2008 NFL forecast: Gerry Dulac's predictions

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AFC NORTH

STEELERS

Coach: Mike Tomlin, 2nd season

2007 record: 10-6, 1st AFC North

Top newcomers: C Justin Hartwig, RB Mewelde Moore, LB Keyaron Fox, RB Rashard Mendenhall

Key losses: G Alan Faneca, OLB Clark Haggans

Transition player: OLB LaMarr Woodley. He could the NFL's breakout player of 2008.

The skinny: As long as they have Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers are not out of any game ... even with the league's toughest schedule.

Prediction: 1st AFC North

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Coach: Romeo Crennel, 4th season

2007 Record: 10-6, 2nd AFC North

Top newcomers: DT Shaun Rogers, DT Corey Williams, WR Donte Stallworth

Key losses: NT Ted Washington, LB Chaun Thompson

Transition player: QB Brady Quinn. If Derek Anderson doesn't have another big year, Quinn is in.

The skinny: The Browns are poised to make another run at the Steelers, especially with their improved defensive line. But, like the Steelers, they have a tough schedule, too.

Prediction: 2nd AFC North

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Coach: Marvin Lewis, 6th season

2007 Record: 7-9, 3rd AFC North

Top newcomers: DE Antwaan Odom, TE Ben Utecht, WR Doug Gabriel

Key losses: S Madieu Williams, WR Tab Perry, DE Justin Smith, DE Bryan Robinson

Transition player: G Stacy Andrews. The offensive line needs some young talent with two aging tackles.

The skinny: Since becoming coach, Lewis has finished above .500 just once. It will be a struggle to make it twice.

Prediction: 3rd AFC North

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Coach: John Harbaugh, 1st season

2007 Record: 5-11, 4th AFC North

Top newcomers: CB Fabian Washington, LB Brendon Ayanbadejo, DE Marques Douglas

Key losses: QB Steve McNair, RB Musa Smith, RB Mike Anderson

Transition player: QB Joe Flacco. The rookie might be playing sooner than expected.

The skinny: The Ravens have to hope their aging defense can keep them competitive. Certainly their quarterback position won't.

Prediction: 4th AFC North

AFC EAST

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Coach: Bill Belichick, 10th season

2007 Record: 16-0, 1st AFC East

Top newcomers: CB Jason Webster, S Tank Williams, CB Fernando Bryant

Key losses: CB Asante Samuel, CB Randall Gay, WR Donte Stallworth, WR Chad Jackson

Transition player: RB Laurence Maroney. A pivotal component to an offense that doesn't always have to rely on the pass.

The skinny: Unlike the Steelers, the Patriots have an easy schedule in an easy division. The biggest upset will be if they win fewer than 14 games again.

Prediction: 1st AFC East

BUFFALO BILLS

Coach: Dick Jauron, 3rd season

2007 Record: 7-9, 2nd AFC East

Top newcomers: LB Kavika Mitchell, DT Spencer Johnson, DT Marcus Stroud

Key losses: CB Jason Webster, DT Larry Tripplett

Transition player: LB Paul Posluszny. After missing all but three games last season, the kid from Hopewell can be a leader of the defense.

The skinny: The Bills slowly keep getting better, especially with a young defense. But they merely are playing for second place in the division.

Prediction: 2nd AFC East

NEW YORK JETS

Coach: Eric Mangini, 3rd season

2007 Record: 4-12, 3rd AFC East

Top newcomers: QB Brett Favre, G Alan Faneca, C Damien Woody, DT Kris Jenkins, TE Bubba Franks, LB Calvin Pace

Key losses: T Anthony Clement, WR Justin McCareins, QB Chad Pennington

Transition player: CB Darrelle Revis. The former Pitt and Aliquippa player can run, and he can cover. He needs to in that division.

The skinny: The Jets made a lot of offseason moves to get stronger, particularly along the lines of scrimmage. They will need Faneca and Woody to protect Favre.

Prediction: 3rd AFC East

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Coach: Tony Sparano, 1st season

2007 Record: 1-15, 4th AFC East

Top newcomers: QB Chad Pennington, OT Jake Long, QB Josh McCown, DT Jason Ferguson, TE Anthony Fasono, LB Akin Ayodele

Key losses: LB Zach Thomas, DE Jason Taylor, WR Marty Booker, T L.J. Shelton, QB Trent Green, RB Jesse Chatman, T Anthony Alabi, QB Cleo Lemon

Transition player: QB John Beck. The Dolphins change quarterbacks the way most teams change their socks. What the heck, who not Beck?

The skinny: This might be the biggest makeover in Florida since they cleaned up Fort Lauderdale. The one-win Dolphins have nowhere to go but up.

Prediction: 4th AFC East

AFC SOUTH

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Coach: Tony Dungy, 7th season

2007 Record: 13-3, 1st AFC South

Top newcomers: RB Dominic Rhodes

Key losses: LB Brandon Archer, LB Rob Morris, LB Rocky Boiman, DT Dan Klecko, DT Anthony McFarland

Transition player: RB Joseph Addai. On a team loaded with offensive stars, he has become one of the most indispensable.

The skinny: Peyton Manning didn't even play in the preseason, but 20 of the 22 starters return from last season. Ho-hum, the only thing new is the stadium.

Prediction: 1st AFC South

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Coach: Jack Del Rio, 6th season

2007 Record: 11-5, 2nd AFC South

Top newcomers: WR Troy Williamson, WR Jerry Porter, CB Drayton Florence, DT Jimmy Kennedy

Key losses: DT Marcus Stroud, CB Aaron Glenn, S Sammy Knight, DE Bobby McCray, WR Ernest Wilford

Transition player: RB Maurice Jones-Drew. Mo-Jo can do it all -- run, catch, return. Just ask the Steelers.

The skinny: The offseason emphasis to improve the defense could be just what the Jaguars need to finally catch the Colts. Just not this year.

Prediction: 2nd AFC South

TENNESSEE TITANS

Coach: Jeff Fisher, 15th season

2007 Record: 10-6, 3rd AFC South

Top newcomers: TE Alge Crumpler, G Jake Scott, WR Justin McCareins, DE Jevon Kearse

Key losses: WR Eric Moulds, TE Ben Troupe, DE Travis LaBoy, DE Antwaan Odom, RB Chris Brown

Transition player: QB Vince Young. He doesn't compile gaudy statistics, but he took an average team to the playoffs in '07.

The skinny: The Titans made the playoffs as one of the surprise teams in '07. They're reaching to the past to bring back The Freak -- Kearse.

Prediction: 3rd AFC South

HOUSTON TEXANS

Coach: Gary Kubiak, 3rd season

2007 Record: 8-8, 4th AFC South

Top newcomers: C Chris Meyers, CB Jacques Reeves, LB Kevin Bentley, S Nick Ferguson, QB Quinn Gray

Key losses: C Mike Flanagan, LB Danny Clark, WR Jerome Mathis, CB Michael Boulware

Transition player: LB DeMeco Ryans. On a team with DE Mario Williams, he might be the best defensive player.

The skinny: The Titans, the Steelers' opening-game opponent, are steadily getting better. They just happen to be playing in the wrong division.

Prediction: 4th AFC South

AFC WEST

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

Coach: Norv Turner, 2nd season

2007 Record: 11-5, 1st AFC West

Top newcomers: LB Derek Smith

Key losses: FB Lorenzo Neal, CB Marlon McCree, CB Drayton Florence, RB Michael Turner

Transition player: WR Vincent Jackson. At 6-foot-5, 242 pounds, Jackson is one of the toughest wideouts to defend in the league.

The skinny: A bad division, an easy schedule and still lots of talent make the Chargers a playoff guarantee. Advancing is another matter.

Prediction: 1st AFC West

DENVER BRONCOS

Coach: Mike Shanahan, 12th season

2007 Record: 7-9, 2nd AFC West

Top newcomers: WR Derrick Hamilton, LB Brandon Archer, LB William Kershaw, WR Keary Colbert, LB Boss Bailey, DB Marlon McCree, C Casey Wiegmann, WR Darrell Jackson, DT Dewayne Robertson.,

Key losses: K Jason Elam, WR Javon Walker, DE Ebenezer Ekuban, S Nick Ferguson, LB Ian Gold

Transition player: QB Jay Cutler. He has the arm and the smarts. Now he has to win games.

The skinny: The Broncos had their first losing season under Shanahan. All that did was merit another offseason makeover in the Mile High City.

Prediction: 2nd AFC West

OAKLAND RAIDERS

Coach: Lane Kiffin, 2nd season

2007 Record: 4-12, 4th AFC West

Top newcomers: CB DeAngelo Hall, WR Javon Walker, T Kwame Harris, WR Drew Carter, DE Kalimba Edwards, C John Wade, DE Greg Spires

Key losses: LB Chris Clemons, DE Tyler Brayton, QB Josh McCown, WR Jerry Porter, RB Dominic Rhodes, CB Fabian Washington

Transition player: CB Nnamdi Asomugha. The only thing harder than pronouncing his name is trying to complete a pass against him.

The skinny: The reclamation project continues with the Raiders, who have lots of youth, lots of speed ... and an easy schedule.

Prediction: 3rd AFC West

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Coach: Herman Edwards, 3rd season

2007 Record: 4-12, 4th AFC West

Top newcomers: T Anthony Alabi, LB Demorrio Williams, RB B.J. Sams, T Wade Smith

Key losses: DE Jared Allen, LB Keyaron Fox, DE Jimmy Wilkerson, C Casey Wiegmann, FB Kris Wilson

Transition player: DE Tamba Hali. With the loss of Allen, the former Penn State star moves from the left side to the featured pass-rush spot on the right.

The skinny: The Tomahawk Chop fell on a lot of players after last season's dismal showing. The rebuilding begins.

Prediction: 4th AFC West

NFC EAST

DALLAS COWBOYS

Coach: Wade Phillips, 2nd season

2007 Record: 13-3, 1st AFC East

Top newcomers: CB Adam "Pac-man" Jones, LB Zach Thomas

Key losses: RB Julius Jones, CB Jacques Reeves, S Keith Davis

Transition player: OLB Anthony Spencer. Last year's No. 1 pick is ready to bring more youth and speed to the defense.

The skinny: Thirteen wins and 13 Pro Bowl players and still no trip to the Super Bowl. Only one person could prevent that in '08: Terrell Owens.

Prediction: 1st NFC East

NEW YORK GIANTS

Coach: Tom Coughlin, 5th season

2007 Record: 10-6, 2nd NFC East

Top newcomers: S Sammy Knight, QB David Carr, LB Danny Clark

Key losses: DE Osi Umenyiora (injured), DE Michael Strahan (retired), LB Kavika Mitchell, S Gibril Wilson

Transition player: DE Justin Tuck. He goes from top backup to starring role with the losses of Strahan and Umenyiora.

The skinny: Trying to recapture a stunning run to the Super Bowl title is never easy. Just ask the 2006 Steelers.

Prediction: 2nd NFC East

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Coach: Andy Reid, 10th season,

2007 Record: 8-8, 4th NFC East

Top newcomers: CB Asante Samuel, LB Chris Clemons, DT Dan Klecko, RB Lorenzo Booker, LB Rocky Boiman

Key losses: DE Jevon Kearse, LB Takeo Spikes

Transition player: WR Kevin Curtis. He quietly had 77 catches and became the Eagles' first 1,000-yard receiver since Terrell Owens last season.

The skinny: The Eagles threw out a lot of cash in free agency, but it might not be enough to buy a playoff spot in the NFC's toughest division.

Prediction: 3rd NFC East

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Coach: Jim Zorn, 1st season

2007 Record: 9-7, 3rd NFC East

Top newcomers: WR Jerome Mathis, DE Jason Taylor

Key losses: WR Brandon Lloyd, WR Reche Caldwell, WR Keenan McCardell

Transition player: QB Jason Campbell. This is his fourth NFL season, about the time most quarterback start to bloom, but he is learning his third new offense

The skinny: The 'Skins got on a late-season run to make the playoffs. That was only because the NFC was so mediocre.

Prediction: 4th NFC East

NFC NORTH

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Coach: Brad Childress, 3rd season

2007 Record: 8-8, 2nd NFC North

Top newcomers: DE Jared Allen, S Madieu Williams, WR Bernard Berrian, RB Maurice Hicks, QB Gus Frerotte, S Benny Sapp

Key losses: RB Mewelde Moore, S Tank Williams, RB Tony Richardson, DT Spencer Johnson

Transition player: QB Tarvaris Jackson. His development will determine if the Vikings are a playoff team or not.

The skinny: Two things to remember: They can run the ball with Adrian Peterson and they can stop the run with the league's top rush defense.

Prediction: 1st NFC North

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Coach: Mike McCarthy, 3rd season

2007 Record: 13-3, 1st NFC North

Top newcomers: LB Brian Chillar

Key losses: QB Brett Favre, TE Bubba Franks, DB Frank Walker

Transition player: QB Aaron Rodgers. Replacing a legend is never easy, especially on a team that made it to the NFC title game.

The skinny: Do not write them off just because Favre is gone. The development of RB Ryan Grant was a big plus last season.

Prediction: 2nd NFC North

DETROIT LIONS

Coach: Rod Marinelli, 3rd season

2007 Record: 7-9, 3rd NFC North

Top newcomers: CB Leigh Bodden, S Dwight Smith, TE Michael Gaines, CB Brian Kelly, DT Chartric Darby, S Kalvin Pearson, LB Alfred Fincher

Key losses: CB Fernando Bryant, C Damien Woody, RB T.J. Duckett, LB Teddy Lehman, DE Kalimba Edwards

Transition player: WR Calvin Johnson. It's saying something when he might be the best receiver on a team with Roy Williams.

The skinny: Don't forget, the Lions started 6-2 last season and looked like a surprise team. That's why the defense was overhauled.

Prediction: 3rd NFC North

CHICAGO BEARS

Coach: Lovie Smith, 5th season

2007 Record: 7-9, 4th NFC North

Top newcomers: WR Marty Booker, WR Brandon Lloyd

Key losses: WR Muhsin Muhammad, DT Darwin Walker, WR Bernard Berrian, LB Brendon Ayanbadejo, G Ruben Brown

Transition player: WR Mark Bradley. The Bears are going to need more playmakers, especially after cleaning house at wide receiver.

The skinny: Kyle Orton ... C'mon! The uncertainty at quarterback will remain a season-long issue.

Prediction: 4th NFC North

NFC SOUTH

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Coach: Sean Payton, 3rd season

2007 Record: 7-9, 3rd NFC South

Top newcomers: DE Bobby McCray, LB Jonathan Vilma, LB Dan Morgan, CB Aaron Glenn, G Matt Lehr, TE Jeremy Shockey

Key losses: K Olindo Mare, C Jeff Faine, CB Randall Gay, LB Matt McCoy

Transition player: RB Reggie Bush. He is a unique talent who has to line up all over the field, not just as the feature back.

The skinny: Are the Saints the surprise team of '06 or the struggling team of '07? The offseason makeover on defense should determine the answer.

Prediction: 1st NFC South

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Coach: John Fox, 5th season

2007 Record: 7-9, 2nd NFC South

Top newcomers: G Keydrick Vincent, DE Tyler Brayton, LB Landon Johnson, WR D.J. Hackett, S Terrence Holt, G Toniu Fonoti, G Milford Brown, DT Darwin Walker, WR Muhsin Muhammad

Key losses: DE Kris Jenkins, G Mike Wahle, LB Dan Morgan, WR Drew Carter, WR Keary Colbert, S Marquand Manuel, C Justin Hartwig, DE Mike Rucker (retired)

Transition player: MLB Jon Beason. He led the team with 140 tackles as a rookie and is good enough that the Panthers finally released injury-plagued Dan Morgan.

The skinny: The Panthers made a lot of offseason moves because they think they are close to another division championship, maybe even a Super Bowl run.

Prediction: 2nd NFC South

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Coach: Jon Gruden, 5th season

2007 Record: 9-7 1st NFC South

Top newcomers: DE Jimmy Wilkerson, C Jeff Faine, TE John Gilmore, LB Leon Joe, QB Brian Griese, LB Matt McCoy, LB Teddy Lehman, TE Ben Troupe, RB Warrick Dunn, DB Eugene Wilson

Key losses: CB Brian Kelly, G Matt Lehr, TE Jeramy Stevens, TE Anthony Becht, DE Marques Douglas

Transition player: RB Warrick Dunn. The veteran free agent will have to be the feature back until Carnell "Cadillac" Williams returns in Week 6 from injury.

The skinny: No team has ever repeated as champion in the NFC South. Problem is, the Buccaneers have too many aging players who know that.

Prediction: 3rd NFC South

ATLANTA FALCONS

Coach: Mike Smith, 1st season

2007 Record: 4-12, 4th NFC South

Top newcomers: RB Michael Turner, S Erik Coleman, DB Von Hutchins, DT Rashard Moore, DE Kindall Moorehead, K Jason Elam

Key losses: TE Alge Crumpler, LB Demorrio Williams, RB Warrick Dunn, T Wayne Gandy, DB Lewis Sanders

Transition player: QB Matt Ryan. The Falcons are starting anew after the Michael Vick affair, and their No. 1 pick will play sooner than later.

The skinny: The Falcons have had more changes than a traffic light, from the GM to coach to quarterback. One thing won't change -- the basement.

Prediction: 4th AFC South

NFC WEST

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Coach: Mike Holmgren, 10th season

2007 Record: 10-6, 1st NFC West

Top newcomers: G Mike Wahle, RB T.J. Duckett, RB Julius Jones, LB D.D. Lewis, K Olindo Mare

Key losses: RB Shaun Alexander, TE Marcus Pollard, WR D.J. Hackett, LB Kevin Bentley, K Josh Brown

Transition player: LB Lofa Tatupu. A three-time Pro Bowl selection already and leader of a strong linebacker unit.

The skinny: Too much defense, an easy division and Holmgren's final season add up to a fifth consecutive division title.

Prediction: 1st AFC West

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Coach: Ken Whisenhunt, 2nd season

2007 Record: 8-8, 2nd NFC West

Top newcomers: LB Clark Haggans, TE Jerame Tuman, DE Travis LaBoy, DE Bryan Robinson

Key losses: DE Chris Cooper, DE Calvin Pace, WR Bryant Johnson, DB Terrence Holt, LB Brandon Johnson

Transition player: S Antrel Rolle. He has been moved from cornerback to make room for No. 1 pick, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

The skinny: Six losses by a touchdown or less, including two to the lowly 49ers. The Cardinals aren't far away in Whisenhunt's second season.

Prediction: 2nd NFC West

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Coach: Mike Nolan, 4th season

2007 Record: 5-11, 3rd NFC West

Top newcomers: RB DeShaun Foster, WR Isaac Bruce, DE Justin Smith, WR Bryant Johnson

Key losses: LB Derek Smith, RB Maurice Hicks, T Kwame Harris, WR Darrell Jackson

Transition player: QB Alex Smith. Mike Martz was brought in to run the offense and, hopefully, salvage Smith's once promising career.

The skinny: The 49ers have had three consecutive losing seasons under Nolan. One more and he won't get a chance for another.

Prediction: 3rd NFC West

ST. LOUIS RAMS

Coach: Scott Linehan, 3rd season

2007 Record: 3-13, 4th NFC West

Top newcomers: K Josh Brown, G Jacob Bell, QB Trent Green, WR Reche Caldwell, TE Anthony Becht

Key losses: QB Gus Frerotte, WR Isaac Bruce, K Jeff Wilkins (retired), LB Brandon Chillar

Transition player: RB Steven Jackson. The Rams are no longer the Greatest Show on Turf. Except when Jackson is healthy and running the ball.

The skinny: The Rams don't have anywhere to go but up after starting 0-8 last season. Or else Linehan will be out.

Prediction: 4th NFC West



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