Cincinnati got the ball first and came out passing, moving into Packer territory before stalling just outside field goal range. Green Bay's opening drive featured ten straight running plays before a 24 yard pass put them at the Bengals' one, from where William Henderson ran it in. The Bengals' next drive was moving along nicely until Jeff Blake was sacked on third and one forcing the punt. On the first play of the second quarter Brett Favre fumbled the ball on a sack and two plays later it was 7-7 thanks to Blake's touchdown pass to Tony McGee. The Packers then went three and out before the Bengals put together an impressive drive to make it 10-7 on Doug Pelfry's 33 yard field goal. The rest of the half was scoreless as the two defenses were on top. Green Bay started the third quarter well, driving 67 yards in 15 plays before Favre threw his second pick of the game. However, Blake returned the compliment 2 plays later which led to Henderson's second one yard plunge to make it 14-10 Green Bay. Both teams next possessions ended with punts, but another punt gave Cincinnati a scoring chance at the end of the third when a return was fumbled and they recovered the ball at the Packers' 10. However, the Packers' D stepped up and only conceded a field goal to make it 14-13. Green Bay went three and out to start the fourth quarter but Cincinnati were able to move 70 yards in nine plays, culminating in McGee's second TD catch, making the score 20-14 with just over eight minutes to play. The Packer offense got into gear and they moved into scoring range before a run for a loss left them facing fourth and six at the Cincy 16. Favre stayed calm in the face of a blitz and found Antonio Freeman open for a 12 yard gain. After another run for loss Favre found Chmura open in the endzone for a 21-20 lead at the two minute warning. Cincinnati were now in a hurry and Blake managed to complete two passes before throwing his second interception which was duly returned 39 yards for the game's final score. The Bengals gave a good account of themselves but in the end Green Bay were too good and made the plays when they really needed to.
The Raiders struggled on third downs, offensive and defensive, while the Cards were able to get some long drives going. The game wasn't decided, however, until inside the two minute warning. The Raiders, trailing by seven and starting from their own 14, completed a nine yard pass to give themselves three shots at gaining one yard to continue the drive. The Arizona defense managed to hold firm and the offense, gifted the ball at the Oakland 23, banged the nails into the coffin with a two play touchdown drive.
Philadelphia put in a Saintly performance, running the ball, running it some more, then running it again. Given that they were sacked three times on only fourteen pass attempts, this was probably the optimal strategy. The Eagles built a big lead in the first half, thanks in part to a fumble return for a touchdown, and were able to keep the New Orleans offense off the field long enough to hold on.
Carolina returned to the passing game with great effect after the Bills completely shut down their running game. The Panthers averaged less than one yard per carry, but while the Buffalo defense was concentrating on the run Carolina were able to throw it over their heads. The Bills' offense was unable to build any drives, converting only one quarter of their third down opportunities.
Pittsburgh looked like they had trouble getting themselves up for this one but, after being stung by a first quarter touchdown, they put on a great offensive display for three quarters to win comfortably.
New England Patriots: Very active in the offseason, and managed to plug a few of the holes in the squad (only a few, though). Should be massively improved defensively. GRADE: A
Jacksonville Jaguars: OK, the Jags had the worst offence in the AFC last year, but it wasn't because of problems at the skill positions. Offensive line is a major need which wasn't looked at - this will hurt a lot in the season to come. Secondary was also ignored. GRADE: E
St. Louis Rams: Defence was the big need here, but you can't disagree with the OL first up, or with the DB in the third round. A third receiver looks to be a luxury, though, with more pressing holes to be filled. GRADE: C+
Dallas Cowboys: The first two picks in the draft are a mystery - both give additional help to areas already well-covered, while ignoring obvious holes. The OL in the third round came too late to make a difference. GRADE: E
Miami Dolphins: Offensive help through the draft, free agency sees to the defensive needs - a good combination (if you have the LPs!) The new players fill needs for the Dolphins, too - something more than a few teams have failed to do. GRADE: A
Washington Redskins: Two good picks, and one very questionable one. Given how much Washington run the ball, why pick a WR? This pick would have been better used on strengthening a weak defence. GRADE: C-
Seattle Seahawks: Again, the WR was a strange pick given the run-based offence used by this team, and why pick up a fourth DL for a 3-4 defence? The first-round RB is the future load-carrier for the offence, though. GRADE: D
Chicago Bears: The second and third round selections, RB and DL, fit needs very nicely, but why a TE in the first round? A wasted opportunity to strengthen either a weak offensive line or a porous defence. GRADE: C-
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A good draft, with the possible exception of the WR in the second round - the Bucs already had a couple of good WR, and other areas needed attention more urgently (LB and TE being the most obvious). GRADE: B-
Carolina Panthers: This draft won't make the Panthers Superbowl champions on its own, but it is a very good start. The foundation for a solid offensive line was put into place with the first two picks, and the third strengthened an already solid set of linebackers. GRADE: B+
Detroit Lions: Three good picks, but more could have been done to help the defence here. Offensive line is never a bad pick, and the DL filled a need, but the WR may have been an unnecessary luxury. GRADE: C
Kansas City Chiefs: A good start, but poor selections after the first made this another draft to forget. Defence should have been the priority, but the two weak offensive players chosen will not improve this team. GRADE: D
Pittsburgh Steelers: The draft provided good defensive assistance for the Steelers, but could have been better. OL or DB in the second round makes more sense than the WR taken, especially as the Steelers already had two young WRs on the roster. GRADE: C+
Cleveland Browns: The league's number 1 offence needed little help, so concentrating on the defence was a no-brainer, but Cleveland did it fairly well. The only criticism is the LB situation, with two draftees joining three veterans on the roster. GRADE: B-
Buffalo Bills: A very poor draft, with two picks adding to strengths, the third a special teams player and no attention paid to obvious weaknesses. Not getting a QB in this draft could hurt this team in the near future. GRADE: E
Philadelphia Eagles: Adding good young players in the defensive backfield and on the offensive line makes this a good draft for the Eagles, although a LB in the third round would have been better. GRADE: B
New York Jets: DL with the first pick was a bonus drafting this low, but the rest of the draft didn't live up to the bright start. Offensive line was a major need not addressed, with the later picks improving strengths. GRADE: D
San Francisco 49ers: I got pretty well what I wanted, although the first round pick may look a bit odd. Offensive line help and a young QB were two need areas; the third (defensive backfield) has been somewhat addressed since the draft through free agency. GRADE: C+
Denver Broncos: The Broncos now have a great linebacking corps, it's just a pity they can't all be on the field at the same time! The RB was also a case of stocking up in a strong area when there were holes to be filled. GRADE: D
Cincinnati Bengals: A transitional draft for the Bengals, with many players being lost. A new QB was a must, and trading out of the first round a good move to limit the damage (getting a good deep threat for the rookie QB in the process). GRADE: B-
New Orleans Saints: Solid draft for the NFC West champions which filled most of their needs, although some holes do remain - the defensive backfield is still there to be exploited. GRADE: B
Oakland Raiders: A draft which should improve the Raiders' offence - a deep threat at WR will open holes for the running game, and an OL is always a good pickup. An aging defence was ignored, though, which may be a problem in the near future. GRADE: B
Arizona Cardinals: It was a bonus getting the top QB, although the Cardinals don't really need a QB at the moment. A good defence will only get better with two solid rookies, but the offensive line remains weak. GRADE: C+
Green Bay Packers: This offseason couldn't have gone much better for the two-time champions, with help on all areas of the defence. Picking up a good prospect at QB with the last pick of the draft was a bonus to say the least. GRADE: A
Martin Devine to Quentin Jenkinson: There's usually a few decent QBs further down the draft (not that I was expecting to get one as late as I did!) I didn't think the 4 QB would fall as far to start with, but I felt there were other areas needing the pick more in the first round.
Martin Devine to John Coleman: Thanks for changing up the Panthers' offence - after what it did to my 49ers last year, I'm glad to see the back of the old version!
New England have had an excellent off season in terms of the draft and free agency and will be looking to show off all their new talent at Texas Stadium. The Patriots' new coach looks like he favours the run, he should be able to run all over the Dallas defense. The Cowboys have always been suspect in this area and they have not done anything at all to bolster their defense during the offseason. Dallas made strides to improve an offense that was ranked dead last in the league last season, with personnel in the RB's, WR's and OL's, but what let them down last year wasn't the players - it was the poor strategy. They totally revamped their offense, ditching the run, run, run method and started passing the ball too much. They will need to try and find some sort of balance, otherwise they'll get murdered. The Patriots' defense has never been very good, but this season I expect that to change. New England will be able to stop Troy Aikman and co. from moving the ball and then give Drew Bledsoe and his offensive troops the possession, which they will convert into plenty of points. PATRIOTS BY 21
Predictions from Darren Birtchnell and myself. New categories for predictions this year: Lock of the week - dead certainty, penalties incurred for inaccuracies; Shock of the week - for instance, somebody beating the Packers; Blowout of the week - largest margin of victory; Shootout of the week - highest scoring game; Slugfest of the week - lowest scoring game. Any other suggestions? We'll have to work out some sort of ranking system for these categories, anyone with some bright ideas?
D.B. R.C. Cardinals at Jets Cards by 10 Cards by 7 Eagles at Bills Eagles by 4 Eagles by 3 Redskins at Dolphins Dolphins by 10 Dolphins by 14 Patriots at Cowboys Patriots by 20 Patriots by 14 Bengals at Packers No Prediction Packers by 3 Lions at Browns Lions by 1 Browns by 3 Steelers at Bucs Steelers by 7 Bucs by 3 Jaguars at Bears Bears by 1 Bears by 3 Raiders at Saints Raiders by 1 No Prediction 49ers at Broncos 49ers by 3 49ers by 3 Panthers at Chiefs Panthers by 1 Panthers by 14 Seahawks at Rams Seahawks by 3 Seahawks by 3 Lock of the Week Cards Dolphins Shock of the Week Lions No Prediction Blowout of the Week Patriots Panthers Shootout of the Week No Prediction Jags at Bears Slugfest of the Week No Prediction Cards at Jets
Next week - 1999 preview spectacular! I've already got some season predictions from Quentin (thanks), and I've been planning my preview/predictions. I thought it would be best to put all the previews and predictions into one issue, so get them in the post now! (2 Lily Terrace, Edinburgh. EH11 1PN. In case you forgot...) The last two issues have been great thanks to all the contributions, thanks guys!