I would have expected drafting here, before a catching tight end, and a back-up QB. Drafting down to free LP's for free agency might have been a better option. (D)

St Louis Rams (Coach Whiting) - An excellent attempt to address a lot of areas of weakness. Again, I would have hoped for some free agency action. (B+)

Carolina Panthers (Coach Saunders) - With only one QB protection lineman, and very poor rush defense, it makes little sense to me to draft two running backs and a back up QB. (E)

Cleveland Browns (Coach Cullen) - Why do coaches in my division always do things well? An excellent draft, strengthening defense considerably, and giving additional scope for offense, and a clever use of free agency. I'll have my work cut out to beat Coach Cullen this season. (A)

Philadelphia Eagles (Coach Gaines) - As near perfection as you can get: the right positions; good balance; strong players. Coach Gaines' squad looks formidable now. All that is needed is good play calling, and that essential element - luck! (A+)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Coach Thorniley) - With Coach Thorniley's excellent rush defense, I would have expected some work to strengthen the secondary against the pass. (C-)

Washington Redskins (Coach Williams) - In Round 2 and 3 of the draft, higher value players of the same type as drafted were available, and from the end of season stats, defense seems a huge priority that has not been addressed sufficiently. (D)

Seattle Seahawks (Coach Wilkinson) - Opposition teams will be concentrating on running against Coach Wilkinson's team this season. In spite of high value players in the draft, this still seems to be the major weakness that was not addressed. (B-)

Dallas Cowboys (Coach Keel) - In Round 3 of the draft, a higher value WR was available, and with only limited pass protection, more could have been done to diversify the offense. The secondary, on paper, looks strong, but why has it under-performed? (B-)

New York Jets (Coach Evans) - Is the level 4 rookie QB going to suffer, like Peyton Manning, behind a weak O-line, and is a rookie fullback going to find space to run? Get ready for hard pass rushing, stunting, and blitzing, Coach! (C)

Denver Broncos (Coach Rothwell) - Perhaps a long passing threat would have been something to think about in the draft or in Free Agency, but this said, Coach Rothwell didn't have much better to pick from. (B+)

Cincinnati Bengals (Coach Birtchnell) - With the confidence of the Consolation Bowl win, and excellent draft picks to add bite to run defense and O-line, and the traditional canny coaching, this is going to be another hard season in the AFC Central for Coach Birtchnell's opponents! (A)

Jacksonville Jaguars (Coach Morgan) - An excellent draft, adding cover to a very strong secondary statistically, if not on paper, and adding rookie muscle to both D and O lines. (A)

New Orleans Saints (Coach Harridge) - An excellent draft; more muscle in the D line to make it even harder to run there, strength to the secondary, and another blocking/passing option with a Tight End, and all high level players. (A)

Buffalo Bills (Coach Mountford) - An experienced receiver to add greatly to the passing game shows excellent use of Free Agency. However, why strengthen an already very successful running game, and not address a possible frailty in pass defense? (B)

Miami Dolphins (Coach Scott) - Astute use of Free Agency in rounds 1 and 2 to bring in more strength and experience at O line and adding to the deep pass defense. Excellent picks in the draft covering ageing linebackers and covering a gap on the D line. Coach Scott's team are going to be very hard to beat. (A+)

Detroit Lions (Coach Torpey) - If a coach has losing points and needs experienced players, this is an excellent example to follow. Skill and experience has been brought into every aspect of the team's game. (A+)

Chicago Bears (Coach Spicer) - Picked well in the early rounds to address weaknesses to the squad, on paper, but might have done better in round 3 to look at overall defense. There's always the opportunity to trade down to free up LP's for a more active strike in the Free Agency market. (B-)

Pittsburgh Steelers (Coach Ratcliffe) - Tried to cover the weak areas on the team created by retirements and step losses, by trading down to provide 'finance', but couldn't get enough to do all I wanted. Will clearly struggle in pass defense. Well done to Coach Baird for nipping in for a good O lineman in free agency, with a higher bid than mine! (C+)

San Francisco 49ers (Coach Devine) - Coach Devine clearly believes that powerful defense wins championships, and he has drafted well. His Free Agency RB will clearly add to the outside run, though only he will know why he didn't bid for the year 4 OPS* back available in the same round to give more versatility. (B+)

Arizona Cardinals (Coach Jenkinson) - Excellent work by Coach Jenkinson in strengthening pass defense, and then bolstering the O line. The round 3 pick of a KK** should bring this area to near perfection as EPA 49/52 and FGA 24/29 are pretty good already! (B+)

Green Bay Packers (Coach Baird) - Coach Baird freed up a lot of LP's with a very imaginative round 1 pick, and used them to beat me to a good O lineman! Has covered the only obvious weakness in his team, on run offense, if there were any. Is this now a possible back-to-back Championship side? (A+)

Oakland Raiders (Coach Crowther) - Looking at Coach Crowther's squad, on paper, I can never see why they are so formidable, but having been run out of two games last season, I can assure that they are! Having added to an already formidable pass defense, the picking of a catching + TE and the purchase of an OPS* RB will undoubtedly add variety to the offense, and the QB gives cover to a reliable veteran. However, there was an experience WR in Free Agency that could have given the passing game a real boost, and scared every opposing coach even more. (A-)


I have received season predictions from Martin Devine and Pat Ratcliffe:

AFC East

MD - Miami 12-4; Buffalo 10-6; New York Jets 7-9; New England 2-14.

PR - Dolphins to win convincingly from the Bills again. I cannot see that the Jets and the Patriots have added sufficiently to their squads.

AFC Central

MD - Cincinnati 13-3; Pittsburgh 11-5; Jacksonville 8-8; Cleveland 6-10.

PR - Jaguars, Bengals and Browns have all closed the gap on the Steelers. The hardest division to call in the AFC, but I anticipate three teams in the playoffs, with the Browns missing out, and the top spot being ?????

AFC West

MD - Oakland 14-2; Denver 8-8; Seattle 7-9; Kansas City 3-13.

PR - I cannot see any further than the Raiders again. Building wins in their section helps towards home field advantage!

NFC East

MD - Arizona 11-5; Philadelphia 9-7; Dallas 7-9; Washington 3-13.

PR - The Cardinals could be under threat from the Eagles this year!

NFC Central

MD - Green Bay 11-5; Detroit 10-6; Chicago 9-7; Tampa Bay 6-10.

PR - The Packers will be hard pressed again by both the Lions and the bears, in a very hard division to call. I'll plump for the Lions this year!

NFC West

MD - No prediction.

PR - The 49ers will be pressed hard by the Saints with the Rams showing good improvement, but the 49ers should win through.


Predictions and commentary from Martin Devine (I'm sure I could set up my word processor to print that line automatically...)

Dolphins at Cardinals Miami look to be stronger where it matters - run blocking and stopping the run. DOLPHINS BY 1

Bills at Cowboys The ball won't see much airtime in this one (except maybe for punts and field goals). Buffalo look weak in the secondary, but this isn't likely to matter much - the Bills better balance on offense should see them through. BILLS BY 3

Redskins at Jets A classic offense versus defense matchup. New York have talent but little experience on offense, but still have the core of the fearsome defense of 1996. Washington's offense is still the strength of the team, but expect opponents to be able to run all day on their defense. JETS BY 7

Eagles at Patriots Philadelphia have a very balanced looking team for 1998, and should be too strong for New England here. EAGLES BY 10

Packers at Steelers Green Bay start the defense of their Superbowl in Pittsburgh, where the home town team look to build on a solid year in 1997. Defense may be a worry for the Packers, with the front office concentrating on improving the offense. STEELERS BY 1

Bears at Jaguars Jacksonville's veteran offense should give the Bears' D a hard time, but Chicago have the offensive weapons to keep it close. This one's likely to be high scoring, with the Jag's passing offense just shading it. JAGUARS BY 3

Lions at Bengals Two teams looking to be among the league's elite in 1998 after only managing third place in tough divisions last year. Cincinnati will be tough to run on following the drafting of two quality linebackers, but Detroit's veteran offense will provide a tough challenge. BENGALS BY 5

Bucs at Browns Tampa Bay have a decent team, but look to be a little weak on the offensive line and in the secondary. A good draft has improved Cleveland's defense, but the offense needs to step up - there should be enough there to see the Browns through. BROWNS BY 3

Raiders at 49ers Both teams look to rebound following disappointing finishes to the season. This game between two well matched teams is likely to come down to the intangibles - special teams (a toss up) and coaching (edge to the Raiders, with coach Crowther's greater experience).

Saints at Broncos New Orleans have a good looking team apart from one area - the defensive backfield. Denver aren't the best equipped team to take advantage of this, but are one of the few teams capable of stopping the Saints' running game.

Seahawks at Panthers A veteran RB and an all-star offensive line - just about the perfect recipe for Seattle to win this one. SEAHAWKS BY 14

Rams at Chiefs KC's lack of defense should present St Louis with an easy win here. RAMS BY 7


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