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NFC CAPSULES



Published: Sat, September 8, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



NEW YORK -- Capsules of the NFC in order of their finish last season (records are for regular season and in playoffs):

1. NEW YORK GIANTS (12-4) (2-1)

Last season: Won final five regular-season games after coach Jim Fassel, with his job on the line, "guaranteed" playoff berth. Giants did him two better, beating Philadelphia and Minnesota (41-0) to reach Super Bowl, where they were shut down by Ravens, 34-7.

Additions & amp; subtractions: DE Kenny Holmes, signed from Tennessee, gives Giants one of NFL's top front fours. First-round pick Will Allen should eventually start at CB. Lost DLs Cedric Jones and Christian Peter, LB Ryan Phillips, PK Brad Daluiso and P Brad Maynard. Backup RB Joe Montgomery is out for season with Achilles' tendon injury.

Look out for: DT Cornelius Griffin, second-round choice a year ago, moves into Peter's slot. He has Pro Bowl potential -- at least. New punter Rodney Williams has monster leg.

Strengths & amp; weaknesses: Defense overall is outstanding, with second-year Brandon Short an improvement over Phillips at strongside linebacker and Holmes and Griffin major steps up from Jones and Peter. But depth is almost all youngsters. Offense, with WR Ike Hilliard questionable, is uncertain, particularly along aging OL. RB Ron Dayne, minus 15 pounds, looks quicker. And Kerry Collins, despite an awful Super Bowl, has developed into one of top QBs in a QB-poor league. Ron Dixon is a threat on every kickoff, but the weakness is coverage and placekicking.

Prospects: General assumption is that they got hot against weak schedule and were exposed in Super Bowl. Still, should contend with Philadelphia for NFC East title and make playoffs in division where only the Eagles are real contenders.

2. MINNESOTA (11-5) (1-1)

Last season: Went into season with new QB and rebuilt OL, yet exceeded expectations by winning first seven games and 11 of 13. Suspect defense caught up with them as they lost four of last five, including embarrassing 41-0 loss to Giants in NFC championship game.

Additions & amp; subtractions: Death of OT Korey Stringer far overshadows retirement of Robert Smith and loss of free agents DT John Randle, OT Todd Steussie and LB Dwayne Rudd. RB Michael Bennett and NT Shawn Worthen could be first rookies to start opener since Steussie and CB Dwayne Washington in 1994. DE Lance Johnstone has added speed on defensive front, and WR Jake Reed is back. Willie Shaw a welcome addition as secondary coach.

Look out for: Bennett, could step right in for Smith. Opponents will have to spend too much energy on WRs Randy Moss and Cris Carter and QB Daunte Culpepper to pay much attention.

Strengths & amp; weaknesses: Any team with Culpepper, Moss and Carter has chance to win any game. Yet any team that loses as many key players as Vikings have the past two seasons always has a chance to lose, too, particularly with continuing holes in secondary.

Prospects: After surprising start and collapse in 2000, Vikings seem capable of anything. Stringer's death initially seems to have had a unifying effect, but OL that has lost four Pro Bowl linemen in past two seasons might have reached its limit. Will be dangerous as always, but this could be the year they finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

3. NEW ORLEANS (10-6, (1-1)

Last season: Under rookie head coach Jim Haslett, rebounded from 3-13 to win NFC West and first playoff game ever. Haslett won Coach of the Year as everything went right. Untested QB Aaron Brooks stepped in when Jeff Blake went down, and losing RB Ricky Williams after he had 1,000 yards in 10 games didn't hurt.

Additions & amp; subtractions: Drafted RB Deuce McAllister in first round. But after training camp holdout, McAllister failed to unseat Williams as starter. Williams came into camp with a new attitude and in great condition. Brooks won QB competition over Blake.

Look out for: WR Onome Ojo, a fifth-round draft pick from Cal-Davis. Played three years of Division II football after leading his high school soccer team in scoring for three years.

Strengths & amp; weaknesses: Defense again a strength, starting with DL led by La'Roi Glover and Joe Johnson. The offense, however, has struggled, with neither Blake nor Brooks able to move the team. Still, OL, featuring bookend tackles Willie Roaf and Kyle Turley, is one of NFL's best.

Prospects: The roster is deeper, faster, and more talented than a year ago. Several injured players, most notably TE Cam Cleeland, are back. Look for the Saints to make another run into the playoffs.

4. PHILADELPHIA (11-5,) (1-1)

Last season: After winning total of eight games in previous two seasons, went 11-5 and won a playoff game before losing to Giants, against whom they were 0-3.

Additions & amp; subtractions: Free agents WR James Thrash, DE Ndukwe Kalu and first-round pick WR Freddie Mitchell. Released WRs Charles Johnson and Torrance Small and DE Mike Mamula.

Look out for: MLB Jeremiah Trotter made his first Pro Bowl and is playing for a new contract. Thrash gets chance to be No. 1 receiver, which he never was in Washington. RB Correll Buckhalter, a fourth-round pick, will be key if Duce Staley isn't completely healed from foot injury.

Strengths & amp; weaknesses: QB Donovan McNabb, solid offensive line, deep at linebacker and secondary. Inexperienced receivers and little depth at running back after Staley.

Prospects: Tough schedule, won't surprise teams anymore, but should compete with Giants for NFC East title. Have now lost eight straight to New York, which has shut down McNabb well. But law of averages says Eagles should win at least one this season.

5. TAMPA BAY (10-6,) (0-1)

Last season: Inconsistency on offense undermined Super Bowl aspirations, leading to firing of offensive coordinator Les Steckel and signing of free agent QB Brad Johnson.

Additions & amp; subtractions: With Johnson, DE Simeon Rice and rookie LT Kenyatta Walker, no team did more to bolster championship hopes. Waived DE Chidi Ahanotu; lost FS Damien Robinson and RG Frank Middleton to free agency. One subtraction that could be an addition: 30 pounds from DT Warren Sapp's middle.

Look out for: With Pro Bowl C Jeff Christy expected to miss opener with sprained knee, Bucs could begin season with three offensive lineman who've yet to make an NFL start: Walker, RG Cosey Coleman and C Todd Washington. Rice and FS Dexter Jackson are new starters on defense, while second-year LB Nate Webster could make an impact as season progresses.

Strengths & amp; weaknesses: Defense anchored by Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch is one of league's best. Key to hopes will be getting more production out of passing game and scoring more points.

Prospects: Anything short of a Super Bowl berth will be disappointing in what could be make-or-break season for Tony Dungy, winningest coach in franchise history and the only one with a winning record.

6. ST. LOUIS (10-6) ( 0-1)

Last season: Horrible defense, worst ever by a playoff team, and Kurt Warner's broken hand knocked the Rams from Super Bowl champions to wild-card playoff losers.

Additions & amp; subtractions: Could be eight new starters on defense. FS Kim Herring and CB Aeneas Williams are top veteran additions, and first-round picks Damione Lewis at DT and SS Adam Archuleta are instant starters. DE Kevin Carter, who sulked through last season after contract impasse, was sent to Titans for another first-round pick the Rams used to take DT Ryan Pickett, likely a backup this year. Backup QB Trent Green traded to Rams.

Look out for: OT Ryan Tucker emerging as force on right side, opposite Pro Bowler Orlando Pace.

Strengths & amp; weaknesses: Warner and MVP Marshall Faulk, who scored a record 26 touchdowns last year, head NFL's No. 1 offense. But unproven Joe Germaine is backup for Warner, who also had concussion in regular-season finale. Faulk didn't play in first three preseason games, saving surgically repaired right knee for when it counts. Changes on defense, including new coordinator Lovie Smith, could spell growing pains.

Prospects: A lot of people think Super Bowl. Only if they stay healthy (Warner and Faulk) and defense comes together quickly.

7. DETROIT (9-7)

Last season: Good enough to tease, but not much more. Coach Bobby Ross quit with a 5-4 record and Gary Moeller was fired after a last-second loss to Chicago at home in final game kept Lions out of playoffs. Went 5-3 on road, just 4-4 at home, where Dome should provide huge advantage.

Additions & amp; subtractions: Coach Marty Mornhinweg and West Coast offense, CB Todd Lyght, G Brenden Stai, DE Alonzo Spellman, and first-round pick T Jeff Backus. Lost G Jeff Hartings and C Mike Compton.

Look out for: DE James Hall could cause problems as designated pass rusher after a quiet rookie year as undrafted free agent.

Strengths & amp; weaknesses: DL is deep with DE Robert Porcher and DT Luther Elliss backed by Spellman, Hall and Kelvin Pritchett. Team president Matt Millen and Mornhinweg have injected energy into lethargic franchise. But OL is inexperienced and QB Charlie Batch is injury prone, a dangerous combination. WR Germane Crowell has sore knee after injury-shortened 2000 season.

Prospects: If Batch and CB Bryant Westbrook (ruptured Achilles' tendon) come back from injuries, have shot at playoffs and their second playoff win since 1957.

8. GREEN BAY (9-7)

Last season: Despite worst injury epidemic in franchise history, won last four games to finish 9-7 in Mike Sherman's first season as coach.

Additions & amp; subtractions: Added DT Jim Flanigan and brought back run-stuffer Gilbert Brown, who lost 70 pounds. Also was able to keep S Darren Sharper and K Ryan Longwell by making them highest-paid players at their positions. Lost backup QB Matt Hasselbeck to Seattle for No. 10 pick (DE Jamal Reynolds, who failed to make early impression). With Hasselbeck gone, Packers are counting on Brett Favre continuing his 155-game iron man streak.

Look out for: Speed rusher Kabeer Bgaja-Biamila, a practice squadder a year ago, has outplayed Reynolds. P Josh Bidwell has made strong recovery from testicle cancer two years ago. Second-year LT Chad Clifton has Pro Bowl capability.

Strengths & amp; weaknesses: If Dorsey Levens returns from broken left hand, will form top tailback tandem along with Ahman Green. WR Antonio Freeman knows he must return to Pro Bowl form or this will be his last season in Green Bay. Return of Corey Bradford could help Freeman get fewer double-teams. Interior defensive line is patchwork, with Santana Dotson, Brown and Steve Warren among six players recovering from injuries. Linebacking is a strength.

Prospects: If Favre stays healthy, expecting double-digit victories and a return to the playoffs after a two-year drought. They have the talent to go far, but difficult schedule could make three December games at Lambeau Field crucial.

9. WASHINGTON (8-8)

Last season: Too many stars, most of them falling, made for bad chemistry and not enough hard work. Injuries to OL and poor special teams didn't help. Coach Norv Turner was fired with three games remaining. Interim Terry Robiskie finished season, even as owner Dan Snyder was recruiting Marty Schottenheimer.

Additions & amp; subtractions: Schottenheimer replaced all assistant coaches but one. Free agent signees WR Kevin Lockett, FB Donnell Bennett, G Dave Szott, G Matt Campbell, G Ben Coleman, LB Robert Jones and TE Walter Rasby will vie for playing time. CB Donovan Greer could push Darrell Green out of starting job. All the kicking game specialists are new, including five-time Pro Bowler Michael Bates. Top draft picks WR Rod Gardner and CB Fred Smoot should have immediate impact. Salary cap cuts and general overhaul make for incredible list of departees: CB Deion Sanders, QB Brad Johnson, S Mark Carrier, LB Derek Smith, DT Dana Stubblefield, FB Larry Centers, WR James Thrash, WR Irving Fryar, WR Albert Connell, G Tre Johnson, G Keith Sims.

Look out for: Smoot. He got Deion's number, Deion's mouth, Deion's instincts, plus he actually loves to tackle.

Strengths & amp; weaknesses: There are several good TEs and not enough of everything else. Depth is major concern. Kenard Lang is DE trying to play DT. FS David Terrell has never started. QBs Jeff George and Tony Banks have strong arms and losing records and George's arm hurts. Ts Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels are solid bookends. Schottenheimer's track record and discipline seem to be winning over the players.

Prospects: Schottenheimer is going to have to coach his head off to compensate for massive talent drain. Offensively, it all rests with George, who missed nearly all of training camp with shoulder tendinitis. Defense looks strong against the pass, weak against the run. A kind schedule will help. Very hard team to handicap.

10. CAROLINA (7-9)

Last season: Imported veterans Reggie White, Eric Swann and Chuck Smith for defensive line, but they never produced much. Devastated by early injuries. Allowed NFL-worst 69 sacks and stumbled to first losing season in coach George Seifert's career.

Additions & amp; subtractions: Added OLs Todd Steussie, Kevin Donnalley, and Jeff Mitchell; RB Richard Huntley; rookie QB Chris Weinke. Lost QB Steve Beuerlein, DB Eric Davis, DEs White, Smith and Swann, K Joe Nedney.

Look out for: KR Steve Smith and Weinke, who already is challenging Jeff Lewis for starting quarterback job.

Strengths & amp; weaknesses: Should be strong at receiver if Patrick Jeffers recovers from knee operation in time to rejoin Muhsin Muhammad and Donald Hayes. But it might not matter if Panthers don't improve at QB, where five-year backup Lewis is currently the starter.

Prospects: Without a QB, could be a rocky season.

11. SAN FRANCISCO (6-10)

Last season: Missed playoffs in consecutive years for first time since 1979-80 and hit full rebuilding mode. But young team, with five rookies starting on defense, showed promise. QB Jeff Garcia looked like reasonable successor to Joe Montana and Steve Young.

Additions & amp; subtractions: DT Dana Stubblefield (re-addition), rookie DE Andre Carter, LB Derek Smith, LB Jamie Winborn were added. WR Jerry Rice was forced by salary cap to end Hall of Fame career across the Bay in Oakland with RB Charlie Garner.

Look out for: WR Tai Streets. After two years as understudy, 49ers hope speedy Michigan product will be deep threat.

Strengths & amp; weaknesses: Garcia and WR Terrell Owens make a premier combo. DL anchored by Bryant Young and Stubblefield could be strength. But young secondary could get scorched regularly. Depending heavily on RB Garrison Hearst's surgically repaired leg to support running game.

Prospects: If Hearst returns to 1998 form and defense holds up, 49ers have playoff shot.

12. CHICAGO (5-11)

Last season: Started 1-7 and never recovered. No stability at quarterback, no consistent pass rush and used spread-the-field offense the rest of the league quickly figured out. James Allen rushed for 1,000 yards and LB Brian Urlacher made Pro Bowl as rookie. Highlight was winning last game in final seconds in Detroit to knock Lions out of playoffs.

Additions & amp; subtractions: Added free agent DTs Ted Washington and Keith Traylor, S Larry Whigham and RB Skip Hicks. Drafted WR David Terrell. Released DTs Jim Flanigan and Mike Wells and lost G Todd Perry to free agency. Traded QB Cade McNown to Miami. John Shoop has taken over as offensive coordinator, replacing Gary Crowton; hired Jerry Angelo as GM after parting with personnel director Mark Hatley.

Look out for: Urlacher, whose speed made him Defensive Rookie of the Year, now knows the nuances of system in his second season and is brimming with confidence.

Strengths & amp; weaknesses: Strengths are T James "Big Cat" Williams, who has started every game for six years, and Urlacher; few other discernible positives as coach Dick Jauron battles for his job; career backup Shane Matthews is starting QB; Jim Miller, with the best arm, is rusty after Achilles' tendon surgery and hamstring problems in training camp. Meager offensive punch not helped with big-play WR Marcus Robinson having back surgery.

Prospects: Looks like another dreary season and a housecleaning afterward as Angelo, who had big hand in Tampa Bay's improvement, brings in his own coaches and players.

13. DALLAS (5-11)

Last season: Jerry Jones built a house of cards around Troy Aikman and Joey Galloway and it collapsed. Galloway was lost to knee injury in opener, Aikman was battered and defense allowed the most yards rushing in the NFL, including three 200-yard individual games.

Additions & amp; subtractions: Aikman retired; added, then subtracted Tony Banks to replace him and handed QB job to rookie Quincy Carter, a second-round pick who might have been available in the fifth. Also subtracted T Erik Williams, DTs Chad Hennings, Leon Lett, Alonzo Spellman, deep snapper Dale Hellestrae and ... 50 pounds from Jerry Jones.

Look out for: Carter, S Tony Dixon, LB Markus Steele.

Strengths & amp; weaknesses: Carter is surrounded by Emmitt Smith, Galloway, Raghib Ismail and Larry Allen, so he won't be asked to win by himself. But forcing a run-oriented offense on pass-happy coordinator Jack Reilly is a setup for disaster. And defense's idea of using a safety to help stop the run makes already inexperienced secondary even more vulnerable.

Prospects: Jones says 10-6 with solid QB play; three wins are more realistic and 0-16 possible.

14. ATLANTA (4-12)

Last season: Continued slide from Super Bowl season of 1998 by going 4-12. QB Chris Chandler was hurt much of season and RB Jamal Anderson was so-so after coming back from major knee injury.

Additions & amp; subtractions: Biggest long-term addition was QB Michael Vick, obtained by trading up for No. 1 overall draft pick. That cost Falcons WR-KR Tim Dwight among others. Brought back WR Tony Martin from Miami.

Look out for: LB Keith Brooking, one-time first-rounder, has been bothered by injuries, but can be standout if he stays healthy. Coach Dan Reeves believes Vick's not ready yet, but he's likely to be force-fed at some point.

Strengths & amp; weaknesses: Chandler and Anderson are positives if they stay healthy, and aging receiving corps of Terance Mathis, Shawn Jefferson and Martin is experienced. Right now, Doug Johnson probably would be No. 2 QB ahead of Vick. CBs Ray Buchanan and Ashley Ambrose one of better tandems at that position. OL a major weakness, which bodes ill for health of Chandler and Anderson. Teams can run against small DL.

Prospects: There's enough veteran talent to make a run at .500. But veteran usually means injury prone and if any key players get hurt, it's more of the same. That could mean end of the line for Reeves.

15. ARIZONA (3-13)

Last season: Tailspin following 9-7 season in 1998 accelerated to worst record since move to Arizona in 1988. Six games into season, after 48-7 loss at Dallas, coach Vince Tobin was fired and replaced by defensive coordinator Dave McGinnis. Team that was bad to begin with was depleted by injuries. Arizona was 1-9 under McGinnis -- upset Washington 16-15 two days before voters approved new stadium that prevented franchise from moving. QB Jake Plummer had another poor season with 21 interceptions and 13 touchdown passes. It didn't help that he had almost no running game.

Additions & amp; subtractions: G Leonard Davis will start on offensive line that is foundation of McGinnis' rebuilding effort. The 6-foot-6, 370-pound Davis was No. 2 overall draft pick. G Pete Kendall was most significant free-agent acquisition. Rookies will see considerable playing time on entirely new defensive line. DE Kyle Vanden Bosch has been impressive. McGinnis dumped DLs Andre Wadsworth, Simeon Rice and Mark Smith. CB Aeneas Williams, a six-time Pro Bowl performer, was traded to St. Louis because he wants to end career with contender.

Look out for: Davis, extremely mobile for a man his size. Vanden Bosch has cemented his spot as starting end. WR David Boston has emerged as team's legitimate big-play threat and probably is best athlete on roster.

Strengths & amp; weaknesses: Offensive line could be the biggest in NFL with Anthony Clement (6-8, 350 pounds) and L.J. Shelton (6-6, 335 at tackles), and Davis (6-6, 370) at guard. RBs Michael Pittman, suspended for the first game, and Thomas Jones will get plenty of carries. WRs are talented, especially if Rob Moore successfully comes back from season-ending knee injury last year. DL is very young, and team lacks a proven TE or FB, two major components in offensive coordinator Rich Olson's system. Plummer, with 45 interceptions last two seasons, faces make-or-break year.

Prospects: McGinnis has authority and an emotional attitude that could eventually build a winner, if owner Bill Bidwill stays out of the way. But it's going to be a long haul. Could be better than last season, but probably not much.

-- Associated Press




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