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Checking In With NFL's Playoff Teams

Off-season moves create uncertainty for football's elite clubs.

June 26, 2005|From Associated Press

The busy off-season has had a big effect on last season's playoff teams, nearly all of which have undergone significant changes or have seen major questions pop up a month before training camps open.

Surprisingly, the two Super Bowl teams might have the most uncertainty.

For New England, the departures of Romeo Crennel, who went from Patriot defensive coordinator to Cleveland's head coach, and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, now Notre Dame's head man, could create a huge chasm. Crennel has been a solid coordinator and sounding board for coach Bill Belichick's ideas, and he knows how to get the most out of his players. Weis has been something of a guru for Tom Brady, who never has taken a snap without Weis on hand.

But these are the Patriots, and they have so much talent on offense and defense -- yes, even more than in their other three title years. And they still have Belichick.

At least the competition has some hope that the absence of Crennel and Weis will have a negative effect.

The real negative impact in Philadelphia is being created by, who else, Terrell Owens. His complaints about a seven-year, $49-million contract and the way he's verbally knocked his teammates, including Donovan McNabb, could lead to a fractured locker room. McNabb, Brian Dawkins and some of the Eagles' other leaders have much work to keep Owens' bad vibes from spoiling the atmosphere on the best team in the NFC.

As for intrigue on the other 2004 playoff clubs:

Pittsburgh -- The Steelers better hope there's no sophomore slump for Ben Roethlisberger, especially with Plaxico Burress and Oliver Ross gone.

Indianapolis -- It's the same thing we've been asking for a few years, but does the Colts' defense look even remotely capable of helping that high-powered offense?

New York Jets -- With a new coordinator (Mike Heimerdinger) and a returning wideout (Laveranues Coles), the offense should be stronger. But only if Chad Pennington comes back without problems from shoulder surgery.

San Diego -- Not many changes here, unless you count Doug Flutie heading back to New England. But if Drew Brees has to look over his shoulder at Philip Rivers, scratch the Chargers from contention.

Denver -- The busiest of off-season clubs, but are the Broncos better? A revamped defensive line of former Browns?

Atlanta -- Bringing in Ed Hartwell at linebacker could solidify the defense and give the Falcons another trip to the NFC title game.

Minnesota -- How the Vikings adjust on and off the field to the Randy Moss trade is a key. But these guys brought in a slew of veterans (DT Pat Williams, S Darren Sharper, CB Fred Smoot, LB Sam Cowart) to boost the defense, and it's now Daunte Culpepper's team.

St. Louis -- Lots of changes, although only top draft pick Alex Barron at tackle and linebacker Dexter Coakley figure to be big factors. More important: Has coach Mike Martz learned from his in-game errors?

Seattle -- The defense needed some zip and could get it from LB Jamie Sharper. What the Seahawks really need is a steadier hand in tight games, on the field, the sideline and in the coaching booth.

Green Bay -- Giving Brett Favre a few months off was a great idea. Letting two of his best blockers, guards Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera, leave, was less inspired.

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