Sneak Peek

From super Seahawks to sinking Dolphins, staff writer Ken Murray makes 10 predictions for 2004.

Nfl Preview 2004

The Predictions

September 09, 2004|By KEN MURRAY

Seahawks soar

Spurred by MVP quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who throws for 40 touchdowns and 4,000 yards, the Seahawks beat the Packers in the NFC championship game to reach their first Super Bowl.

Then, just as he did in Green Bay to win his first Super Bowl title, Seattle coach Mike Holmgren beats the Patriots again to win his second. This time, it's a missed Adam Vinatieri field goal that decides the issue.

No defense for Chiefs

In a Week 8 rematch of their playoff shootout last season, the Colts beat the Chiefs again, this time by 49-48. Just as in Indianapolis' 38-31 win in January, there are no punts in the game.

Not officially, at least. Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham becomes so enraged with his defense he kicks his headset, the water cooler and the team bench into the stands before halftime.

Dolphins flounder

The Dolphins, who missed the playoffs despite winning 10 games in 2003, bow out of the race early this year by losing their first 10.

In fact, the only intrigue in the Dolphins' dismal season is when they get their first win. It doesn't come until Nov. 28 at San Francisco by a sleep-inducing 3-0 score.

Best buddies

It's a matter of time before new Raiders quarterback Kerry Collins (top left) runs into former Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski (bottom left) in Oakland.

Romanowski once broke Collins' jaw with a helmet shot to the head in the preseason. Now they'll become close friends. Or maybe not.

Gibbs redux

Joe Gibbs discovers his return to the Redskins, after 11 years, is not as easy as climbing back on a bike. There is a salary cap to prevent the stashing of players, zone blitzes that threaten his aging quarterback, and young turks in the coaching ranks eager to make a name for themselves against a Hall of Famer.

Notorious in his first stint with the Redskins for being oblivious to world events, Gibbs retreats to his bunker for weeks on end. When he finally emerges before an early November trip to Detroit, he wipes his eyes and says, "Election? What election?"

Eli's on his way

Fresh off a loss in Dallas that drops the Giants to 1-4, coach Tom Coughlin benches quarterback Kurt Warner and officially launches the Eli Manning era at home against Detroit in Week 7.

With the Lions, the Giants start a five-game stretch against less-than-formidable defenses; Minnesota, Chicago, Arizona, and Atlanta follow. Warner's wife will let it be known she's not happy.

T.O. speaks, again and again

In the week before the Eagles visit Cleveland, wide receiver Terrell Owens renews his diatribe against former teammate and Browns quarterback Jeff Garcia. Among other things, Owens insists Garcia beats dogs, yells at little children and even stole his supply of Sharpie pens.

Then, in the game, Owens rails at Garcia so much from the sideline that he pulls a jaw muscle and scratches himself from next week's game against the Ravens and Ray Lewis. Nevertheless, through a club spokesman, Owens says that Lewis still isn't the hardest hitter ever to play in the NFL.

Air raid

Aided by the stricter enforcement of the 5-yard bump rule and his second-nature rapport with Marvin Harrison, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning threatens Dan Marino's single-season NFL record of 48 touchdown passes.

When Manning throws for seven TDs against hapless San Diego in Week 16, he reaches 47 for the season. Then, playing in a Week 17 blizzard in Denver on Jan. 2, he gets blanked and has to settle for second place.

Best behavior

Running back Corey Dillon, a recalcitrant force for seven years with the Cincinnati Bengals, rehabilitates his dour image in New England, where he rushes for more than 1,500 yards and causes no locker room rancor.

The appreciative Patriots break the league record for consecutive regular-season wins by winning their first 10 games, running their two-year total to 22. Better yet, they reach their second straight Super Bowl and third in four seasons.

Saying sayonara

After 20 years and nearly 200 touchdown catches, the 2004 season finally will mark the end of the line for Jerry Rice. The NFL's all-time leading receiver won't be the only star to retire, though.

Joining him will be Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk, Tim Brown, Aeneas Williams and John Lynch. Then, of course, there is Miami's Ricky Williams, who unretires and is promptly traded to the Arizona Cardinals. Touche!

RANKING THE DIVISIONS

1. NFC South

Any of the four teams could win.

2. NFC East

Getting better from bottom up.

3. AFC East

Bills and Jets on the rebound.

4. AFC South

Colts should win in runaway.

5. AFC North

It's a fight for second place.

6. AFC West

Broncos could catch Chiefs.

7. NFC North

Still rebuilding.

8. NFC West

No match for Seahawks.

COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT

1. Marty Schottenheimer, Chargers Management is growing impatient.

2. Dennis Erickson, 49ers

Another housecleaning may be in order.

3. Mike Tice, Vikings

Couldn't convert 6-0 into playoff spot.

4. Dave Wannstedt, Dolphins

His team has been ripped apart.

5. Butch Davis, Browns

It's time to show real progress.

FIVE TEAMS IN DECLINE

1. 49ers

Taking another salary cap flop.

2. Dolphins

They may not be able to score.

3. Rams

Losing Lovie Smith will hurt.

4. Chargers

May not have hit bottom yet.

5. Titans

Defensive line is a wreck.

FIVE TEAM ON THE RISE

1. Seahawks

Matt Hasselbeck has arrived.

2. Falcons

Jim Mora's makeover looks good.

3. Bills

Mike Mularkey will revive the passing game.

4. Lions

Finally have some offensive weapons.

5. Jaguars

Building around defense.

THIS YEAR'S TOP ROOKIES

1. TE Kellen Winslow, Browns

He's got a lot of his father in him.

2. WR Lee Evans, Bills Big-play threat with Eric Moulds.

3. WR Roy Williams, Lions

Could resuscitate team's passing game.

4. S Sean Taylor, Redskins

Another big-play safety from Miami.

5. WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals Dennis Green couldn't resist this pick.

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