Division prediction

The Cowboys should win the division easily and the Redskins are likely to finish last again. The other three teams figure to be closely bunched, with the Giants fighting the Cardinals for the runner-up spot and the Eagles staying in the fight if Randall Cunningham can remain healthy. The Eagles-Giants opener Sunday could give a glimpse of which way those teams are heading.

1. Dallas Cowboys

1993 record: 12-4, first in division; beat Packers in divisional playoff, beat 49ers in NFC title game, beat Bills in Super Bowl.

Coach: Barry Switzer (first year as an NFL head coach).

Key additions: QB Rodney Peete and G Derek Kennard.

Key losses: Coach Jimmy Johnson, LB Ken Norton, NT Tony Casillas, G John Gesek and DT Jimmie Jones.

Strengths: Start with RB Emmitt Smith, QB Troy Aikman and WR Michael Irvin. As long as they're healthy, the Cowboys should have the best offense in the league.

Weaknesses: The turmoil surrounding the coaching switch from Johnson to Switzer could hurt the team's cohesiveness, and the free-agent losses on defense could sap that unit's depth.

Extra point: Ztxt The Cowboys are still the best, but something always seems to go wrong for a team shooting for a third straight Super Bowl win (remember Franco Harris' injury and Roger Craig's fumble that cost the Steelers and 49ers shots at three-peats?). Will it happen to Dallas, too?

2. New York Giants

1993 record: 11-5, second in division; beat Vikings in wild-card playoff, lost to 49ers in divisional playoff.

Coach: Dan Reeves (121-78-1 career).

Key additions: G Lance Smith.

Key losses: QB Phil Simms, LB Lawrence Taylor, CB Mark Collins, S Myron Guyton, RB Lewis Tillman and G Bob Kratch.

Strengths: Rodney Hampton is one of the best runners in the league and he figures to get a lot of carries while Dave Brown settles in at quarterback. David Meggett can be quite a weapon, too, if the Giants would use him more.

Weaknesses: The Giants were one of the high-paying teams hurt by the salary cap. On top of that, Brown has the unenviable task of replacing Simms, and the defense won't be the same without Taylor.

Extra point: The Giants figure to slip, but the question is, how far?

3. Arizona Cardinals

1993 record: 7-9, fourth in division.

Coach: Buddy Ryan (43-35-1 career).

Key additions: LB Seth Joyner, DE Clyde Simmons, LB Wilber Marshall.

Key losses: LB Ken Harvey, P Rich Camarillo, CB Robert Massey and LB Tyronne Stowe.

Strengths: They're now a Buddy Ryan team, which means they'll specialize in terrorizing quarterbacks, although they'll give up big plays on occasion when their blitzes are picked up.

Weaknesses: QB Steve Beuerlein still isn't a proven winner and Ryan doesn't seem to believe in him, but the only alternative is Jim McMahon, who's now shopworn even though he's a Ryan favorite.

Extra point: The Buddy Bandwagon is already crowded and the Cardinals are being touted as a playoff team, but they might be a year away. It could turn out that some of the veterans that Ryan picked up aren't what they were when they played for him in the past.

4. Philadelphia Eagles

1993 record: 8-8, third in division.

Coach: Rich Kotite (29-19 career).

Key additions: DE William Fuller, LB Bill Romanowski and DE Burt Grossman.

Key losses: DE Clyde Simmons and LB Seth Joyner.

Strengths: If QB Randall Cunningham stays healthy, he can be a one-man offense. They started 4-0 last year before he went down.

Weaknesses: The defense has to overcome the loss of Reggie White, Simmons, Joyner and the late Jerome Brown in a two-year span, and the Eagles must develop a running game. The defense slipped to 17th last year -- 24th against the rush.

Extra point: The ghost of Buddy Ryan still haunts this team. His return to Philadelphia on Nov. 6 will be one of the highlights of the season.

5. Washington Redskins

1993 record: 4-12, fifth in division.

Coach: Norv Turner (first year as a head coach).

Key additions: QB Heath Shuler, LB Ken Harvey, WR Henry Ellard and DE Leonard Marshall.

Key losses: WR Art Monk, QB Mark Rypien, RB Earnest Byner, DE Charles Mann, G Joe Jacoby, C Jeff Bostic.

Strengths: Reggie Brooks is one of the league's most promising young running backs and could gain 1,500 yards running the lead draw in Turner's offense.

Weaknesses: The Redskins can't stop the run on defense, and (( they'll have to live though the growing pains that rookie Shuler will suffer.

Extra point: Rebuilding is a word they don't like to hear in Washington, but that's what this team will be doing this year. Owner Jack Kent Cooke may be the only executive in football who thinks the Redskins are going to have a winning season.

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