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The Times' Rankings

September 02, 2002|Sam Farmer

1 PHILADELPHIA--Quarterback Donovan McNabb nearly got the Eagles to the Super Bowl last season, and the addition of wide receiver Antonio Freeman helps. Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter will be missed.

2 SAN FRANCISCO--If he keeps his head, receiver Terrell Owens is one of the best players in the game. Quarterback Jeff Garcia is coming off his second-consecutive Pro Bowl season, and Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow power the league's No. 2 rushing offense.

3 ST. LOUIS--Running back Marshall Faulk is going for his fifth-consecutive season with 2,000 or more total yards--an NFL record--and ultra-sharp quarterback Kurt Warner is over his thumb injury. Ram linebackers are fast, but are they too light to stop the run all season?

4 TAMPA BAY--Jon Gruden no longer has to fight for control, so now we'll really find out how skilled he is as a coach. Same goes for Rob Johnson, who probably will wind up as the starting quarterback. But how long can the Buccaneers go before Warren Sapp tears them apart?

5 GREEN BAY--Brett Favre is still one of the best quarterbacks in football but he has no receivers. Maybe Terry Glenn can help, but he hasn't done much of anything this summer. Defensive end Joe Johnson adds a run-stopping presence to a defense that had 52 sacks, third in the NFL, last season.

6 WASHINGTON--Will Steve Spurrier's system work in the NFL? It has looked incredible in the exhibition season, which means, well, not much. If Spurrier can squeeze big-time production out of those quarterbacks--and cope with pesky owner Dan Snyder--he deserves every dime of his $5 million-a-year salary.

7 CHICAGO--The Bears have an overachiever in quarterback Jim Miller and a great backup in Chris Chandler, who has shown flashes of excellence when he's not hurt. They also have a great running back in Anthony Thomas, last season's rookie of the year. What they don't have is a home field in Chicago. Those trips to Champaign could become a grind.

8 NEW ORLEANS--The Saints were a mess at the end of last season, turning on each other in the locker room and quitting on the field. Jim Haslett has cleaned house and is left with a team that has the talent to be competitive.

9 DALLAS--Dave Campo won't get the chance to coach his third-consecutive 5-11 team; he'll get canned before he gets that far. So there's a lot of incentive for him to win now. Emmitt Smith will steal the headlines by claiming the league's all-time rushing record, but Cowboy coaches will be more concerned with whether Troy Hambrick is ready to take the torch.

10 SEATTLE--New conference, new stadium, new quarterback, same old problems--too few good receivers, a spotty offensive line, not enough production from the defensive ends, and lots of breakdowns on special teams. The Seahawks are in trouble if quarterback Trent Dilfer doesn't bounce back from his knee injury.

11 ATLANTA--There's no question about quarterback Michael Vick's raw skills, but what is not known is whether he can hold up over an entire season. The plan calls for running backs Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett to relieve much of the pressure by putting defenses on their heels.

12 NEW YORK GIANTS--Two seasons removed from the Super Bowl, the Giants are stuck in neutral. They have a few outstanding players--Tiki Barber, Michael Strahan, Jason Sehorn--and a lot of unproven ones. Quarterback Kerry Collins can be good when he holds onto the ball, but he fumbled 23 times last season.

13 MINNESOTA--Receiver Cris Carter is gone, which might not be a bad thing, considering he was very talented but even more divisive. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper took a step back in 2001 after a great rookie season, and he'll be taking a lot more steps back if that offensive line doesn't come together. By the way, where's Bryant McKinnie?

14 ARIZONA--Coach Dave McGinnis deserves a lot of credit for getting seven victories out of the NFL's youngest team, one with a quarterback who too often tries to jam passes into tight spots and a defense that collected only 19 sacks. Receiver David Boston is impressive, but opposing defenses can key on him.

15 CAROLINA--First-year Coach John Fox knows defense, which is good news for a team that finished last in total defense and last against the pass in 2001. But knowing defense doesn't necessarily translate into a vast improvement on that side of the ball. Fox can take solace in this: the Panther offense is bad too.

16 DETROIT--A lot of people think Joey Harrington was the best quarterback in the draft and a steal with the No. 3 pick. Marty Mornhinweg did a nice job of making adjustments as the roof was caving in last season; he definitely improved as a coach.

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