|NFL Preseason Capsules|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 16 July 2008 16:55|
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (18-1)
OPEN CAMP: July 24, Foxborough, Mass.
LAST YEAR: Went 16-0 in the regular season, then won two playoff games after tumultuous start marked by $750,000 in fines and loss of first-round draft pick for taping New York Jets' signals in season opener. Were especially dominant in first half of season. But dream of NFL's first 19-0 season ended when they were upset 17-14 by New York Giants in Super Bowl.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: LB Jerod Mayo, chosen with first-round pick obtained from San Francisco in 2007; LB Victor Hobson; DBs Fernando Bryant, Lewis Sanders, Jason Webster and Tank Williams to try to fill biggest holes.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: CBs Asante Samuel and Randall Gay; S Eugene Wilson; WR Donte' Stallworth; LBs Rosevelt Colvin and Junior Seau, who is 39 and had offseason shoulder surgery, could be brought back in an emergency.
CAMP NEEDS: Bill Belichick needs to replace Samuel and the oft-injured Wilson in the secondary; start working in young linebackers to replace Colvin, Seau, and eventually Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel. Mayo and third-round pick LB Shawn Crable might see early action.
EXPECTATIONS: The only acceptable outcome to season would be a fourth Super Bowl victory this decade. Last year's loss in title game makes it even more urgent.
BUFFALO BILLS (7-9)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, St. John Fisher College, Pittsford, N.Y.
LAST YEAR: Young Bills were derailed by injuries, including devastating neck injury sustained by TE Kevin Everett, and yet another quarterback shuffle - rookie Trent Edwards supplanting J.P. Losman. Missed playoffs for eighth straight year.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DT Marcus Stroud (trade with Jacksonville); LB Kawika Mitchell; CB Leodis McKelvin (first-round draft pick); WR James Hardy (second-rounder).
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DT Larry Tripplett; WR Peerless Price; CB Kiwaukee Thomas.
ry threat to take pressure off Lee Evans.
EXPECTATIONS: There's hope the Bills, with young core in place and depth at most positions, are finally ready to compete for playoff berth. No one's expecting them to dethrone New England in the division, but wild-card spot is not out of the question for team that's shown resilience under coach Dick Jauron.
NEW YORK JETS (4-12)
OPEN CAMP: July 24, Hempstead, N.Y.
LAST YEAR: Jets took huge step backward after making playoffs in 2006, Eric Mangini's first as coach. Lofty expectations vanished with 1-9 start marked by benching of QB Chad Pennington in favor of Kellen Clemens, who did little to convince Jets he's their QB of future. One of few bright spots was speedy RB Leon Washington, who tied for NFL lead with three kickoff returns for TDs.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: G Alan Faneca; T Damien Woody; LB Vernon Gholston (first-round pick); TEs Dustin Keller (first-round pick) and Bubba Franks; DT Kris Jenkins; RBs Jesse Chatman and Musa Smith; FB Tony Richardson.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: LBs Jonathan Vilma and Victor Hobson; DT Dewayne Robertson; WR Justin McCareins; CB Andre Dyson; G Adrien Clarke; T Anthony Clement.
CAMP NEEDS: Figuring out who starting QB will be: smart and efficient veteran Pennington or strong-armed Clemens? A third receiver must step up among Brad Smith, Chansi Stuckey, rookie Marcus Henry and others. A glut of DBs competing for right cornerback spot includes veterans Justin Miller, David Barrett, Hank Poteat and rookie Dwight Lowery.
EXPECTATIONS: After doling out around $140 million in biggest offseason spending spree in franchise history, Jets have sights set on playoffs. Additions of Faneca and Woody should improve offensive line by helping running game and opening up passing game for whoever wins QB competition. Mangini brought in true space-eating nose tackle in Jenkins to anchor line, and Gholston will be counted on to provide pass-rushing presence on defense in dire need of big-time sack threat.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (1-15)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Davie, Fla.
LAST YEAR: Lost first 13 games and finished 1-15, worst season in franchise history. Bill Parcells was hired in December as executive vice president of football operations, and he fired coach Cam Cameron after only one season. Former Dallas Cowboys assistant head coach Tony Sparano replaced Cameron, and former Cowboys executive Jeff Ireland is new general manager.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: T Jake Long, top pick in draft; QBs Josh McCown and Chad Henne; G Justin Smiley; LBs Reggie Torbor and Akin Ayodele; NT Jason Ferguson; TE Anthony Fasano; WR Ernest Wilford.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Six-time Pro Bowl DE Jason Taylor, feuding with Parcells, is expected to be holdout when camp starts and may be traded. MLB Zach Thomas was released and signed with the Cowboys. QBs Trent Green and Cleo Lemon, OL Rex Hadnot, WR Marty Booker, RB Jesse Chatman and LB Derrick Pope.
CAMP NEEDS: Dolphins' fifth head coach since 2004 means another new system and lots of personnel turnover. They've had 12 starting quarterbacks since Dan Marino retired following 1999 season, and this year's contenders are McCown, rookie Henne and holdover John Beck. Roster shakeup extends even to special teams, an area of emphasis in offseason moves.
EXPECTATIONS: Parcells' leadership suggests Dolphins might finally be headed in right direction after six consecutive years out of playoffs. With weak schedule, it will be difficult for them to lose more than 12 games.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (10-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 27, Latrobe, Pa.
LAST YEAR: Got off to 7-2 start under Mike Tomlin, only their third coach since 1969, but faded with four losses in final five games, including consecutive home losses to Jacksonville.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: RBs Rashard Mendenhall (first-round pick) and Mewelde Moore; WR Limas Sweed (second-rounder); C Justin Hartwig; QB Dennis Dixon.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: LG Alan Faneca; LB Clark Haggans; KR Allen Rossum.
CAMP NEEDS: Figuring out unsettled offensive line that was inconsistent in 2007 and is without one of best linemen in team history in Faneca. Finding out how RB Willie Parker and first-round pick Mendenhall fit together in backfield. Making sure second-year LB LaMarr Woodley is comfortable as starter.
EXPECTATIONS: Offensive line is key to whether one of best and most-balanced offenses in club history takes off. QB Ben Roethlisberger got the new toys he wanted. Now, Steelers must protect him, force more turnovers than a year ago and quit falling behind early in games to take deeper run into playoffs.
CLEVELAND BROWNS (10-6)
OPEN CAMP: July 24, Berea, Ohio.
LAST YEAR: Barely missed playoffs following surprising turnaround season, which has led to enormous expectations heading into this one. QB Derek Anderson took over following Charlie Frye's stunning trade after Week 1 and put up Pro Bowl statistics while directing one of league's most potent offenses. RB Jamal Lewis ran for more than 1,300 yards behind a revamped line.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR Donte' Stallworth brings more Super Bowl experience and will be underneath weapon for Anderson. DT Shaun Rogers and DE Corey Williams are huge upgrades for defensive line in need of major makeover.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: With CBs Leigh Bodden (trade), Daven Holly (injury) and Kenny Wright (released) no longer around, Browns are thin in defensive backfield. DT Orpheus Roye was solid and steady.
CAMP NEEDS: Coach Romeo Crennel must find veteran cornerback or Browns are sunk. DE Kamerion Wimbley was club's only consistent pass rusher last season and needs help. TE Kellen Winslow has griped about wanting a new contract and team can't afford any distractions.
EXPECTATIONS: Playoffs or bust. A killer schedule, which includes five prime-time TV appearances, could make it tough for Browns to go .500.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (7-9)
OPEN CAMP: July 27, Georgetown, Ky.
LAST YEAR: Took huge step backward in Marvin Lewis' fifth season as head coach. More player conduct problems (LB Odell Thurman had his suspension extended for entire season, WR Chris Henry was suspended for first eight games; both were released in offseason). WR Chad Johnson started lobbying for new contract and trade. Defense struggled again, leading to firing of coordinator Chuck Bresnahan.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: TE Ben Utecht gives Carson Palmer another pass-catching option in offense that bogged down last season. DE Antwan Odom will help anchor line now missing DE Justin Smith. QB Jordan Palmer - Carson's younger brother - will compete for No. 3 job.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: S Madieu Williams; DE Justin Smith; WR Chris Henry (team's No. 3 receiver before his most recent arrest led to his release).
CAMP NEEDS: New coordinator Mike Zimmer is overhauling defense, trying to make unit more aggressive. Bengals need a smooth transition so they can get off to uplifting start. They also need Johnson to stop moping over team's decision not to trade him. Johnson could be disruptive if he keeps calling attention to his unhappiness.
EXPECTATIONS: Lewis' reputation is on the line after last season's tumble. Bengals have had only one winning record in his five seasons. If Johnson stops grousing and defense grasps Zimmer's aggressive schemes quickly, Bengals could finish around 8-8. If things don't fall into place quickly, another losing season - and major fan backlash - is likely.
BALTIMORE RAVENS (5-11)
OPEN CAMP: July 21, Westminster, Md.
LAST YEAR: A season that began with playoff aspirations ended with dismissal of coach Brian Billick, who directed a team tormented by key injuries, a sputtering offense and advancing age. After 4-2 start, Ravens lost nine straight - including an overtime defeat in Miami for Dolphins' lone win of season. A victory over Steelers in finale was not enough to save Billick's job.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron; QB Joe Flacco (first-round draft pick); CB Fabian Washington (trade with Raiders); LB Brendon Ayanbadejo.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: QB Steve McNair; OT Jonathan Ogden; RBs Musa Smith and Mike Anderson; C Mike Flynn; WR Devard Darling; KR B.J. Sams.
CAMP NEEDS: Harbaugh's first priority is to settle on starting quarterback. Kyle Boller has the experience, but Troy Smith has more agility. Flacco is quarterback of future whose time might come sooner than expected. Ravens also need to replace Ogden at LT and must find depth at CB behind Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle; both missed several games with injuries last season.
EXPECTATIONS: Ravens won't admit it, but this looks like rebuilding year. A .500 season would probably be acceptable if Harbaugh proves team is headed in right direction and if Cameron and Flacco display potential to make this long-suffering offense work.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (13-4)
OPEN CAMP: July 24, Terre Haute, Ind.
LAST YEAR: Finished 13-3 to win AFC South for fifth straight year after winning Super Bowl previous season. Lost first playoff game at home to San Diego, 28-24.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: No major signings in free agency and had no first-round draft pick. Took OL Mike Pollak with first pick late in second round. Re-signed RB Dominic Rhodes, who was cut by Oakland.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: G Jake Scott; TE Ben Utecht.
CAMP NEEDS: Get DE Dwight Freeney and WR Marvin Harrison healthy from injuries that limited Colts last season. S Bob Sanders, league's Defensive Player of the Year, also needs work coming off shoulder surgery. All three are expected to start camp on physically unable to perform list.
EXPECTATIONS: As always for a team with Peyton Manning at QB, Super Bowl is legitimate goal. However, many of the stars must be healthy, especially Harrison, Freeney and Sanders. For first time in Tony Dungy's seven seasons as coach, they have all 11 defensive starters returning.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (12-6)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Jacksonville, Fla.
LAST YEAR: QB David Garrard emerged as legitimate starter, RB Fred Taylor looked nothing like a 31-year-old back and Jaguars won playoff game for first time since 1999. Nonetheless, Jags showed they still have ground to make up by going 0-3 against AFC powers Indianapolis and New England.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WRs Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson; DEs Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves; CB Drayton Florence.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DT Marcus Stroud; S Sammy Knight; CB Terry Cousin; G Chris Naeole.
CAMP NEEDS: Can only hope retooled defense comes together under new coordinator Gregg Williams. Porter needs to stay healthy after missing most of organized team activities because of injury.
EXPECTATIONS: Jaguars have talked about closing gap on perennial AFC South champion Indianapolis for years. They might have their best shot this season, but need to handle high expectations that come with being trendy pick to win it all in '08.
TENNESSEE TITANS (10-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Nashville, Tenn.
LAST YEAR: Titans reached playoffs for first time since 2003 almost in spite of quarterback Vince Young, who struggled in second year as starter. All-Pro tackle Albert Haynesworth led one of NFL's stingiest defenses, while All-Pro kicker Rob Bironas provided most of the offense.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: TE Alge Crumpler; DE Jevon Kearse; WR Justin McCareins; RG Jake Scott; offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger; RB coach Earnest Byner.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: RG Benji Olson (retirement); DEs Antwan Odom and Travis LaBoy; LG Jacob Bell; DT Randy Starks; TE Ben Troupe.
CAMP NEEDS: Pressure is on Young to develop quickly under Heimerdinger and build chemistry with receivers after throwing more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (9) last season. Pick either Eugene Amano or Leroy Harris as new left guard. How Haynesworth handles status as franchise player, his conditioning and health, will be a concern.
EXPECTATIONS: Winning in playoffs now is goal for a franchise that has rebuilt through the draft and low-key free agent signings. Coach Jeff Fisher focused on improving his defense in 2007 and went from most yards allowed to fifth-stingiest unit in NFL. Offense has been target of his attention in 2008 for a team hoping to challenge Colts atop division.
HOUSTON TEXANS (8-8)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Houston.
LAST YEAR: Texans reached .500 for first time last season, but that record might be misleading because eighth win came against Jaguars team that already made playoffs and rested most starters. Mario Williams had breakout 14-sack season and new quarterback Matt Schaub looked good in his first year as starter, but Houston's offense was slowed by injuries to him, Andre Johnson and Ahman Green.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: LT Duane Brown (first-round draft pick); LB Rosevelt Colvin; RB Chris Brown; CB Jacques Reeves.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman; LB Danny Clark; RB Ron Dayne.
CAMP NEEDS: Johnson must show he's recovered from knee injury that kept him out of seven games last season and led to offseason arthroscopic surgery. Brown, the rookie left tackle, will have to improve after being dominated by Williams in offseason workouts. Green's durability will be tested after he missed 10 games with knee swelling.
EXPECTATIONS: If Green and Johnson can stay healthy, offense in Schaub's second season in Houston should be improved. Young and talented trio of Williams, Amobi Okoye and LB DeMeco Ryans will be better, but it will have to pick up slack from secondary playing without CB Dunta Robinson until at least late October. Entering their seventh season, Texans will be disappointed with anything less than their first playoff berth, but they'll have to make big jump in the ultra-competitive AFC South.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (13-6)
OPEN CAMP: July 20, San Diego.
LAST YEAR: Chargers were slow to take off in Norv Turner's first season as coach, going 1-3 and 5-5. But they rebounded to win AFC West for third time in four seasons and reach AFC championship game, where they lost 21-12 at New England. Chargers won thriller at Indianapolis in divisional playoffs before injuries to RB LaDainian Tomlinson and TE Antonio Gates cost them against Patriots. QB Philip Rivers drew raves after revealing he played final game on injured right knee that needed major surgery.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: C Jeremy Newberry; LB Derek Smith; PR Mark Jones; T L.J. Shelton.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Michael Turner; FB Lorenzo Neal; S Marlon McCree; T Shane Olivea; CB Drayton Florence. LB Stephen Cooper will be suspended for first four games after testing positive for banned substance.
CAMP NEEDS: Find out how healthy Gates (toe) and C Nick Hardwick (foot) are after offseason surgery. Hardwick didn't have surgery until mid-March, meaning he might not play at all in September. Chargers hope to have Gates back by opening day. Tomlinson and Rivers participated in minicamp and are expected to do so in training camp. L.T. might even take some snaps in exhibition games.
EXPECTATIONS: Chargers think they can win Super Bowl and their fans certainly will expect nothing less.
DENVER BRONCOS (7-9)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Englewood, Colo.
LAST YEAR: Broncos sat out playoffs for second straight year, losing four of last six games.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: RB Michael Pittman; LBs Boss Bailey and Niko Koutouvides; DT Dewayne Robertson; WR Darrell Jackson.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: PK Jason Elam; WR Javon Walker; RB Travis Henry; OT Matt Lepsis.
CAMP NEEDS: Broncos have to replace reliable right leg of Elam after he bolted for Atlanta in offseason. Matt Prater will get first crack. Presence of Koutouvides at inside linebacker will allow team to move D.J. Williams to weak side, where he excelled as rookie.
l those two playmakers bounce back will dictate Denver's season.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (4-12)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, River Falls, Wis.
LAST YEAR: Won four of first seven and transition from old to young in Herm Edwards' second season appeared to be going swimmingly. But with RB Larry Johnson out with broken foot and fragile QB Brodie Croyle getting abused behind weak offensive line, Chiefs lost last nine games. Offense was one of weakest of any KC team and defense seemed to give up big plays at worst time. Nearly invisible owner Clark Hunt promised to become more involved and hinted of decreased personnel role for GM Carl Peterson and expanded authority for Edwards.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: First-round draft picks DL Glenn Dorsey and OT Branden Albert; CB Brandon Flowers; TE Brad Cottam; RB Jamaal Charles; LB Demorrio Williams; WR Devard Darling.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DE Jared Allen; CB Ty Law; OL John Welbourn; WR Eddie Kennison; TE Jason Dunn; C Casey Wiegmann.
sacks in only 14 games, was dealt to Minnesota for draft picks. The most prominent was Albert, who will be central to revamped line.
EXPECTATIONS: If Hunt's angst over 4-12 and diminished attendance was genuine, Chiefs will need to show tangible progress. He may not have his late father's famed patience. If Croyle proves he's not long-term QB solution, Chiefs will be set back another couple of years.
OAKLAND RAIDERS (4-12)
OPEN CAMP: July 24, Napa, Calif.
LAST YEAR: The Raiders doubled their win total in coach Lane Kiffin's first year, but still ended up with fifth straight double-digit loss season. There were signs of improvement, especially in running game and on offensive line, but it wasn't enough to get Oakland out of last place in AFC West.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: RB Darren McFadden; CB DeAngelo Hall; WRs Javon Walker and Drew Carter; S Gibril Wilson; OL Kwame Harris; C John Wade; DL William Joseph.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DT Warren Sapp; WR Jerry Porter; DE Chris Clemons; CB Fabian Washington; QB Josh McCown; OL Barry Sims.
CAMP NEEDS: JaMarcus Russell needs to take control of offense at quarterback after starting only one game as rookie following contract dispute. Walker must show he's healthy and can be big-play receiver after he received concussion and facial injuries following a robbery in Las Vegas last month. DTs Tommy Kelly and Terdell Sands will be counted on to solidify leaky run defense after getting big contracts past two offseasons.
EXPECTATIONS: Schedule is favorable, with only one of first 12 games coming against team that finished .500 or better last season. After spending big bucks in free agency, owner Al Davis will be counting on some on-field results or Kiffin's job could be in jeopardy.
DALLAS COWBOYS (13-4)
OPEN CAMP: July 24, Oxnard, Calif.
LAST YEAR: Their 13 victories matched franchise record and led to NFC's top playoff seed in first season under coach Wade Phillips. Had NFL-record 13 Pro Bowl players, including Tony Romo, Terrell Owens and Jason Witten with record-setting years. Still failed to win in playoffs, making it 11 seasons without a postseason victory after losing at home to New York Giants, eventual Super Bowl champions swept by Dallas in regular season.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: CB Adam Jones, trying to shed ``Pacman'' nickname and image; LB Zach Thomas; RB Felix Jones (first-round draft pick from owner Jerry Jones' alma mater, Arkansas; CB Mike Jenkins.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Julius Jones; LB Akin Ayodele; S Keith Davis; NG Jason Ferguson; assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tony Sparano, now Miami's head coach.
CAMP NEEDS: Determine how cornerback/kick returner who wants to be formerly known as ``Pacman'' fits in after being suspended from NFL all last season, and hope nothing happens to keep commissioner Roger Goodell from reinstating Jones for regular season. With uncertain status of 34-year-old WR Terry Glenn (only two games last season after two operations on right knee before contract squabbles), need to solidify receiver spots opposite Owens.
EXPECTATIONS: A dozen seasons removed from winning their fifth Super Bowl championship, the Cowboys appear to have what's needed to end that drought. All Pro Bowlers are back and Jerry Jones is anxious for super return on his big spending of past few years.
NEW YORK GIANTS (14-6)
OPEN CAMP: July 24, Albany, N.Y.
LAST YEAR: Overcame 0-2 start and shocked NFL by winning Super Bowl with 17-14 upset of previously undefeated Patriots. Won final 11 road games. Loss to Pats in final game of regular season seemingly turned Eli Manning into a special quarterback and showed Tom Coughlin's team it could play with the best.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: S Kenny Phillips (first-round pick); veterans S Sammy Knight, LB Danny Clark and DE Renaldo Wynn to fill holes on defense created by free agency losses; QB David Carr to back up Manning.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: It's impossible to measure what the loss of seven-time Pro Bowl DE Michael Strahan to retirement will have; LBs Kawika Mitchell and Reggie Torbor; S Gibril Wilson.
CAMP NEEDS: General manager Jerry Reese and Coughlin have to get Jeremy Shockey mess straightened out. Disgruntled tight end either has to accept a role or be dealt. Replacing Strahan won't be easy, but DE Justin Tuck showed last season he has potential to make plays. Wynn adds depth to very good D-line that was difference against Tom Brady in Super Bowl.
EXPECTATIONS: History says Giants don't make playoffs the year after trip to title game. At least that's what happened after their other three Super Bowl appearances. This team is different, though. It's miffed people think last year was a fluke.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (9-8)
OPEN CAMP: July 20, Ashburn, Va.
LAST YEAR: Regrouped after shooting death of Sean Taylor to win four straight and claim NFC's final playoff berth. Coach Joe Gibbs retired after postseason loss to Seattle and was replaced by longtime Seahawks QB coach Jim Zorn.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WRs Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, both second-round draft picks; S Stuart Schweigert; DE Erasmus James; Zorn.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Hall of Fame coach Gibbs.
CAMP NEEDS: Get QB Jason Campbell and rest of offense up to speed in Zorn's West Coast scheme.
EXPECTATIONS: While head coach is new, nearly everything else is status quo for team that has made playoffs two of last three years. First-year coach Zorn will be learning on job, and season could hinge on how he manages inevitable bad losses and other crises that come with every NFL season.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (8-8)
OPEN CAMP: July 21, Bethlehem, Pa.
LAST YEAR: Season-ending three-game winning streak was cause for optimism despite missing playoffs for the third time in four seasons since losing 2004 Super Bowl.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: CB Asante Samuel; DE Chris Clemons; WR/PR DeSean Jackson, (second-round pick); RB Lorenzo Booker.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DE Jevon Kearse.
CAMP NEEDS: Figure out how to keep two-time Pro Bowl CB Lito Sheppard happy after handing Samuel his starting spot. Make sure QB Donovan McNabb's shoulder tendinitis isn't an issue and he's healthy for regular season.
EXPECTATIONS: Window of opportunity for Eagles is closing. They should be playoff contender in division that includes three playoff teams and Super Bowl champions, but that won't be enough to satisfy championship-starved fans.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (14-4)
OPEN CAMP: July 28, Green Bay, Wis.
LAST YEAR: Went 13-3 in regular season, then dominated Seattle in snowy divisional playoff game before being upset by Giants in overtime of NFC Championship game. Brett Favre experienced career resurgence and put up near-MVP numbers, but he was hardly a one-man show. Wide receivers ran wild after the catch all year and Ryan Grant proved to be potential feature running back after injuries gave him chance to play in second half of season. And don't forget defense, an often-overlooked but critical part of team's success.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: LB Brandon Chillar will challenge Brady Poppinga on strong side; both could be on field in passing situations as defense is expected to be more aggressive with its blitzes. WR Jordy Nelson (second-round draft pick) could challenge for No. 3 receiver spot and add much-needed size (6-3) in red zone.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DT Corey Williams; WR Koren Robinson.
CAMP NEEDS: Sanity, peace and prosperity. Favre decided to retire in early March, then privately told team he was going to unretire in late March, only to reverse course again and stay retired. Fast forward to last month, when Favre told team he was thinking about playing again - then recently demanded release from his contract after lukewarm welcome back. Situation remained unresolved with training camp looming, making Green Bay a smoldering cauldron of potential controversy and severely undercutting Favre's replacement, Aaron Rodgers.
EXPECTATIONS: High drama that could be costly distraction for team otherwise capable of another playoff run with either quarterback. If Rodgers ends up as starter, stays healthy and allows enormity of outside expectations and Favre comparisons to roll off his back, going 10-6 and making playoffs seems realistic. If Favre ends up as starter, he could lead Packers to Super Bowl - or change his mind yet again and retire three weeks into season.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (8-8)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Mankato, Minn.
LAST YEAR: Went 6-1 over November and first half of December, until losses in last two games kept them out of playoffs for sixth time in seven seasons. Done in again by shaky quarterback play and soft pass defense.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DE Jared Allen; WR Bernard Berrian; S Madieu Williams.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: S Dwight Smith; RB Mewelde Moore; WR Troy Williamson.
CAMP NEEDS: Establishing reliable targets for QB Tarvaris Jackson, among WRs Berrian, Bobby Wade and Sidney Rice and TE Visanthe Shiancoe. Keeping RB Adrian Peterson healthy, and figuring out how to use him and fellow RB Chester Taylor simultaneously and effectively. Shoring up pass defense around Allen's rush and Williams' coverage.
EXPECTATIONS: With Offensive Rookie of the Year Peterson and All-Pro Allen, Vikings have plenty of star power - and potential. Around NFL, and within their fan base, skepticism about Jackson's ability to do a steady job abounds. But coach Brad Childress is committed to him, and team believes he's made significant strides since forgettable first half of his first full season as starter. If Jackson minimizes turnovers and keeps defenses from stacking the box against Peterson, Vikes should be legitimate contender in wide-open NFC.
DETROIT LIONS (7-9)
OPEN CAMP: July 24, Allen Park, Mich.
LAST YEAR: Won seven games, a high for team president Matt Millen, but only one after 6-2 start to rank among NFL's worst second-half flops in three decades.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: CBs Leigh Bodden and Brian Kelly; T Gosder Cherilus (first-round pick); S Dwight Smith; DT Chuck Darby; LB Jordon Dizon (second-rounder); DE Corey Smith; TE Michael Gaines; RB Kevin Smith (third-rounder).
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DT Shaun Rogers; LB Boss Bailey; CB Fernando Bryant; RBs Kevin Jones and T.J. Duckett; S Kenoy Kennedy; RT Damien Woody; DE Kalimba Edwards.
CAMP NEEDS: Finding out if Cherilus can start at RT and if Smith can be in RB rotation as rookies; developing a pass-rusher and run-stopper on defensive line.
EXPECTATIONS: Low. Just when Lions generated excitement for first time in Millen's seventh season in charge, they crushed it with six straight losses and seven of eight. But parity leads to a surprise team breaking out and maybe one of these years, it will finally be Lions.
CHICAGO BEARS (7-9)
OPEN CAMP: July 23, Bourbonnais, Ill.
LAST YEAR: Struggled in disappointing follow-up to their Super Bowl season. Once again played musical chairs with quarterbacks, using Rex Grossman, Brian Griese and Kyle Orton. Had trouble running behind aging offensive line and with ineffective Cedric Benson, who has since been released after two alcohol-related arrests in offseason. Defense couldn't stop the run consistently, a Love Smith staple of past.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: OT Chris Williams (first-round pick); WRs Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd; RB Matt Forte (second-round pick expected to be starter after departure of the troubled Benson; RB Kevin Jones.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: WR Bernard Berrian; RB Benson; G Ruben Brown
CAMP NEEDS: Sort out quarterback competition between Grossman and Orton; find out if Forte is indeed a starter; straighten out contract extensions for Brian Urlacher and Devin Hester
EXPECTATIONS: Finish over .500 and be contender in improved NFC North.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (9-8)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
LAST YEAR: Rebounded from previous season's 4-12 finish to win NFC South for second time in three years, riding play of Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia and rejuvenated defense that ranked among league's best.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: C Jeff Faine; RB Warrick Dunn; WRs Dexter Jackson (second-round pick) and Antonio Bryant; S Eugene Wilson; CB Aquib Talib; TE Ben Troupe; QB Brian Griese; DE Marques Douglas.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: CB Brian Kelly; DE Greg Spires; RB Michael Pittman; C John Wade; TE Anthony Becht.
CAMP NEEDS: Garcia sparked offense in 2007, however Bucs still struggled to score points. At 36, WR Joey Galloway remains team's most consistent playmaker. Developing a deep threat opposite Galloway and determining how Dunn fits into backfield with Earnest Graham are priorities.
EXPECTATIONS: Bucs haven't won playoff game since winning Super Bowl six seasons ago, so capturing third division title in four years won't be enough to make 2008 a success. Coach Jon Gruden felt heat to get team back on track a year ago. Now, there's pressure to make postseason run.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (7-9)
OPEN CAMP: July 24, Jackson, Miss.
LAST YEAR: Hampered by Deuce McAllister's season-ending knee injury in Week 3 and by generally poor play on defense, Saints never rose above .500 and missed playoffs only one season after appearing in NFC championship game.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: LB Jonathan Vilma; CB Randall Gay; DT Sedrick Ellis (first-round pick); DE Bobby McCray.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: C Jeff Faine.
CAMP NEEDS: Sorting out defensive depth chart and rotations with arrivals of new players. Seeing how McAllister, returning from surgery on both knees, fits into offense that has all four running backs returning. Making sure Jonathan Goodwin is ready to step in for Faine as starting center.
EXPECTATIONS: Saints offense appears in good shape, given that Drew Brees has surpassed 4,000 yards passing in each of last two seasons despite injuries to key offensive players. If new defensive players stay healthy and adapt well to new schemes, Saints should contend for their second playoff berth in three seasons.
CAROLINA PANTHERS (7-9)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Spartanburg, S.C.
LAST YEAR: Lost QB Jake Delhomme to season-ending right elbow injury in Week 3 and never recovered. Lost seven games by 13 or more points while using four starting QBs, including 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde and undrafted rookie Matt Moore. Rookie LB Jon Beason thrived, but defensive line faltered. DE Julius Peppers was held to career-low 2 1/2 sacks.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: First-round picks RB Jonathan Stewart and T Jeff Otah; WRs Muhsin Muhammad and D.J. Hackett; LB Landon Johnson.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Traded three-time Pro Bowler DT Kris Jenkins to Jets; DE Mike Rucker and LB Dan Morgan retired; starting RB DeShaun Foster and OLs Justin Hartwig and Mike Wahle were released.
CAMP NEEDS: Delhomme must show he's recovered from reconstructive surgery. Stewart and Otah should become immediate starters. New-look offensive line must click early. Muhammad and Hackett must take pressure off WR Steve Smith. Peppers needs to regain form after awful 2007.
EXPECTATIONS: Trading away next year's first-round pick for Otah signaled Panthers are in a win immediately mode. Another season out of playoffs could cost coach John Fox and GM Marty Hurney their jobs.
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Flowery Branch, Ga.
LAST YEAR: Falcons lost their quarterback, Michael Vick, to dogfighting charges before season and lost their coach, Bobby Petrino, who quit with 3-10 record and three games left in lost season.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Matt Ryan (No. 3 overall pick in draft); RB Michael Turner; PK Jason Elam; safeties Erik Coleman and Deke Cooper; CB Von Hutchins, TE Ben Hartsock; T Sam Baker (team's second first-round pick.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: CB DeAngelo Hall; RB Warrick Dunn; TE Alge Crumpler; DT Rod Coleman; T Wayne Gandy.
CAMP NEEDS: Installing new schemes with coach Mike Smith, and figuring out how quickly Ryan will start at quarterback while working with veterans Chris Redman and Joey Harrington.
EXPECTATIONS: Falcons are starting over with new GM, Thomas Dimitroff, new coach and a new-look backfield with Turner joining Jerious Norwood. Redman returns as starting quarterback, but he's stand-in for Ryan, first quarterback taken in the draft who could earn job as early as opener. Decisions to cut or trade so many top veterans leaves obvious focus on future. Shaky offensive line is one reason Falcons may be fortunate to match last year's win total.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (11-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Kirkland, Wash.
LAST YEAR: A fourth consecutive NFC West title despite no running game and poor play on offensive line. Battered and without consistent protection, Matt Hasselbeck somehow set team passing records and made another Pro Bowl. A blizzard, dropped passes and major knee injury to WR Deion Branch doomed Seattle to playoff loss at Green Bay.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Rookie TE John Carlson (second-round pick); RBs Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett; LG Mike Wahle; Ks Olindo Mare and rookie Brandon Coutu.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Branch, who may be out past season opener; K Josh Brown; WR D.J. Hackett; RB Shaun Alexander, former MVP waived and still unsigned.
CAMP NEEDS: Figure out how to use Jones, Duckett, Maurice Morris and Leonard Weaver in same backfield; immerse Carlson in offense as new weapon at position Mike Holmgren loves to feature; decide whether Mare or Coutu is Brown's replacement; keep Holmgren's final season as Seahawks coach from being a distraction, with replacement Jim Mora already on staff as DBs assistant.
EXPECTATIONS: Seems Seattle is employing Space Needle to keep open this window of opportunity for Super Bowl title while ruling still-weak division. Expect all-out push from veterans Hasselbeck, DE Patrick Kerney, LB Julian Peterson and All-Pro LT Walter Jones to get themselves and Holmgren a ring.
ARIZONA CARDINALS (8-8)
OPEN CAMP: July 23, Flagstaff, Ariz.
LAST YEAR: Went 8-8 in coach Ken Whisenhunt's first season, three-game improvement over previous season. It was Arizona's best record since 1998, when it went 9-7 in lone winning season since moving to desert in 1988. Cardinals finally established home-field advantage at University of Phoenix Stadium. Six home victories were their most since 1976. Cardinals set franchise record with 32 touchdown passes, 27 by Kurt Warner.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (first-round pick); LB Clark Haggans; TE Jerame Tuman; DEs Travis LaBoy and Calais Campbell (second-round pick).
IMPORTANT LOSSES: LBs Calvin Pace and Darryl Blackstock; WR Bryant Johnson; S Terrence Holt.
CAMP NEEDS: Cardinals have to identify starting quarterback. Depth chart says it's Matt Leinart, but veteran Kurt Warner performed superbly after Leinart got hurt last season. Last thing Cards want is a controversy. In what seems like a yearly challenge, they'll have to beef up pass defense, which ranked 28th last year.
EXPECTATIONS: Arizona beat woeful Atlanta and St. Louis to reach .500 last year, but it provided a glimmer of hope that Cardinals might be on brink of contending for first playoff berth since 1998. Schedule is tougher, with home games against Super Bowl champion Giants and Dallas, road trips to New England, Washington and Seattle.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (5-11)
OPEN CAMP: July 24, Santa Clara, Calif.
LAST YEAR: Endured fifth straight losing season, including three straight under coach Mike Nolan. NFL's worst offense easily negated improvements on defense and special teams.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DE Justin Smith; WRs Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson; RB DeShaun Foster; DT Kentwan Balmer (first-round pick); G Chilo Rachal (second-rounder).
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DE Marques Douglas; LB Derek Smith; T Kwame Harris; G Justin Smiley.
CAMP NEEDS: Choose starting quarterback while entire offense learns Mike Martz's schemes; develop teamwork along revamped offensive line; help LB Patrick Willis grow into leadership role in Smith's absence.
EXPECTATIONS: With ample talent after two offseasons of free spending by formerly stingy ownership, most fans believe Nolan finally must produce winning record and at least make strong run at playoff spot to keep his job. Of course, most everybody except owner John York thought same thing last year.
ST. LOUIS RAMS (3-13)
OPEN CAMP: July 25. Mequon, Wis.
LAST YEAR: Lost first eight games while reeling from injuries to OT Orlando Pace, QB Marc Bulger and RB Steven Jackson, and never recovered. OL injuries were biggest problem, with three players finishing year on IR. Once-potent offense mustered only 263 points, franchise's fewest since 1993, and defense generally wore down.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: PK Josh Brown; G Jacob Bell; QB Trent Green. Offensive coordinator Al Saunders for 1999 NFL championship team returns.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: WR Isaac Bruce was released, resurfacing with the 49ers; PK Jeff Wilkins retired; owner Georgia Frontiere died in January.
CAMP NEEDS: Restore punch to offense in tatters. Third-year coach Scott Linehan gets chance to set tone for turnaround season he needs. Green needs to show concussion woes are behind him.
EXPECTATIONS: Linehan faces pressure to field his first winner, despite positive vibe from new owners, Frontiere's children. Could be darkhorse playoff contender or Linehan's last stand.