2008 NFL forecast: Gerry Dulac's predictions
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
First Published September 5, 2008 12:00 am