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SPORTS EXTRA / NFL 2000 | NFC PREVIEW

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August 26, 2000|Robyn Norwood

1. ST. LOUIS RAMS

They have Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner, running back Marshall Faulk, a corps of speedy receivers, chemistry, character--and what every team needs, a proven backup quarterback: Trent Green.

* Coach: Mike Martz (First year)

* 1999 record: 13-3

* Newcomer to make an impact: Running back Trung Canidate.

* Little-known fact: Schedule is tougher than last season's cakewalk, but still includes only four playoff teams.

* Stat that must change: Faulk is versatile and durable with 253 carries and 87 receptions, but it would be a good idea for Canidate to pick up some carries.

2. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Keyshawn Johnson's arrival boosts the offense, provided quarterback Shaun King doesn't slip after showing poise to reach NFC title game as a rookie. Underrated loss from No. 3-ranked defense: linebacker Hardy Nickerson, who signed with Jacksonville.

* Coach: Tony Dungy (37-31)

* 1999 record: 11-5

* Newcomer to make an impact: Johnson.

* Little-known fact: Some overlook the addition of two Pro Bowl players on the offensive line--Randall McDaniel and Jeff Christy.

* Stat that must change: Passing offense ranked 30th of 31 at 154.9 yards a game.

3. WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Washington seems more excited about the Redskin moves than the November election. Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Mark Carrier and Jeff George signed as free agents.

* Coach: Norv Turner (43-54-1)

* 1999 record: 10-6

* Newcomer to make an impact: Sanders.

* Little-known fact: Cornerback Darrell Green, 40, is five years older than owner Daniel Snyder.

* Stat that must change: Defense ranked 30th of 31. New defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes--possibly the coach-in-waiting--and free agents were brought in to fix it.

4. MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Maybe Daunte Culpepper is merely having a hot preseason--or maybe the inexperienced quarterback is about to make Coach Dennis Green and his system look brilliant.

* Coach: Green (84-54)

* 1999 record: 10-6

* Newcomer to make an impact: Defensive end Chris Hovan.

* Little-known fact: Proof Green's system works: Six quarterbacks have led Vikings in passing since 1992.

* Stat that must change: The Vikings made only 12 interceptions and ranked next-to-last in pass defense.

5. GREEN BAY PACKERS

Brett Favre's sore elbow makes people nervous after a season marred by a nagging thumb injury and running back Dorsey Levens is recovering from minor knee surgery. Mike Sherman might not last longer than Ray Rhodes if Favre doesn't return to form.

* Coach: Sherman (First year)

* 1999 record: 8-8

* Newcomer to make an impact: Tight end Bubba Franks.

* Little-known fact: Sherman and new Dallas Coach Dave Campo played at Central Connecticut State in New Britain.

* Stat that must change: Favre threw 23 interceptions.

6. CAROLINA PANTHERS

Disastrous preseason saw kicker John Kasay and receiver Patrick Jeffers suffer knee injuries, making push for playoffs a harder task. At 35, quarterback Steve Beuerlein is coming off his best season.

* Coach: George Seifert (116-43)

* 1999 record: 8-8

* Newcomer to make an impact: Defensive end Reggie White.

* Little-known fact: New offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, the former Oregon and NFL backup quarterback, is only 32.

* Stat that must change: Team was 26th in total defense but added defensive linemen Eric Swann, Chuck Smith and White.

7. ATLANTA FALCONS

So far, so good on running back Jamal Anderson's comeback from knee surgery. Without him, Atlanta plunged to 30th in rushing, but it's too much to expect him to duplicate his 1,846 yards during the 1998 Super Bowl season on a reconstructed knee.

* Coach: Dan Reeves (177-136-1)

* 1999 record: 5-11

* Newcomer to make an impact: Receiver Shawn Jefferson.

* Little-known fact: Reeves--coach of the year three times with the Broncos and once with the Giants and Falcons--was born in Americus, Ga.

* Stat that must change: Simple enough--74.8 yards per game rushing.

8. DALLAS COWBOYS

No more Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders, but Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith are still plugging away. Even if it was an exhibition, seven-for-20 outing by Aikman was appalling. Any optimism might just be nostalgia.

* Coach: Dave Campo (First year)

* 1999 record: 8-8

* Newcomer to make an impact: Receiver Joey Galloway.

* Little-known fact: The Cowboys might start three linebackers under 6 feet: 5-9 Dexter Coakley, 5-11 Dat Nguyen and 5-11 Joe Bowden.

* Stat that must change: Dallas was held to 10 points or less four times.

9. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

The defense--which led the NFL in take-aways--can keep the Eagles in games. With improving quarterback Donovan McNabb and running back Duce Staley, there might be the elements of a turnaround.

* Coach: Andy Reid (5-11)

* 1999 record: 5-11

* Newcomer to make an impact: Defensive tackle Corey Simon.

* Little-known fact: Special teams coach John Harbaugh is the brother of San Diego Charger quarterback Jim Harbaugh.

* Stat that must change: Passing offense was worst in NFL at 130.3 yards a game.

10. CHICAGO BEARS

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