Division prediction

Pencil in Chicago and Tampa Bay for fourth and fifth. Then it gets difficult. You could virtually pick Minnesota, Detroit and Green Bay out of a hat because they're so close. Warren Moon's quarterbacking gives Minnesota a slight edge, and the Scott Mitchell-Barry Sanders duo should get Detroit the runner-up spot, which leaves Green Bay in third fighting for a playoff spot.


1. Minnesota Vikings

1993 record: 9-7, tied for second in division; lost to Giants in wild-card playoff.


Coach: Dennis Green (20-12 career).

Key additions: QB Warren Moon, OT Chris Hinton and QB Andre Ware.

4 Key losses: DE Chris Doleman and QB Jim McMahon.

Strengths: Their defense ranked first in the league in yards allowed last year and gave up more than 23 points only once in the last eight games, a 37-20 loss to the Cowboys. Now they need to get an offense to go with the defense.

Weaknesses: They didn't have a 500-yard rusher last year, when their running game sputtered after Terry Allen and Robert Smith got hurt and the offense wound up 17th in the league. Moon is being counted on to revitalize the offense, but he'll need Allen to return to his 1992 form, when he gained 1,201 yards.

Extra point: Moon still wants to get to a Super Bowl before he retires, but he didn't do it in Houston and he's a gamble at the age of 37.

2. Detroit Lions

1993 record: 10-6, first in division; lost to Packers in wild-card playoff.


Coach: Wayne Fontes (42-43 career).

Key additions: QB Scott Mitchell, TE Ron Hall, LB Mike Johnson and P Greg Montgomery.

Key losses: CB Ray Crockett and QB Erik Kramer.

Strengths: Once you say Barry Sanders, you've said it all. He's still one of the best. The trouble is, the Lions didn't have a passing game -- it ranked 24th last year -- to go with him. Now they hope Mitchell can give them that aerial attack.

Weaknesses: Fontes remains a question mark as a coach. His constant quarterback shuffling prevented the team from building cohesive offense. He's running out of time to show he can be a big winner.

Extra point: Is there a player in the league who faces as much pressure as Mitchell? He signed a big contract, and now he has to live up to it.


3. Green Bay Packers

1993 record: 9-7, tied for second in division; beat Lions in wild-card playoff, lost to Cowboys in divisional playoff.

Coach: Mike Holmgren (18-14 career).

Key additions: DE Sean Jones, RB Reggie Cobb and G Guy McIntyre.

Key losses: TE Jackie Harris and LB Tony Bennett.

Strengths: A tough defense spearheaded by Reggie White and Jones at the ends. It ranked No. 2 in the league last year, although the Packers have to hope that the loss of Bennett doesn't offset the addition of Jones. Fritz Shurmur steps in at defensive coordinator for Ray Rhodes, who returned to San Francisco.


Weaknesses: Brett Favre got a big contract recently and the Packers think he's going to be a big-time quarterback, but he threw 24 interceptions last year. They also don't have a running game, and there's no guarantee Cobb will provide one.

Extra point: Holmgren is off to a nice start, but the three-year contract extension he just got may have been a bit premature.

4. Chicago Bears

1993 record: 7-9, fourth in division.

Coach: Dave Wannstedt (7-9 career).

Key additions: QB Erik Kramer, OT Andy Heck, RB Merril Hoge and RB Lewis Tillman.


Key losses: QB Jim Harbaugh, DE Richard Dent and RB Neal Anderson.

Strengths: Wannstedt knows defense. In his first season, his unit ranked fourth and held opponents to 19 or fewer points 12 times. He has to hope rookie DE John Thierry can fill Dent's void.

Weaknesses: Wannstedt doesn't seem to know quarterbacks. A year ago, he decided Harbaugh could handle the job. This year, he decided Kramer was the best available quarterback, and Steve Walsh outplayed him in the preseason.

Extra point: This team isn't as much fun now that Mike Ditka is gone.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

1993 record: 5-11, fifth in division.


Coach: Sam Wyche (71-88 career).

Key additions: QB Trent Dilfer, TE Jackie Harris and LB Lonnie Marts.

Key losses: RB Reggie Cobb, TE Ron Hall and CB Ricky Reynolds.

Strengths: The Bucs have a standout left tackle in Paul Gruber, a solid tight end in Harris, a good receiver in Courtney Hawkins and a quarterback of the future in Trent Dilfer.

Weaknesses: The Bucs were 25th in offense, 22nd in defense and lost their best running back when Cobb departed. Their best record since 1983 has been 6-10, and they have lost 10 or more games for a record 11 consecutive seasons.

Extra point: There is nothing wrong with this franchise that couldn't be solved by having Peter Angelos buy it and move it to Baltimore.