(Friday June 16th)
Last week I looked at some of
the dogs of the NFL. Here are a few potential
long shot teams that might not be expected to
be a Super Bowl contender, but some offseason
moves may have helped them to surprise. After
all, the 1998 Rams went 4-12 and won the Super
Bowl a year later, the Ravens came out of nowhere
to win in 2000 and the Patriots went from 5-11
in 2000 to winning it all a year late.
Year one under Nick Saban was a rousing success.
The Dolphins were solid in many areas, with
a balanced offense (14th overall) and a consistent
defense that allowed only one team to score
30. They also carry a 6-0 Su, 4-2 ATS run into
the new season. All the more remarkable is that
Saban accomplished a 9-win season without a
The big story was the acquisition (for nothing,
really) of former Vikings star QB Daunte Culpepper.
Culpepper had a terrible 2005 season with a
season-ending knee injury, but is only 29-years
old and in 2004 he passed for 4,717 yards, 39
TDs and 11 INTs! WRs Chris Chambers (82 catches,
1,118 yards) and Marty Booker will benefit,
and they have a workhorse running back in Ronnie
Brown, the No. 2 overall pick in 2005. If Culpepper
comes back healthy, Miami has a shot with a
veteran defense, a balanced offense and a competent,
fiery young coach who has already won a national
title in college (LSU).
Dallas has three things in its favor. 1) The
offense is a veteran unit; 2) The defense is
young, hungry and improved considerably last
season; 3) Bill Parcells is the coach. A year
ago Parcells rebuilt the defense with guys like
LB Demarcus Ware and Dallas ranked 10th in total
defense. This offseason they needed to address
problems on the offensive line, so they added
versatile offensive lineman Kyle Kosier, 6-foot-7
offensive tackle Jason Fabini, and they hope
Flozell Adams recovers from the injury that
knocked him out last season.
The offense has a lot of veteran talent like
QB Drew Bledsoe, WR Terry Glenn, teamed with
young stalwarts TE Jason Witten and RB Julius
Jones. And they signed two offseason free agent
loud mouths in kicker Mike Vanderjagt and WR
Terrell Owens. Vanderjagt may not be clutch
in the postseason, but he improves the kicking
game. Owens will be kept in line by the Tuna
or shipped out. Despite the distractions, he
significantly upgrades the passing game. This
appears to be a veteran team built to make a
playoff run for this season. One other thing
in their favor: The NFC is far more a wide-open
race than the AFC.
All the talk has been on whether Cincy QB Carson
Palmer can return after that serious knee injury
in the opening minute of the playoff loss to
Pittsburgh. And that is the biggest concern.
With him, this is one of the best offenses in
the NFL, balanced and explosive.
However, what has been overlooked is what the
Bengals have done this offseason on defense.
They added free-agent defensive tackle Sam Adams,
a 6-foot-4, 335-pound three-time Pro Bowl selection
who is a run-stuffer. He started every game
for the Super Bowl champion 2000 Ravens. In
the draft they got South Carolina CB Jonathon
Joseph and DE Frostee Rucker (USC). The previous
year they upgraded the linebacker spot with
Georgia LBs David Pollack and Odell Thurman.
All this team needs is improved defense to take
the next step, and they are moving in the right
Bryan Leonard is a documented member of The
Professional Handicappers League.
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