Minnesota Vikings - It will be difficult if not impossible for the Vikings to have as good a regular season as they did in 1998. The Vikings went 15-1 and looked like the best team in the league when they were dealt a crushing blow in the playoffs, losing in OT to the Falcons. This year they need to pick up the pieces from last year's numbing loss and make another Super Bowl run. They certainly have the horses. Quarterback Randall Cunningham was impeccable last season but who wouldn't be with Randy Moss and Cris Carter running under the passes? The Vikings also have a great opportunity to get on track early, opening the season in Atlanta. The Vikings are solid top to bottom and front to back and this year they're on a mission.
Green Bay Packers - The 1999 Packers will be missing two key ingredients from recent years. Gone to Seattle is head coach Mike Holmgren and gone to retirement are defensive end and all-time NFL sack leader Reggie White and the original Lambeau-leaper Robert Brooks. Former Holmgren assistant Ray Rhodes fills the void on the sidelines but no one will truly be able to fill the hole left by White's departure although Vonnie Holliday is ready to try. The Packers still have few good players around. Brett Favre will still be their quarterback. A fully recovered Dorsey Levens will still take handoffs from Favre and a fully re-signed Antonio Freeman will still catch touchdowns from him.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Once again the Bucs' defense will be the ones to lead the charge. With a refocused and slimmer Warren Sapp at the forefront of perhaps the best defense in the NFL, the only problem should occur on the other side of the ball. Trent Dilfer needs to step it up and should get more help from his receivers this year. Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott are a solid backfield tandem. If the offensive line can perform even adequately, Dunn and Alstott should keep the heat off Dilfer.
Detroit Lions - Obviously, the team was not ready for the abrupt departure of their superstar runner Barry Sanders. Might the unthinkable happen? Could the offense improve without Barry to serve as a crutch? Perhaps, but don't count on it. Sophomore quarterback Charlie Batch will try to pick up the slack, but that's a lot of slack. One thing Batch does have is a good receiving corps to help him out. An improved defense will be the reason should the Lions exceed last year's win total of five.
Chicago Bears - The new (and improved?) Bears will be hard-pressed to finish anywhere else but last in this division. Rookie quarterback Cade McNown will be the starter before long unless six-year vet Shane Matthews wows the new coaching staff. Running back Curtis Enis is coming off a torn ACL and must have a monster season if the Bears are to win more than five or six games.
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