A division-by-division look at the prospects for all 30 NFL teams (in order of predicted finish. Last year's record in parentheses):
1. Kansas City (13-3)
LAST YEAR: Won the West and home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs for the second time in three years. But as in 1995, lost first playoff game, 14-10 to Denver, which went on to win Super Bowl.
KEY ADDITIONS: WR Derrick Alexander and DE Chester McGlockton (free agents), who both will play major roles - if McGlockton can be motivated to show up every week and his aching back improves.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: RBs Marcus Allen (retired) and Greg Hill (not re-signed).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: McGlockton; RB Donnell Bennett, a four-year backup being counted on to carry the rushing load.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: The Chiefs tend to bring along rookies slowly. OT Victor Riley, the No. 1 pick, should be a future starter if he can keep his weight down.
NOTABLE NOTE: Coach Marty Schottenheimer's .644 winning percentage is second best of any active coach with 100 or more wins. His 5-11 playoff record is the worst of any coach with more than five playoff games.
OUTLOOK: The defense, which started four youngsters last year, adds McGlockton and could be the best in the league. QB Elvis Grbac will go deep a lot more to Andre Rison, Alexander and second-year TE Tony Gonzalez, a future star. Despite Schottenheimer's playoff failures, he could reach the Super Bowl - if the running game is half-decent.
2. Denver (12-4)
LAST YEAR: Finished behind Kansas City, entered playoffs as wild card and went all the way - beating Jacksonville at home, Chiefs and Pittsburgh on the road and Green Bay 31-24 in Super Bowl, the first victory in four tries for John Elway.
KEY ADDITIONS: None.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: OT Gary Zimmerman (retired); G Brian Habib (free agent); MLB Allen Aldridge (free agent); DE Alfred Williams, out 3-6 months with arm injury.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Terrell Davis, the Super Bowl MVP, who has had brilliant first three years; Elway; RT Harry Swayne, who will take Zimmerman's numerical spot, with Tony Jones moved to LT.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: WR Marcus Nash, the No. 1 pick, who could win job as third wide receiver or even start if Ed McCaffrey's injury problems continue.
NOTABLE NOTE: Denver's average winning margin of 4.7 points in the playoffs is the lowest by any team ever to win the Super Bowl.
OUTLOOK: No reason to think they can't repeat if offensive line works out. But this is Elway's last season and there seemed to be a "been there, done that" attitude in training camp that's common to Super Bowl winners. Should make playoffs, but . . .
3. Seattle (8-8)
LAST YEAR: Made a playoff run behind 41-year-old quarterback Warren Moon, but lost Moon and DT Cortez Kennedy to injury, lost four straight in November and December and dropped from the race.
KEY ADDITIONS: RB Ricky Watters, C Kevin Glover, G Brian Habib, LB Darrin Smith (all free agents).
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: C Kevin Mawae, RB Lamar Smith and P Rick Tuten (free agents), RB Chris Warren (released).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Watters, who is explosive on and off the field; Moon, who will be 42 on Nov. 18, but plays like he's 32; Kennedy, coming back from broken ankle; LB Chad Brown, more acclimated in his second year.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: LB Anthony Simmons, No. 1 choice, and RB Ahman Green, No. 3.
NOTABLE NOTE: Joe Nash and Steve Largent, who played the most games as Seahawks, were both signed as free agents. Nash wasn't drafted and Largent was released by Houston.
OUTLOOK: Could be a dark horse in division, but probably best shot is at wild card. They've made a lot of changes in the last two years, though a lot of them were washes, such as losing Mawae and signing Glover. Front office is in transition and coach Dennis Erickson is on shaky ground, two more reasons to question them.
4. Oakland (4-12)
LAST YEAR: After several big offseason acquisitions, including QB Jeff George, fell apart early as defense was worst in the league. George had good stats, but his two turnovers in Week 2 against Kansas City cost the game and led to collapse. Coach Joe Bugel was fired after one season and replaced by Jon Gruden, Philadelphia's offensive coordinator who just turned 35.
KEY ADDITIONS: CB Eric Allen, in trade from New Orleans; S Anthony Newman (free agent).
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: LB Rob Fredrickson and DT Chester McGlockton, both free agents.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Defensive tackle Darrell Russell, the No. 2 overall draft pick last year, is being switched from end.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: First-round picks CB Charles Woodson, the Heisman Trophy winner, and OT Mo Collins.
NOTABLE NOTE: Gruden is the third head coach in three years and the fourth in five years - but the owner remains the same.
OUTLOOK: There's certainly enough talent to be better this season. But remember that George has the second-worst record of any starting quarterback in history. And remember Mike Shanahan, like Gruden a young offensive-minded head coach, who couldn't succeed with Al Davis looking over his shoulder.
5. San Diego (4-12)
LAST YEAR: Started 4-4, then lost last eight games when QB Stan Humphries suffered concussion that eventually caused his retirement, and Craig Whelihan took over.
KEY ADDITIONS: Rookie QB Ryan Leaf; RB Natrone Means, OT John Jackson, G Aaron Taylor, all free agents.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Humphries; WR Tony Martin, traded to Atlanta.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Means, back for his second tour with the Chargers; Leaf, an instant starter by default at quarterback; LB Junior Seau, a one-man defense.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Leaf, obviously, who has looked excellent in preseason.
NOTABLE NOTE: Since taking over as general manager in 1989, Bobby Beathard has traded away his No. 1 picks five times and is also without one for the next two years. In 1997, he tried to do so and failed, allowing him to have the pick with which he got Leaf this year.
OUTLOOK: The additions were cosmetic and despite Leaf's impressive start, he'll struggle some, particularly with no deep threat. What worked for Beathard in Washington hasn't worked lately here. Still, a lot of rebuilding needed.
1. Jacksonville (11-5)
LAST YEAR: Overcame early-season knee injury to quarterback Mark Brunell and late-season injuries to most of the interior defensive line to finish second in Central, losing to Pittsburgh on a tiebreaker. With injuries along defensive front, allowed 310 yards rushing in 42-17 loss to Denver in first round of playoffs.
KEY ADDITIONS: LB Bryce Paup, C Quentin Neujahr, both free agents.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: RB Natrone Means (free agent), DE Clyde Simmons (released).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: WRs Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith, perhaps the best tandem in the NFL; DE Tony Brackens, who fell off a bit because of injuries, but should rebound in third season; OT Tony Boselli.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: RB Fred Taylor, No. 1 pick, who could replace Means at running back; S Donovin Darius, another potential starter taken late in first round; RB Tavian Banks, fourth-round pick.
NOTABLE NOTE: In 1996, Jaguars got QB Mark Brunell, a first-round talent, from Green Bay for third and fifth-round picks. This year, they traded QB Rob Johnson, who has one career start, to Buffalo for a first-rounder.
OUTLOOK: There's a lot of talent here and there's a legitimate quarterback, Brunell. The key will be run defense, and the health of LB Kevin Hardy, who, like Brackens, fell off in second year. If all that holds up, Jags have a Super Bowl shot.
2. Pittsburgh (11-5)
LAST YEAR: Won fourth consecutive AFC Central title and reached AFC championship game for third time under coach Bill Cowher, but lost to Denver 24-21. It was second AFC title game loss at home in three years. QB Kordell Stewart and RB Jerome Bettis led an explosive offense. Stewart had 21 TD passes and ran for 11 scores. But Stewart also threw three interceptions in AFC title game.
KEY ADDITIONS: Free agent CB Dewayne Washington, who must replace injured Chad Scott.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: WR Yancey Thigpen and OT John Jackson (free agents); OLB Greg Lloyd and CB Donnell Woolford (released).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Stewart, who must show continued improvement in his second season as starter despite losing his top receiver; LT Justin Strzelczyk, who moves from right tackle to replace Jackson; CB Carnell Lake, a safety who has never played a full season at cornerback; Lethon Flowers, Lake's replacement at strong safety.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: OT Chris Conrad, who could start; Hines Ward, who played both WR and QB at Georgia and could be the Steelers' next Slash; CB Deshea Townsend, a possible starter before the season ends.
NOTABLE NOTE: Fifteen of the Steelers' 22 starters in the 1996 Super Bowl (eight on offense and seven on defense) are no longer with the team.
OUTLOOK: The Steelers always have someone in the woodwork to replace defectors. Should make playoffs, but it might have to be as a wild card.
3. Tennessee (8-8)
LAST YEAR: The Oilers' first season in Tennessee looked a lot like their last in Texas. Another .500 record and more empty seats - this time in Memphis rather than the Astrodome. QB Steve McNair struggled in his debut season as starter, and the Oilers' passing attack finished next to last in the NFL. Eddie George ran for 1,399 yards, but his average per carry dipped as opponents stacked the line to stop him. An early four-game losing skid combined with a 2-6 record in the AFC Central to sink the Oilers.
KEY ADDITIONS: WR Yancey Thigpen, who gives McNair the deep threat he lacked last year, TE Jackie Harris, P Craig Hentrich, all free agents.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: RG Kevin Donnalley (free agent), P Reggie Roby (released).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Steve McNair; WR Chris Sanders; second-year DEs Kenny Holmes and Pratt Lyons; DT Gary Walker; LB Lonnie Marts.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: WR Kevin Dyson, the first pick; CBs Samari Rolle and Dainon Sidney; DT Joe Salave'a.
NOTABLE NOTE: The last time the Oilers sold out a regular-season home game was Sept. 6, 1992.
OUTLOOK: Could challenge for a playoff spot, particularly if move to Vanderbilt Stadium in permanent home of Nashville attracts enthusiastic fans. Coach Jeff Fisher is solid defensive guy who has good defense. If Thigpen plays here like he did in Pittsburgh, they could contend.
4. Baltimore (6-9-1)
LAST YEAR: Started 3-1, then won just one of next nine games as offense, then under Vinny Testaverde, stumbled, and young defense couldn't hold up.
ADDITIONS: QB Jim Harbaugh, obtained in trade with Indianapolis; CB Rod Woodson and RB Roosevelt Potts, both free agents.
SUBTRACTIONS: QB Vinny Testaverde (released); CB Antonio Langham, C Quentin Neujahr and WR Derrick Alexander, all free agents.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Harbaugh, who doesn't have Testaverde's size or arm, but usually is a winner; RB Jay Graham, who must carry share of rushing load; WR Jermaine Lewis, at 5-foot-7 still a legitimate deep threat who had six TD receptions last year and two more on returns.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: CB Duane Starks, first-round draft pick, who was projected as instant starter before holdout; WR-KR Pat Johnson, second-rounder.
NOTABLE NOTE: Since Marty Schottenheimer was fired after the 1988 season with a 46-31 record, his four successors have a combined mark of 65-86-2.
OUTLOOK: A lot of optimism centered on opening of new stadium and acquisition of Harbaugh, who nearly led Colts to the Super Bowl in 1995. Young LBs Peter Boulware and Ray Lewis form as good a pair as any other. But there may be too many holes on both offense and defense.
5. Cincinnati (7-9)
LAST YEAR: Once again started slowly and finished fast, but still haven't had winning season this decade. Started 3-8 with Jeff Blake at quarterback, won four of last five with Boomer Esiason, who then retired to announce on "Monday Night Football."
KEY ADDITIONS: Free agent QB Neil O'Donnell, who will challenge Blake at quarterback; DLs Clyde Simmons (released by Jaguars) and Michael Bankston (free agent); S Myron Bell; CB Thomas Randolph.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Esiason; DL Dan Wilkinson, traded to Washington; DE John Copeland, expected to miss at least a fourth of the season with injury.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: O'Donnell and Blake - can one of them even come close to what Esiason did over the last five games? RB Corey Dillon - can he improve upon his rookie season, which included 1,129 yards rushing, most of them in the second half of the year, and a 246-yard game that broke Jim Brown's rookie record?
ROOKIES TO WATCH: LBs Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons.
NOTABLE NOTE: Since 1991, the Bengals are 9-47 in the first half of the season, 27-29 in second half.
OUTLOOK: If Dillon, the rookie linebackers and one of the quarterbacks come through, the Bengals could improve. Unlikely.
1. New England (10-6)
LAST YEAR: Beat Miami on final weekend to win East, beat Dolphins at home in first playoff game, then lost 7-6 at Pittsburgh.
KEY ADDITIONS: FB Tony Carter (free agent); offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: RB Curtis Martin and FB Sam Gash (free agent); RB Dave Meggett (released); CB Jimmy Hitchcock (traded to Minnesota).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: CBs Chris Canty or Steve Israel will try to replace Hitchcock - Israel, if he's healthy; Canty, if he can perform. RBs Sedrick Shaw and Derrick Cullors have chance to win Martin's job.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: RB Robert Edwards can start if he can stay healthy, and CB Tebucky Jones, the other No. 1.
NOTABLE NOTE: In four seasons coaching the Patriots, Bill Parcells was 34-34. In two seasons, one with the Jets and one with the Pats, Pete Carroll is 17-17.
OUTLOOK: If Drew Bledsoe doesn't have to throw 50 times a game, the offense will be all right. The defense is good. Should win a rather strange division.
2. New York Jets (9-7)
LAST YEAR: In Bill Parcells' first year, improved from 1-15 and missed playoffs in final minute of the final game.
KEY ADDITIONS: RB Curtis Martin, FB Keith Byars, G Todd Burger, C Kevin Mawae, all free agents. LB Bryan Cox and QB Vinny Testaverde, signed after being released.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: DE Hugh Douglas and RB Adrian Murrell, traded. LB Marvin Jones, injured knee, gone for season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Martin, the every-down running back Parcells favors; QBs Glenn Foley and Testaverde - Foley will start.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Parcells doesn't like rookies.
NOTABLE NOTE: Fifteen of the 22 probable starters have changed since Parcells took over last season from Rich Kotite.
OUTLOOK: If Martin stays healthy and one of the quarterbacks produces, the Jets should make the playoffs. Parcells will will it.
3. Miami (9-7)
LAST YEAR: The Dolphins were on their way to the AFC East title until a stunning 41-0 loss at Indianapolis in the next-to-last game of the regular season. That started a three-game losing streak to end the season, including a dismal 17-3 playoff defeat at New England.
KEY ADDITIONS: G Kevin Donnalley (free agent) and rookie RB John Avery.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: WRs Fred Barnett (released) and Yatil Green, who wrecked his knee for the second straight year.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Dan Marino turns 37 in September; MLB Zach Thomas appears poised for his best season yet.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Avery, CB Patrick Surtain and DLs Kenny Mixon and Lorenzo Bromell all should get early playing time.
NOTABLE NOTE: In his last two regular seasons, Don Shula was 19-13 and fans clamored for Jimmy Johnson. Johnson is 17-15 in two years.
OUTLOOK: There's no running game and Dan Marino has never quite meshed with the players Johnson has put around him. Still, there's a lot of speed on defense and the Dolphins will challenge.
4. Indianapolis (3-13)
LAST YEAR: Lost first 10 games as inexperienced offensive line had quarterbacks scrambling for their lives; won three of last six, including 41-38 win over Green Bay that ended losing streak. Coach Lindy Infante and vice president Bill Tobin were fired and replaced by Jim Mora and Bill Polian.
KEY ADDITIONS: Mora, Polian, QB Peyton Manning, No. 1 pick in the draft. Plus CBs Jeff Burris (free agent) and Tyrone Poole (trade with Carolina); OL Tom Myslinski, WR Torrance Small and LB Jeff Herrod, all free agents.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: QB Jim Harbaugh (traded to Baltimore); WR Sean Dawkins (free agent), DE Tony Bennett and LB Stephen Grant (both released).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Marshall Faulk; TE Ken Dilger; OT Tarik Glenn.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Manning, and WR Jerome Pathon.
NOTABLE NOTE: Manning is the fifth No. 1 overall pick by the Colts. Of the others, only Bubba Smith, (1967) contributed to the Colts. John Elway (1983) was traded at his insistence after the draft; Jeff George (1990) is . . . well, Jeff George; Steve Emtman (1992) tore up his knee as a rookie and never really recovered.
OUTLOOK: Mora is best around a dismal team. The keys are the health of Faulk and Dilger - if they produce, they take pressure off Manning.
5. Buffalo (6-10)
LAST YEAR: Todd Collins took over at quarterback for the retired Jim Kelly and began well as the Bills started 3-2. But they finished 3-8, Collins and Alex Van Pelt played musical quarterbacks and 72-year-old coach Marv Levy, who had led the Bills to four Super Bowls in the first four seasons of the '90s, retired. He was replaced by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
KEY ADDITIONS: QB Rob Johnson (trade with Jacksonville); FB Sam Gash, QB Doug Flutie, KR/WR Kevin Williams, OG Joe Panos, all free agents.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: LB Bryce Paup, CB Jeff Burris, OLs Corey Louchiey and Corbin Lacina (free agents); LB Chris Spielman (sitting out season); WR Steve Tasker (retired).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Johnson, LB Sam Cowart, DL Sean Moran, WR Eric Moulds.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Cowart, FB Jonathan Linton.
NOTABLE NOTE: Mark Pike, a linebacker, is in his 13th season with the Bills. He's played in 160 games, starting one, but is one of four Bills left who played in the team's four straight Super Bowls. The others: Bruce Smith, Andre Reed and Thurman Thomas.
OUTLOOK: A transition year. Everyone expects Johnson to be good, but there are too many new bodies and too many old ones to contend.
1. New York Giants (10-5-1)
LAST YEAR: Went from last to first in division, where they were 7-0-1 under new coach Jim Fassel, who won coach of the year award. Lost playoff game to Minnesota 23-22, blowing a nine-point lead in the final minute and a half.
KEY ADDITIONS: QB Kent Graham and RB Gary Brown (free agents); WR Ike Hilliard, last year's No. 1, back after missing all but a game and a half with an injury.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: QB Dave Brown (released); DB Thomas Randolph (free agent); CB Jason Sehorn and LB Corey Miller, injured.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Danny Kanell; FB Charles Way.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: DB Shaun Williams, No. 1 pick; WR Joe Jurevicius; FB Greg Comella, a free agent.
NOTABLE NOTE: Giants led league with plus-25 turnover differential last season, third time under three coaches they've done that in the '90s.
OUTLOOK: Some people are looking at last year as a fluke. It wasn't. Defense has been together for last three years and is one of top three in the NFL. It allows Fassel to play low-risk offense in Kanell's first year as starter.
2. Washington (8-7-1)
LAST YEAR: For the second straight season, the Redskins started well (4-2) against a tough schedule, but collapsed at season's end to finish out of the playoffs for the fifth straight year. Injuries, inconsistent offense and a patchwork defensive line all contributed.
KEY ADDITIONS: DTs Dana Stubblefield (NFL defensive player of the year), a free agent, and Dan Wilkinson, in trade with Cincinnati.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: DT Sean Gilbert (traded after holding out all of 1997), WR Henry Ellard and T Ed Simmons (released).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Defense has six potential impact players: Stubblefield and Wilkinson, LBs Ken Harvey and Marvcus Patton, and 30-plus CBs Darrell Green and Cris Dishman. Starting offense has just one consistent proven threat, RB Terry Allen, and he's aging and often injured.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Second-round pick TE Stephen Alexander, already pushing Jamie Asher for playing time. Fourth-rounder LB Shawn Barber in nickel pass coverage.
NOTABLE NOTE: The last time the Redskins missed the playoffs for five straight seasons was 1977-81, the period between George Allen and Joe Gibbs.
OUTLOOK: A lot of people think just adding Wilkinson and Stubblefield put 'Skins at top of division. Maybe, but cohesion of Giants may prove better. First four games are killers: at Giants, San Francisco, at Seattle and Denver.
3. Arizona (4-12)
LAST YEAR: Blew an 18-point lead to Cincinnati in the opener, lost 24-21 and never recovered, although Cards kept most games close, losing three in overtime and three more in final minute. Rookie QB Jake Plummer took over midway through season and was 3-6 as a starter, throwing for a rookie-record 388 yards in a loss to the Giants.
KEY ADDITIONS: Marc Trestman, the team's fourth offensive coordinator in four years; KR Eric Metcalf and RBs Adrian Murrell (trades); G Lester Holmes, RB Mario Bates, QB Dave Brown (free agents); DE Andre Wadsworth (still a holdout).
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: P Jeff Feagles, MLB Eric Hill, QB Kent Graham, DE Michael Bankston, FS Brent Alexander, all free agents.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Plummer; Murrell; second-year LG Chris Dishman; FS Kwamie Lassiter, a former nickel back getting his chance to start.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Wadsworth, SS Corey Chavous (second round), RB Michael Pittman (third round), FS Pat Tillman (seventh round).
NOTABLE NOTE: The Cardinals had 34 sacks last year. Their opponents had 78, the second most since sacks became an official NFL stat in 1982.
OUTLOOK: A trendy choice in an even division. The defense is good on paper (if Wadsworth develops quickly after he signs). But offensive line and running game still need a lot of help.
4. Dallas (6-10)
LAST YEAR: After three Super Bowl victories this decade and a 10-6 finish in 1996, sank to 6-10, losing last five games and seven of last nine. Coach Barry Switzer was fired and replaced by Chan Gailey.
KEY ADDITIONS: RB Chris Warren, G Everett McIver, WR Ernie Mills, all free agents.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: FS Brock Marion (free agent); DE Tony Tolbert and S Bill Bates (both retired).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Triplets - QB Troy Aikman, WR Michael Irvin and RB Emmitt Smith - all of whom had mediocre seasons in 1997. Second-year TE David LaFleur, TE Eric Bjornson, Mills and WR Billy Davis, who must draw coverage away from Irvin. McIver, a journeyman, who will allow Larry Allen to move to LT if he can play guard. DTs Leon Lett (injured) and Chad Hennings, the only experienced defensive linemen.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: DE Greg Ellis, the seventh overall pick in the draft. So far, he's showed little. OT Flozelle Adams, second-rounder, who could start by season's end.
NOTABLE NOTE: In the last two seasons, Smith has run for total of 16 touchdowns after rushing for 46 in 1994 and 1995.
OUTLOOK: The offense has been confused by Gailey's new system. There's no pass rush and the off-field distractions haven't ended. Gailey might be good for two more wins, but it all depends if Smith and Irvin can regain their old form.
5. Philadelphia (6-9-1)
LAST YEAR: Coach Ray Rhodes called last year's team his best yet, but the Eagles missed the playoffs for the first time in his three seasons with inconsistency at quarterback, offensive line problems and weak special teams.
KEY ADDITIONS: DE Hugh Douglas (trade with Jets); OT George Hegamin and DT Bill Johnson (free agents).
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: RB Ricky Watters and QB Ty Detmer (free agents); DE Mike Mamula (injury).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Bobby Hoying, now in third year, started last six games and won job. RB Charlie Garner, a spot player in his first four seasons, will have to take over running load. WR Irving Fryar, who must continue to produce at 36.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Tra Thomas, the No. 1 pick, is being thrown in at left tackle, perhaps the hardest position to play as a rookie. DB Allen Rossum and LBs Jeremiah Trotter and Ike Reese could be instant help on special teams.
NOTABLE NOTE: Thomas is the fifth offensive lineman in the last eight drafts on whom the Eagles have used a first-round choice. The only other one left on the roster is LG Jermane Mayberry.
1. Green Bay (13-3)
LAST YEAR: Won second straight NFC title before getting upset by Denver in Super Bowl when Terrell Davis exposed a weakened defensive line. Brett Favre tied Barry Sanders to win third straight MVP award.
KEY ADDITIONS: Rookie DE Vonnie Holliday; free agents RB Raymont Harris, FS Pat Terrell, LB Antonio London, DE Eric Curry, CB Terry McDaniel; DT Vaughn Booker (trade with Kansas City) and KR Glyn Milburn (trade with Detroit).
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: CB Doug Evans, DE Gabe Wilkins, P Craig Hentrich, G Aaron Taylor, RB Edgar Bennett, FS Eugene Robinson, all free agents. OT John Michels, knee injury.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Brett Favre, WR Antonio Freeman, WR Derrick Mayes, SS Darren Sharper, RB Travis Jervey, LB Brian Williams, LB George Koonce, CB Craig Newsome. Plus RB Dorsey Levens, once he ends holdout.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Holliday, the No. 1 pick, who will be an instant starter, and DE Jonathan Brown.
NOTABLE NOTE: If Favre throws 30 touchdown passes this year, he'll join Dan Marino as the only NFL quarterbacks to reach that mark for five straight seasons.
OUTLOOK: Yes, they've lost a lot, particularly on defense. Minnesota and Tampa Bay are trendy picks, but the Packers have Favre.
2. Minnesota (9-7)
LAST YEAR: The Vikings survived a five-game losing streak and the loss of quarterback Brad Johnson at the start of December to earn the NFC's last wild-card berth. They overcame a 16-point deficit to shock the New York Giants in the waning seconds in the wild-card round before losing at San Francisco the following week.
KEY ADDITIONS: WR Randy Moss, the No. 1 draft pick; CB Jimmy Hitchcock (trade with New England); free agent CB Larry Brown. Key moves were re-signing OT Todd Steussie, DT John Randle and RB Robert Smith.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Free agent CB Dewayne Washington.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Johnson, who seems to have recovered from neck surgery; LB Dwayne Rudd, an emerging second-year player; DE Derrick Alexander; WR Cris Carter; Smith, Randle.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Moss, LB Kailee Wong, CB Ramos McDonald.
NOTABLE NOTE: The most sacks by an interior lineman since 1982, when they became an official stat, were 18 by Keith Millard of the Vikings in 1989. Two more of the top five were by a current Viking, John Randle. And that doesn't count Alan Page, who played in the pre-sack era.
OUTLOOK: They've been playing to win (sell seats for new owner) in the exhibition season. So the overall defense remains suspect despite consecutive shutouts over the Patriots and Chiefs.
3. Tampa Bay (10-6)
LAST YEAR: Perennial doormat got off to 5-0 start and ended string of 15 consecutive losing seasons to make playoffs for first time since 1982. Won first postseason game in 18 years before losing to Green Bay in second round.
KEY ADDITIONS: Free agent WR Bert Emanuel; rookie WR Jacquez Green, whose speed and open-field running ability make him a dangerous pass-catcher as well as kick returner.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: G Jim Pyne (free agent); LB Rufus Porter (released).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Trent Dilfer's development; FB Mike Alstott should get ball more now that Bucs are committed to using him to spell RB Warrick Dunn; G Frank Middleton, second-year man, who will replace Pyne. LB Jeff Gooch steps in for Porter at linebacker after starting five games past two seasons.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Green won't begin season as starter. However, his big-play ability will be difficult to keep on the sideline.
NOTABLE NOTE: Despite sending its starting quarterback, running back and fullback to the Pro Bowl, Tampa Bay ranked 29th among 30 teams in total offense and last in passing.
OUTLOOK: Perhaps the fastest team in the NFL and a trendy Super Bowl pick in some quarters. No way, unless Dilfer takes two steps forward.
4. Detroit (9-7)
LAST YEAR: In first year under Bobby Ross, team played very much like it did for five years under Wayne Fontes. Despite 2,053-yard season by Barry Sanders, the Lions needed five wins in last six games to slip into playoffs, then were eliminated 20-10 in first round at Tampa Bay.
KEY ADDITIONS: LB Allen Aldridge; LB Rob Fredrickson; NT Dan Owens; C Jim Pyne; TE Walter Rasby, all free agents.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: LB Reggie Brown suffered career-ending neck injury in final game of 1997 regular season; C Kevin Glover (free agent).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sanders, who enters 1998 in second place on NFL's career rushing list with 13,778 yards, trailing Walter Payton by 2,948. WR Herman Moore could become first player in NFL history to record 100 receptions in four straight seasons. DE Robert Porcher played in his first Pro Bowl last season.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: WR Germane Crowell earned job as No. 3 wideout with strong camp; CB Terry Fair missed first three weeks of camp with ankle sprain, being counted on to return punts and kickoffs; QB Charlie Batch, surprise second-rounder who is pushing newcomer Jim Miller for the backup job.
NOTABLE NOTE: Porcher, with 12.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for losses, tied Bruce Smith for first in the NFL with 26 tackles for losses.
OUTLOOK: The Lions would be the second best team in the NFC West and would challenge for the title in the East. Here, they're No. 4, in a division that contributed four of the conference's six playoff teams last year. Until QB Scott Mitchell gets more consistent, that's where they'll stay.
5. Chicago (4-12)
LAST YEAR: Plagued by injuries and a quarterback shuffle, lost their first seven games and finished with third-worst record in team history. The 421 points allowed were a franchise record.
KEY ADDITIONS: DE Shawn Lee (trade with San Diego); free agents RB Edgar Bennett, LB Rico McDonald and RB Bam Morris, who has been suspended twice for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: LB Bryan Cox, RB Rashaan Salaam and DE Alonzo Spellman, all released; RB Raymont Harris (free agent).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Erik Kramer and WR Curtis Conway will play together for the first full season since 1995, when the Bears finished 9-7 and just missed the playoffs. WR Marcus Robinson was offensive MVP of NFL Europe; Bennett, who missed last year in Green Bay with torn Achilles' tendon, and Morris.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: RB Curtis Enis, who missed almost four weeks of training camp and two preseason games in an acrimonious holdout; S Tony Parrish; C Olin Kreutz and TE Alonzo Mayes, all of whom could start.
NOTABLE NOTE: QB Rick Mirer, for whom the Bears gave up the 10th overall pick in the 1997 draft, had a quarterback rating of 37.7 with no touchdown passes and six interceptions.
OUTLOOK: The fact that five rookies could start says how bad the personnel is - perhaps the worst in the NFL.
1. San Francisco (13-3)
LAST YEAR: Lost first game in Tampa, and also effectively lost Jerry Rice for the season with a knee injury. Then won 11 straight as 49ers took advantage of league's weakest division. That got them home field for the playoffs, but they lost to Green Bay in NFC Championship game 23-10.
KEY ADDITIONS: LB Winfred Tubbs; CB Antonio Langham; QB Ty Detmer; DE Gabe Wilkins; TE Irv Smith, all free agents.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: DT Dana Stubblefield, the defensive player of the year, FB William Floyd, CBs Rod Woodson and Tyronne Drakeford, K Gary Anderson, all free agents. TE Brent Jones and LB Gary Plummer retired.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: DT Junior Bryant, who will replace Stubblefield; FB Marc Edwards, who will replace Floyd. Tubbs, RB Garrison Hearst, and most of all WR Jerry Rice, back after missing all but half the first game and half the 15th with a knee injury.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: CB R.W. McQuarters, who has made a very strong first impression.
NOTABLE NOTE: Since 1981, the 49ers have failed to win 10 games only once - in 1982, when the season was limited by a strike to nine games.
OUTLOOK: This isn't the juggernaut of the late '80s or early '90s. But the defense, strong last season, has been helped by Tubbs and Langham. If Rice is anywhere near peak form, he gives 36-year-old Steve Young yet another weapon to go with Terrell Owens and J.J. Stokes, who thrived in his absence. Easy schedule makes them a Super Bowl contender again.
2. Atlanta (7-9)
LAST YEAR: Falcons had their second straight losing season in coach Dan Reeves' debut. After starting out with five straight losses, Falcons went 6-2 in second half. None of the victories came against teams with above-.500 record.
KEY ADDITIONS: S Eugene Robinson, OT Corey Louchiey (free agents); LB Keith Brooking, first-round pick; WR Tony Martin (trade with San Diego).
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: WR Bert Emanuel (free agent), team's leading receiver; DT Dan Owens (free agent).
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Jamal Anderson had second straight 1,000-yard season; QB Chris Chandler coming off Pro Bowl year, despite injuries; reserve QB Steve DeBerg trying to become NFL's oldest player, coming back at age 44 after five-year layoff; LB Cornelius Bennett tries to bounce back from offseason stint in jail.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Brooking; OTs Ephraim Salaam and Jose Portilla.
NOTABLE NOTE: The Falcons have never had back-to-back winning seasons in their 32-year history.
OUTLOOK: If Chandler stays healthy, they could contend for wild card. Big-time sackers Lester Archambeau and Chuck Smith make defense go.
3. Carolina (7-9)
LAST YEAR: Couldn't maintain the momentum from a surprising second season in which they won the NFC West and lost in conference title game. Finished in bottom third of many NFL categories on offense and defense.
KEY ADDITIONS: Gil Haskell, the new offensive coordinator, brings a West Coast-style of attack to a team that was ineffective and predictable last year under Joe Pendry, who has migrated to Buffalo. Defensive end Sean Gilbert (trade) sat out the 1997 season in a salary dispute with Washington, but was made the NFL's highest-paid defensive lineman by the Panthers.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Inside linebacker Sam Mills and nose tackle Greg Kragen, both retired.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Veteran OLBs Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene try to see if they can still make big plays in Carolina's 3-4 defense. QB Kerry Collins, hounded by injury and off-field problems last year, led the league in interceptions and had the NFL's worst rating, but he seems more comfortable in Haskell's system.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: DT Chuck Wiley, a third-rounder benefiting from various injuries to veterans and the protracted holdout of first-round draft pick Jason Peter.
NOTABLE NOTE: Carolina allowed one touchdown per game more in 1998 than in '97.
OUTLOOK: Need to re-establish passing offense with Collins, running game with Fred Lane and Tshmanga Biakabutuka, and rediscover the dominant defense.
4. New Orleans (6-10)
LAST YEAR: Mike Ditka's first season as Saints coach was a relative success, considering the level of talent on hand. He used four quarterbacks on the lowest-rated offense in league, but got a league-high 59 sacks from the defense.
KEY ADDITIONS: G Kyle Turley, the top draft pick; RB Lamar Smith, S Chad Cota, CB Tyronne Drakeford and WR Sean Dawkins, all free agents.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: LB Winfred Tubbs was headed for stardom, then headed to San Francisco as free agent. CB Eric Allen, demanded trade and wound up in Oakland. TE Irv Smith left as free agent.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Smith, who should boost running game; Cota and Drakeford figure to upgrade secondary; and Dawkins should help passing game. Sackmasters Wayne Martin, Mark Fields and Joe Johnson on defense.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Turley and second-round TE Cam Cleeland.
NOTABLE NOTE: Although they allowed 50 sacks, the Saints made up for it with a league-high 59 quarterback traps, including 10.5 by Martin, 8.5 by Johnson and 8.0 by Fields.
OUTLOOK: Ditka accepted a contract extension through 2002. He'll need all that time to get the Saints turned around.
5. St. Louis (5-11)
LAST YEAR: Split their first four games under new coach Dick Vermiel, then went into eight-game tailspin. Although defense ranked 19th in points allowed, it was second in interceptions and third in takeaways .
KEY ADDITIONS: Veteran LB Eric Hill should boost defense and C John Flannery might help offense. Rest of free-agent signings were mediocre. Orlando Pace was in camp from day 1, a big plus.
KEY SUBTRACTIONS: Lost Bill Johnson from the defensive line and Torrance Small from receiving corps through free agency; released DE Leslie O'Neal.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: DLs Kevin Carter and D'Marco Farr must make up for O'Neal's departure. Secondary knows how to get ball as CB Ryan McNeil and S Keith Lyle finished 1-2 in NFC in interceptions. QB Tony Banks must find consistency and team needs to develop semblance of running game. WR Isaac Bruce is best offensive player.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Top pick Grant Wistrom at DE and RB Robert Holcombe, who will get shot to start; third-round DE Leonard Little, a pass-rushing specialist.
NOTABLE NOTE: Eddie Kennison, a sensation as a rookie receiver with 54 catches for 924 yards in 1996, managed only 25 for 404 last year.
OUTLOOK: Bleak. If Banks struggles and the pass rush is minimal, Rams could be league's worst team.