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SPORTS EXTRA / NFL 2000 | NFC PREVIEW

It May Be Snyder's Bucks vs. Keyshawn's Bucs

August 26, 2000|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The St. Louis Rams are the team to beat, but they aren't the team to talk about.

That would be the Washington Redskins.

Owner Daniel Snyder--richer than God and younger than several of his players--spent $800 million for the team in 1999 and another $40 million in signing bonuses in an eye-popping off-season in a clear effort to buy a Super Bowl champion.

He signed Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders and Mark Carrier for a defense that was next-to-worst in the NFL last season, and added veteran Jeff George to challenge starting quarterback Brad Johnson.

On top of that, the Redskins had two of the top three picks in the draft--linebacker LaVar Arrington and offensive tackle Chris Samuels--and paid handsomely for both.

Now get ready for the sparks to fly. Either the Redskins take the league by storm--the NFC East is so weak that's not an issue--or talk starts that George will replace Johnson, defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes will replace Coach Norv Turner . . . and so on and so on.

The Rams are left to take care of business in the also weak NFC West, and they are quietly confident.

"The one thing we've got to remember is we've got to show up, concentrate and execute," quarterback Kurt Warner said.

"If we don't do that, it doesn't matter how much talent you have, it doesn't matter how good a scheme you have, you're not going to win. And that's the bottom line.

"But if we do that, with the talent on this football team, we can repeat and win it again."

The NFC Central is widely conceded to Tampa Bay, which traded two first-round picks to the New York Jets for receiver Keyshawn Johnson to boost an offense that couldn't match the Buccaneers' highly rated defense.

But new Minnesota Viking quarterback Daunte Culpepper's 311-yard passing performance against the Arizona Cardinals in an exhibition made heads swivel, and the race might not be such a foregone conclusion.

Brett Favre's tender elbow is making people uncomfortable in Green Bay, but if he's fine, the Packers should contend after missing the playoffs last season when he was troubled by a thumb injury.

Keep an eye on the Vikings and Packers for wild-card spots, with Carolina, Philadelphia or Atlanta trying to break through.

The Falcons--only two seasons removed from the Super Bowl--are hoping Jamal Anderson's recovery from knee surgery brings them back from a losing season. (Denver, Atlanta's Super Bowl opponent, is hoping the same with the return of Terrell Davis from knee surgery.) Figure Davis and Anderson will be OK, but not their old selves until next season.

Uncomfortably close to the bottom for the second season in a row is San Francisco--and if the New Orleans Saints get the improvement they're hoping for from second-year running back Ricky Williams and a host of free-agent signings, the 49ers might be in danger of hitting bottom in the NFC West.

PREDICTIONS

EAST

1. Washington

2. Dallas

3. Philadelphia

4. N.Y. Giants

5. Arizona

CENTRAL

1. Tampa Bay

2. Minnesota

3. Green Bay

4. Chicago

5. Detroit

WEST

1. St. Louis

2. Carolina

3. Atlanta

4. San Francisco

5. New Orleans

PLAYOFFS

Washington

Tampa Bay

St. Louis

Minnesota

Green Bay

Carolina

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